Shortland Street's latest troublemaker is Chye-Ling Huang.

The actor and director says she is relishing the opportunity to play free-spirited Theodora Chang, and is sure her character will have people talking around the water cooler. She's also hoping to break down a few Asian stereotypes.

When the new Ferndale star graduated from a competitive drama school in Auckland, she and fellow actor James Roque were faced with a specific problem: where was the pathway for Asian actors in New Zealand?

The Proudly Asian Theatre Company (PAT) was formed and after seven years continues to create a space that is dedicated to discovering, empowering and enabling theatre and film by Asian talent in New Zealand.


"Shortland Street has always aimed to cover current NZ social issues and I've been impressed with the queer representation on the show. With Covid-19 revealing the ugly anti-Asian racism present in Aotearoa, we need positive Asian representation now more than ever," Huang tells Spy.

When Huang was growing up, the character of Li Mei Chen on Shorty, who was played by Li-Ming Hu, made an early impression on her as one of the only Asian actors on NZ TV at the time.

"Although she rolled through some classic stereotypes, it was an important step forward," says Huang.

"I'm stoked to be joining the hard-working cast of Shorty - to say it's an iconic show would be an understatement. As a Chinese-Pākehā actor, playing a character with my own ethnic background doesn't come along every day, especially one against all the stereotypes - playing a free-spirited ball of energy is a blast."

Her character, Theodora, sounds like a great fit for the ambitious young actress.

"Theo is bound to raise more than a few eyebrows, romantically and within the workplace," says Huang. "Love her or hate her, she goes for what she wants, so I'm excited to see what the reaction will be. I think she'll be polarising to begin with, she might make some questionable decisions, but beyond the surface level I think she'll prove herself to have a good heart."

Huang's personal credits are extensive, with recent roles including the telefeature A War Story, AFK and Funny Girls. Her theatre credits include Tide Waits for No Man and SICKO and her work as a director includes Asian Men Talk About Sex, a popular Loading Docs' short documentary and plays, Like Sex, Roots and Orientation.

But it is her most recent collaboration that has seen her back on international screens with the premiere of Life Is Easy (LIE), an eight-episode satirical series that gives viewers a modern look at the complexities of race, gender and sexuality in New Zealand.


The series recently launched on the Los Angeles-based platform Revry TV. Sadly because of Covid, Huang could not attend.

"If the world was in a different place, I'd have loved to be there. Los Angeles is a wild place but I love it for the incredible surge of Asian Americans making film and TV, who are all very welcoming," she says.

The idea for Life Is Easy, which is available on TVNZ OnDemand, was found a little closer to home.

"My collaborator and BFF, Cole Jenkins, and I came up with the idea of a body-swap comedy from an in-joke about how we're basically the same person - although he's white, gay and male, and I'm Chinese-Pākehā and a woman," she laughs.