Bonnie's streets apart

Bonnie Soper as Bonnie Soper.
Bonnie Soper as Bonnie Soper.

AS as a kid, she was banned from watching Shortland Street because her parents thought it was "trash". Instead, Bonnie Soper was encouraged to foster a love of the great outdoors down on their farm.


But she was ambitious and wanted to get away, toying with the idea of joining the army. In the end she decided to try out for drama school.

Bonnie as Morgan.
Bonnie as Morgan.

Now, with two successful years on the Street under her belt, she has been nominated at the Qantas Film and TV Awards for best supporting actress for her role in The Map Reader.

It's been a struggle on the way and Bonnie, 25, is still riddled with doubts about her ability.

She says she was initially "disappointed" with her performance in The Map Reader and reckons she still "hasn't quite mastered" working in TV.

Ironically, when she gave the performance as young blind girl Mary that got her nominated, Soper was considering ditching acting for a more stable career.

"At the time I was making The Map Reader, I couldn't even pay my rent," she admits to Sunday News when we meet at the Shortland Street set in west Auckland.

"It was a low budget independent feature so they paid what they could afford which is sometimes not enough to tide you over, and no-one would take me on for a temping job due to my limited availability.

"I was having doubts about whether I could make a living as an actress or not."

To keep the wolf from the door as her career took off, Soper did everything from waitressing to washing dishes and helping out in the sheep shearing sheds back home.

It wasn't until she got the role of Morgan Braithwaite, who debuted on Shortland Street in 2007 as the Ferndale Strangler's girlfriend, that she was able to give up the part time work and move out of her pokey studio with an outside toilet. "It was so nice to tell my parents they wouldn't have to worry about me for the next year," she laughs.

Raised on a farm in Makarewa, near Invercargill, she moved up to Auckland to study Performing Arts at Unitec.

"Art school was another dream of mine which, like acting, is fairly unpractical my poor family," Soper smiles.

"They're all really practical and I remember my uncle asking me what in the world I was going to do with a degree in drama.

"But my family has been really supportive, my dad video tapes every episode of Shortland Street so he's got a record of it."

Moving from Southland to Auckland hasn't tempered Soper's love of the outdoors, and when we meet she's just back from walking in the rain and deliberating about a chilly swim in the sea.

"We have a crib in Riverton and I usually go down there mid-year, put on my bikini and swim in the storms," she says.

"On the weekend exercising is the priority, I'd like to do a triathlon in the future."

Soper's character in Shortland Street is quiet, well-meaning and slightly geeky, but has been at the centre of this year's most explosive plots, marrying asexual Gerald Tippett and becoming an illegal surrogate to triplets.

The actress, who enjoys knocking back whisky and listening to rock music but is "trying not to party too much," loves her role, but says Morgan is nothing like her.

"After a day of filming I really have to go out and be myself," she says.

Soper's commitment to her character "you just have to embrace her" has made her popular with Shortland Street bosses.

"She instinctively recognises the emotional high points in her character's journey," producer Steven Zanoski says.

"And she is consistent in playing out these complexities through thoughtful performance."

As she prepares for Saturday's Qantas awards at Auckland's Civic Theatre, the refreshingly humble actress says she did not think her acting was up to scratch.

"I was really hard on myself and was a bit disappointed when I saw it at the cast and crew screening," she says.

"It made me hesitant to go to the actual premiere, I was worried what people would think and I was concerned that the director would regret giving me the role. I'm so glad I did end up going, the compliments were a huge boost, but I always wonder if I'm good enough."

Soper was told earlier this month that she had been nominated for her best supporting actress along with Separation City's Michelle Langstone and Nancy Brunning for The Strength of Water.

"The publicist came over and she was looking at me funny," she says.

"My heart started going because I expected her to say something bad. I was expecting bad news as I haven't been used to receiving good news, but then she told me I was nominated. I haven't wanted to think about it. I don't want to get my hopes up"

Shortland Street, TV2, 7pm weekdays.

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