Death doesn’t become her:
The Brokenwood Mysteries actress talks about her real-life dealings with death.
She is New Zealand’s best-known pathologist but The Brokenwood Mysteries actress Cristina Ionda, who plays Gina Kadinsky, won’t ever be going down that path in real life.
It’s not the blood and gore that puts her off.
“What would disturb me is the smell of the body,” she says. “I’ve been close to dead people in my youth and what is shocking is the smell.”
Growing up in her native Romania, Ionda was no stranger to death and the experience has stayed with her.
“We lived in a house with a lot of apartments and my mum was a nurse so when neighbours died, she was the first person they called to see if they were dead or not,” she says, adding while she didn’t accompany her mum on those initial visits she was involved during the following days.
“In those times in Romania, you put (dead people) in a cold room or something like that. It would be very close to a church and you would just stay with them. You didn’t leave a dead person alone.”
However, those natural deaths did little to prepare her for the bizarre ways in which people die in Brokenwood, New Zealand’s most murderous small town.
Not only are victims stabbed, strangled and shot but more bizarre cases have included a drowning in a wine vat, a woman discovered in the bush wrapped in fake cobwebs and poisoned with spider venom, a falling skydiver who ruined a picnic, and a historic village owner shot with a crossbow.
It always falls to Gina to explain the cause of death and it is not a responsibility Ionda takes lightly.
She reads a lot, watches real pathologists at work and, depending on the case, sometimes resorts to Doctor Google.
“You look just to understand what is happening. After that you forget,” she says. “The beauty of researching for a role is that you put your own personality in it but you have to know what you are talking about otherwise nobody will watch the show.
“If you don’t pronounce the words correctly they’ll be like, ‘What is she talking about?’ ”
It’s the same type of dedication she has put into building an acting career as New Zealand’s best-known Romanian actress.
In the 14 years since she and her husband spontaneously decided to move here after watching a Discovery documentary about this country (“My husband said, ‘Let’s go’ and I said, ‘OK’ ”), she has become the go-to person for any local roles requiring a Slavic accent.
“It was quite challenging at first, let’s put it like that,” she says, describing Kiwi casting directors as very kind. “They told me, ‘You just need to be patient’. It took me a while. I had a role in a docu-drama (Cancerman) where I had to speak Czech. That was probably my first speaking role.”
As a graduate of the Drama and Film Art Institute in Bucharest, Ionda was no acting novice.
She appeared in the movie Cold Mountain, alongside Nicole Kidman, and played the role of Molly in Out Of Season, which also starred Dennis Hopper and Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Gina Gershon.
She has since had roles in Nothing Trivial and Filthy Rich and is continuing to work on her accent – with some success it appears.
“The first time I went back home my mum said, ‘Cris, why are you talking Romanian with an accent?’ and I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ but, after another person said it, I started recording myself and they were right,” she says, laughing.
“I am a Kiwi now. I have a Kiwi passport so I am a Kiwi.”
And a famous one at that, thanks to the success of The Brokenwood Mysteries around the world.
“I have a friend in France (where the show attracts average audiences of 3.4 million) and she rang and said, ‘Cristina, I almost freaked out. I was sitting in front of the TV and you popped up on screen and I almost had a heart attack’,” the actress says. “And I was amazed to see on my Facebook public page that I have followers from Iceland and a lot of followers from Europe, the States, Australia, the UK and Ireland, and Canada.”
However, The Brokenwood Mysteries does not screen in her native Romania – yet. But she is hopeful. “When I am on holiday there to see my family and my husband’s family,” she says, “I will meet with some people from national television – to see what is going on there.”
“I’ve been close to dead people in my youth and what is shocking is the smell.” – Cristina Ionda