Miriama Smith is a small-town girl with a big-city act­ing ca­reer who is find­ing bal­ance in both. The 800 Words ac­tress talks to Emma Clifton about tak­ing chances, fight­ing self-judge­ment and be­ing a sur­vivor.

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS -

the 800 Words ac­tress on why she left Auck­land, and find­ing bal­ance

Af­ter mak­ing a life-chang­ing de­ci­sion, there comes a time when you are shown whether you made the right call or not. For 800 Words ac­tress Miriama Smith, the proof came in a com­mon, but hor­ri­ble, pack­age: a clas­sic Auck­land traf­fic jam.

Miriama, her hus­band Dy­lan Marychurch and their five-year-old son Rauaroha had made the move away from the big smoke in 2014 af­ter re­al­is­ing that be­tween jobs and life ad­min, they were spend­ing half their day just try­ing to get to each other. So they moved to Katikati, and then to Waihi Beach. But be­cause Miriama’s job is Auck­land-cen­tric, she was aware she would have to com­mute back up. On the day of her Aus­tralian Women’s Weekly pho­to­shoot, she did her nor­mal head­ing-to-Auck­land rou­tine: woke up at 4am, show­ered, and got in the car to be­gin the two-hour drive. She hit the Bom­bay Hills – the area that marks the end of the Waikato and the start of Auck­land – at 5.30am. “I was high­fiv­ing my­self: ‘I’ll be able to go to the gym, get a few things done.’” Not so fast. One big car ac­ci­dent had blocked the en­tire mo­tor­way. And so it was that Miriama turned up to the pho­to­shoot at 10am af­ter around six hours of sit­ting in traf­fic – yet some­how still in good spir­its. “The av­er­age Auck­lan­der spends 80 hours a year get­ting some­where,” she re­cites. “That’s two weeks of your life.” She’s never felt bet­ter about the de­ci­sion to move. “Time is the new cur­rency.”

The im­por­tance of whanau

The fam­ily’s de­ci­sion to move down coun­try was partly for a bet­ter life­style, but it was also a chance to re­con­nect with their ex­tended whanau. Miriama, raised in Whakare­warewa out­side of Ro­torua, and then Porirua, had grown up with her wider fam­ily around her, a re­la­tion­ship that was of great im­por­tance. “If I think about the most in­flu­en­tial per­son in my life, it’s my grand­mother. She still res­onates with me a lot,” she says. “My mum, my nana, my aun­ties

– they ruled the house when I was grow­ing up.” But with her own child, Miriama had found that Rauaroha’s time with his grand­par­ents, who live in the Bay of Plenty, was be­com­ing more lim­ited, and he was al­ways hav­ing to re­learn his con­nec­tion to them. “We re­alised we needed to pro­tect that re­la­tion­ship, be­cause who knows how long it’s go­ing to be around for. So that was a cat­a­lyst for us. Also, as parents, you want to put your stake in the ground. So we just threw cau­tion to the wind and moved.”

There’s a rea­son why Miriama, who turns 42 this June, is so good at that com­mute to Auck­land, how­ever, and that’s be­cause – in a twist of Mur­phy’s law – just as her fam­ily made the shift south, she was of­fered the big­gest role of her ca­reer: as Brady, the am­bi­tious ma­tri­arch of a trou­bled fam­ily in Filthy Rich. It was a lead role in a multi-mil­lion­dol­lar TV show – a dream for an ac­tor. But it meant com­mut­ing to Auck­land and liv­ing there dur­ing the week, head­ing back to the Bay of Plenty at the week­end to be with her fam­ily and to also help run the five-hectare av­o­cado or­chard she and Dy­lan had taken on. The tim­ing wasn’t ex­actly per­fect, but Miriama and Dy­lan had al­ready de­cided she would head back to work when their son turned two. She had been at home with Rauaroha for 18 months, so while the role came ahead of sched­ule, it was too good to pass up.

“All the signs went to ‘it’s what you want to do’,” she re­calls. She knew the de­ci­sion to take the job would be po­ten­tially con­tro­ver­sial and re­quire a lot of ef­fort. But she wanted to make it work. “Be­ing hon­est with my­self and sit­ting in my truth… I re­ally wanted to go back to work. Life is a great op­por­tu­nity and we shouldn’t live it out of guilt or apol­ogy. I was pre­pared for peo­ple to go, ‘What do you mean you don’t see your son for five days of the week?’ And I did [get that], from a lot of mums, gen­er­ally, who couldn’t re­ally com­pre­hend how I could do that.” It also meant fight­ing against self­judge­ment. “I had to sit back and ask my­self, ‘Where is the pres­sure re­ally com­ing from?’ And most of it was just my­self. So [I had to] ac­cept this de­sire to work, with­out feel­ing guilty.”

Sup­port on set

Even in 2018, the world isn’t ex­actly set up for work­ing moth­ers, but Miriama says she’s had noth­ing but sup­port from her col­leagues. While film­ing the two sea­sons of Filthy Rich – the show ended in 2017 – she was told by the se­ries’ cre­ators they would work around a preg­nancy if she wanted to have a sec­ond child. “Rachel [Lang] said to me: ‘Are you ever go­ing to be think­ing about it? If you ever do, we’ll write it in or cover you some­how.’ They al­ways made it very clear: do what you want, don’t wait for us.”

It’s the same with her lat­est role, star­ring in TVNZ 1’s Aus­tralasian dram­edy 800 Words. Miriama joined the cast in the sec­ond half of last year, re­unit­ing with sev­eral of her for­mer co-stars, in­clud­ing lead ac­tor Erik Thom­son, who played her hus­band in the award-win­ning film We’re Here to Help. The pop­u­lar show, which starts again on TVNZ 1 in July, is very fam­ily friendly. Ac­tress Re­nee Lyons, who plays Brenda, was preg­nant with twins while film­ing one of the sea­sons, and had to be sub­tly writ­ten out when her doc­tors told her she needed bed rest. Anna Jul­li­enne (Katie) re­turned to the show three months af­ter giv­ing birth to her sec­ond child; Bri­die Carter (Jan) com­mutes from Aus­tralia with two chil­dren back home in By­ron Bay. There are work­ing moth­ers a-plenty on set: “It’s a very sup­port­ive en­vi­ron­ment, like a fam­ily,” Miriama says.

The 30s can be a pres­sure-packed decade; there are a lot of boxes to tick off: mar­riage, chil­dren, own­ing a home, hit­ting your ca­reer stride. Will Miriama’s 40s be a more re­laxed decade? Well, per­haps – but she ad­mits she’s not ready to shut the door on more chil­dren just yet. “I was lis­ten­ing to Toni Street on the ra­dio the other day and

she was talk­ing about the hard de­ci­sion of whether or not to have an­other child. And I can so re­late to that,” she ad­mits. “I’m still learn­ing to go easy on my­self; to not beat my­self up so much. ‘I am enough, I have enough, I do enough.’” It does in­volve chang­ing the habits of a life­time, though. “When you’re a driven per­son, you’re al­ways want­ing more and you just can’t help that, whether it’s more success, money, travel, an­other child. So it’s a case of un­der­stand­ing that if this is it, I’m happy. I wake up ev­ery morn­ing and I’m grate­ful, even for my fail­ures. Be­cause if it was all easy, I don’t think I’d be such a sur­vivor.”

A sus­tain­able ca­reer

It took a long time for Miriama to be­lieve that act­ing was a sus­tain­able ca­reer choice. Her first role came in 1991 when she was 14, in the police show Shark in the Park, which also starred Kiwi ac­tors Tim Balme and Jef­frey Thomas. She con­tin­ued to act through­out high school, be­fore be­ing cast in Short­land Street when she was 20. But it was be­ing cast in Mercy Peak in 2001 that gave her an in­sight into the pos­si­ble longevity of an act­ing ca­reer, when she was re­united with Tim and Jef­frey. “They were in my first act­ing job, then 10 years later, these cats were still do­ing it. I thought, ‘Oh, maybe this could be a ca­reer – maybe it’s not just good times and try­ing on out­fits?’”

The more re­laxed, re­lat­able vibe of 800 Words fits in well with what Miriama loved about Mercy Peak – and as some­one who now re­ally does live in a small, coastal town in New Zealand, she says the show ac­cu­rately cap­tures what goes on. “The cul­ture, the peo­ple… the gos­sip,” she laughs. “It doesn’t take long for an easterly wind to pick up some gos­sip and maybe twist it a lit­tle along the way be­fore it gets off at a dif­fer­ent street.”

Her fel­low Waihi Beach lo­cals agree with her – they’re big fans of 800 Words and be­lieve the quirky char­ac­ters are spot-on re­flec­tions of what coastal liv­ing re­ally is like.

There’s a nice syn­ergy, that both Miriama’s work and home have seen her liv­ing in her happy place. “I love the sea, I love see­ing the hori­zon ev­ery day – it re­sets my mind and my soul.” It re­ally is as re­laxed as it sounds, she says. “Waihi Beach is kind of the best-kept se­cret (un­til now). It can some­times get a lit­tle too sleepy due to the work be­ing so sea­sonal, but the qual­ity of life makes up for it. It’s like the 1960s. At New Year’s Eve we had a street party and ev­ery­body got in­vited: there’s a bar­be­cue, ping pong ta­bles, the kids all dis­ap­pear with their head lamps to go ex­plor­ing. Ev­ery­body knows each other, it’s very spe­cial.”

Liv­ing in Waihi Beach, where Miriama also teaches a yoga class, has given Rauaroha the kind of child­hood that shaped his parents – filled with ad­ven­ture, na­ture and qual­ity fam­ily time. “We’re try­ing to keep him in the bub­ble of what we grew up with, when it was all about stay­ing out un­til the street lamps came on or un­til we got hun­gry. I want him to see how spe­cial it is,” she says.

Get­ting back to her roots has been life-chang­ing for Miriama too. “Throw­ing what I want out there, lib­er­at­ing my­self through my choices, in­stead of sit­ting back and wait­ing for life to hap­pen, be­cause life is al­ready hap­pen­ing. Un­der­stand­ing your truth, and re­sid­ing in it, that’s where you find your tribe. It’s hap­pened a lot in my life, once I’ve ac­cepted me a bit more: the good, the bad, the ugly, the crazy, the calm, the yin, the yang. All of it.”

“If it was all easy, I don’t think I’d be such a sur­vivor.”


CLOCK­WISE FROM RIGHT: Miriama and her son Rauaroha at Matilda the Mu­si­cal in Auck­land last year; in 800 Words with Peter El­liott; a scene from Mercy Peak with Tim Balme and Craig Parker.

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