In the headlines:
How Shortland Street’s Holly Shervey coped with two controversial storylines.
When Holly Shervey joined the cast of Shortland Street, she didn’t expect her performance to make headlines in the national media – and certainly not twice in one month.
“When I started I knew I was going to be Kate’s (Laurel Devenie) sister and that I was going to try to get my hooks into Chris Warner (Michael Galvin) so it all went down a very different road to where I thought it was going,” she says, of playing Zoe Carlson.
“It’s been the most challenging acting I’ve ever had to do.
“I don’t think I could have asked for better storylines. I really did stretch the boundaries.”
Controversy first erupted when tests revealed that Zoe’s baby had Down Syndrome and its doctor father, Chris, suggested abortion could be the best option.
His reaction shocked and outraged the local Down Syndrome community, with The New Zealand Down Syndrome Association fielding numerous complaints from upset families and even Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero weighing into the debate.
Shervey, while admitting she avoids the show’s Facebook page, says she never took any of the criticism personally.
“I was playing a character and I did hope people would realise that. It was Zoe making those decisions, not Holly,” she says, adding the same was true of her co-star Galvin.
“Someone might react that way so I think Michael was justifying it from Chris’ point of view. Again, it was a character. It wasn’t real.”
Ironically, Zoe opted to continue with the pregnancy only to lose the baby after being attacked and raped by the masked man targeting Ferndale’s women.
It was another storyline that grabbed headlines. This time, many viewers felt that the assault was far too confronting.
Grabbed from behind while getting into her car at night, Zoe was left bloodied and severely beaten in a dark alleyway.
Despite warnings about the graphic content before the episode aired – and information on where to get help for those who had survived similar experiences in real life – viewers still took to social media to express their opinions.
The show’s Facebook page was inundated with comments from many people who were concerned it could bring back unwelcome memories for viewers who had been abused in real life.
“I felt slightly traumatised and I’ve never been assaulted,” said one viewer.
Someone else queried, “Did the show need to be that graphic with Zoe’s rape?”
Yet another said, “I’ve never experienced sexual assault but somehow still felt traumatised by Zoe’s scene tonight. Not complaining. I saw the trigger warning before, just didn’t realise how much these scenes can affect you. Shedding light on a very real problem.”
Shervey says she definitely felt a responsibility to viewers who have lived through similar experiences.
“Sexual assault and sexual violence are always going to be confronting,” she says, adding that she really wanted to do justice to the storyline. “I used my experiences of fear and loss and pain and tried to imagine what it was like for Zoe to go through those things which is pretty horrific and pretty raw. I just tried to make it as truthful as possible. “Every attack is going to be different. For that one, it was a woman being attacked in a dark alley but, as we know, it happens in all sorts of situations and environments.” Shervey says filming the attack scene and its aftermath was brutal. “It was an exhausting week because it does take its toll but I have a wonderful fiance (The Almighty Johnsons’ Emmett Skilton), who is also an actor, and so I could have a great debrief with him and he’s wonderful at reminding me it’s just storytelling,” she says. The actress doesn’t know what the scriptwriters have in store for Zoe – but she hopes her storylines are less controversial. “It would be nice not to offend or upset anyone. That would be great,” she says. “I did think to myself, ‘Man, imagine living with this kind of drama in your life. It would be so exhausting’. I live a really boring life and I like it.”
“It’s been the most challenging acting I’ve ever had to do. I don’t think I could have asked for better storylines.” – Holly Shervey