Rookie's high jinks on K Rd
Most Hollywood actors who have the chance to film in New Zealand leave with enduring memories of friendly Kiwis and stunning scenery.
The same can't really be said for Rookie Blue star Gregory Smith, who spent three months in New Zealand 15 years ago shooting award-winning movie The Climb when he was just a teenager.
While he does speak fondly of a road trip he took with his family to Rotorua, his lasting memory is of staying in an apartment just off Auckland's notorious red-light district, Karangahape Road.
"Every day after work we would cause mischief and throw water balloons in the middle of the night to all the creatures of the night down on K Rd," laughs Smith down the phone from his base in Los Angeles.
"I didn't really understand what the deal was, but looking back I can't believe we did that and our parents let us do that!"
Since shooting The Climb, Smith has carved out an illustrious career, most notably for his portrayal of Ephram Brown in the TV series Everwood, for which he won a Young Artist Award for Best Performance in a TV series by a leading young actor.
It's a far cry from his current role as rookie police officer Dov Epstein in TV2's cop drama Rookie Blue, which is now in its second season in New Zealand yet filming for the third season has just wrapped in the United States.
Set in Toronto the series follows the lives of five rookie cops. Smith says he was drawn to Rookie Blue because it was so different to most cop shows on our screens in recent years.
"I thought it was a well written, kind of fun show, but the thing that really appealed to me, aside from the character, was that it was a cop show, which I've always liked, but with a fresh, optimist tone, which you don't see that often," he says.
"Usually cop shows are a little bit darker, a bit pessimistic. So it was the characters and the tone that appealed." The 28-year-old says the beauty of playing a rookie police officer is that life imitates art and putting on handcuffs and drawing weapons isn't second nature just yet.
"I realised early on in our police boot camp that I would try my best but I didn't need to worry too much about it because our journey as actors preparing for this role kind of mimics the journey of our characters," says Smith, who grew up watching police dramas like NYPD Blue and The Wire. "We pick things up over time and there's still room for improvement, but that's the beauty of being a rookie – if you mess up it's OK." The show has also given Smith what he describes as a career highlight – the chance to go behind the lens to direct one of the episodes in the third season.
He says it was something that had been discussed even before he signed up to play Dov.
"It's been in the works for a long time and David Wellington, our lead director, took me under his wing and showed me the ropes and has been an incredible mentor. If we get picked up again, I really hope to have the chance to do another one." Kiwi fans, however, will have to be a bit more patient if they want to see Smith's directorial debut, with series two only just underway.
Smith, meanwhile, has just returned from a holiday to South Africa and is now playing the waiting game to see if a fourth series will go ahead.
"Knock on wood, it's been a dream come true thus far," he says.
Rookie Blue, TV2, Tuesdays, 9.30pm