Shortland Street's latest star comes from close
to home. Nigel Benson meets Dunedin actor Ria Vandervis.
Ria Vandervis of Shortland St. Photo supplied.
Shortland Street has been a journey, rather than a
destination for Ria Vandervis.
The Dunedin actor is not so far removed from her secretive
character, Dr Harper Whitley.
She, too, has recently returned to New Zealand, after
successfully working overseas.
Yet, Vandervis (28) could easily have had a career in
building, rather than building an acting career.
''I did a year at architecture school before I decided to
change to acting. I was tossing up between those two at high
school, but then I got a scholarship to study architecture,''
she said during a break from filming Shortland Street.
''But most of my friends in Auckland were at drama school, so
I changed direction and did a three-year bachelor of
performing and screen arts [degree] at Unitec.''
Roles quickly followed in the New Zealand film The Devil
Dared Me To and Power Rangers: Operation
Overdrive. She then moved to Sydney and won parts in
Underbelly, Packed to the Rafters, Rescue
Special Ops and Cops LAC.
She returned to New Zealand last year for a role in TV3 drama
series Harry, after which she was offered the role of
the mysterious and troubled Whitley.
''It's interesting having two series on at the same time. I
moved back to Dunedin from Sydney thinking I'd be putting my
career on hold. My career hasn't been theatre, so it makes it
difficult to get work somewhere like the Fortune.''
Dr Whitley was behind Dr Sarah Potts (played by Amanda
Billing) at medical school and, as the rising stars of their
respective years, the two became good friends.
However, Dr Whitley left New Zealand for more challenging
opportunities in Australia and, ultimately, New York, where
she became the youngest doctor appointed as an emergency
However, she is vague about why she has returned to New
Zealand and many at Ferndale are suspicious of her motivation
for moving home from the Big Apple.
''She's an alpha female and uber confident and used to
getting what she wants, which causes conflicts,'' Vandervis
''She's also hiding a secret and doesn't want that to come
Vandervis was born in Dunedin and attended Columba College,
where she first trod the boards in a school production of
The Sound of Music.
When not acting, she is a certified marriage celebrant and
helps run a screen-printing business, Konstruct Klothing,
with husband Chris Ashton, from offices in Kaikorai Valley
''I got married at the end of December at the Vauxhall Yacht
Club and then moved to Auckland at the end of February to
start Shortland Street. It's an interesting way to
start your marriage. I try to get get back every second
weekend,'' she said.
''I'm enjoying it and the family have all been really
supportive, but it was a baptism of fire. The thing with
Shortland Street is there's no time to do anything.
It's all about getting it done. You're bombarded with
scripts, so they cast quite close to character type. You get
the script a few weeks in advance so you can plot your
''It was terrifying. You get chucked in the deep end. We
shoot an episode a day, so you've got 20 minutes to do a
scene. You just try try get your words right and hit the
mark. You're a little cog in a big machine.''
• Shortland Street screens weekdays at 7pm on