Doctor at the ready:
Shortland Street is adding an extra night to its line-up. From this week, fans will be able to watch their favourite show on Sunday nights as well as the regular weeknight episodes. The focus of this week’s one-hour Sunday episode centres on Sam Bunkall’s
Shortland Street star uses his fame to help teens.
Actor Sam Bunkall is nowhere near as socially awkward as Boyd Rolleston, the top-notch surgeon he’s played on Shortland Street for the past six years.
That said, he is just as committed to doing the right thing as his screen counterpart. In Bunkall’s case, this means putting his celebrity to good use in his other job – educating teens on the dangers of sexual violence.
“It’s a great job,” says the actor of working as an educator for Rape Prevention Education, the group behind the Bodysafe programme for college students.
“I’m so fortunate to have that and it works very well with Shorty. It makes an awkward topic a little bit easier to talk about because, I guess, some of (the teens) watch the show and feel a little bit like they know me, so it’s not such a jump to talk about uncomfortable stuff.”
However, the reception that Bunkall, 35, received from students was very different before he made his Shortland Street debut in September 2012.
“At some schools, these kids really do sit there with their phones and it was a battle to get their attention.
“Once I was on the show it was just that instant buy-in,” he says. “People were paying attention so it’s just so good to be able to have that to spread that message.”
Bunkall is no figurehead. Not only does he go into schools, he has made submissions to Parliament about the prevalence of sexual violence among teens and taken part in many public forums.
That commitment to the causes he believes in is one of the characteristics he shares with Ferndale’s Boyd Rolleston who, despite being a straight arrow, will break the rules when he believes it is justified.
“When you look back on things Boyd’s done, the illegal operations and the bits and pieces over the years, if he was a real person there’s no way he’d still be working in a hospital,” Bunkall says.
“It might be illegal but it’s always for the right reasons. I love that and I think that’s kind of cool. In the climate that we have in this day and age, it’s not such a bad message to have.”
Which makes it intriguing indeed, to learn that Boyd – the man Bunkall’s in-laws describe as the show’s moral compass – is the focus of Shortland Street’s first one-hour Sunday episode this week.
“It had been a few weeks since I’d had much of a storyline but when it rains it pours.
“It was the biggest block that I’ve ever had on the show with, I think, something like 35 scenes,” he says.
“It was, at first, incredibly daunting because there were a lot of lines to learn. But once you’re in there you just get into this rhythm and it was great.”
Bunkall, like the show’s producers, is saying little about the storyline, other than revealing the return of someone from his past derails his fledgling relationship with the newly separated Dr Rongopai Rameka (Kim Barrett).
A quick scan of the good doctor’s past reveals several possible candidates for the role of unwelcome interloper. For a start, there’s his ex-wife Brooke (Beth Allen), who left Ferndale for America after he cheated on her; there’s Bella Durville (Amelia Reid-Meredith) who moved to Raglan after the pair proved incompatible; and, last, but by no means least, Dr Eve Reston (Jess Holly Bates), who fled Ferndale a year ago with the couple’s newborn twins after being revealed as a murderer.
Bunkall, himself happily married, admits for an intelligent man, Boyd is not good at picking his partners.
“I remember when they said Boyd and Bella were going to be together I thought – because she was very much that stereotypical ditsy receptionist and he was this really intellectual surgeon – would they actually have anything in common?” he says. “But they ended up writing it really well.
“When they were breaking up it was actually heartbreaking.
“As much as the audience like to say, ‘Why can’t we just leave them happy?’, you’d be bored if we did that.
“It is fun, in the meantime, having that lead-up to a romance and having that first moment. It is kind of exciting because that’s the exciting part of a relationship.”
“At some schools, these kids really do sit there with their phones and it was a battle to get their attention.”
– Sam Bunkall