It is fair to say, Teuila Blakely is no walkover. When a sex tape featuring the former Shortland Street actress and Warriors player Konrad Hurrell surfaced on line in 2014, she met the backlash head on.
Three years later, Blakely is still a favourite with on-line trolls but that has done nothing to dampen her enthusiasm for being in the public eye – either on screen as an actor or fronting campaigns for the many causes she supports.
Her latest role, as Filthy Rich’s vixenish Malia – the woman who gave up Joe (Alex Tarrant), the son she had with the late John Truebridge in return for a Hawaiian resort – is unlikely to engender any sympathy from the haters.
“Sometimes you go for a role and you just know intrinsically that it’s yours and that’s how I felt about Malia right from the beginning,” Blakely says. “I just knew as soon as I read her that it was me.”
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She acknowledges that while not everyone will love Malia as much as she does, she will not go unnoticed –and that will help with the work she does outside of acting.
“You can’t control how people react and I certainly learnt that. I’ve had some very trying times in public life but, then again, it’s kind of cool playing characters that do get a really strong reaction,” she says.
“I’m sure there’ll be some backlash. I can’t really do much in the public eye without some kind of negative reaction ever since that whole (sex tape) thing. People have the right to react the way they’re going to. I don’t tend to worry about how other people are.”
However, she does admit to being stunned by how critical some people can be of someone they don’t know – or even of someone they do.
“Most of us couldn’t even imagine what motivates people to be like that. It’s just bizarre sometimes,” she says.
“I do think though that it is unfortunate in this day and age with social media and things like that, it does tend to generate a lot more negative reaction which for me, having been at the receiving end of it, is unfortunate.”
That said, Blakely, 42, admits the publicity has its advantages when it comes to raising awareness about the issues that are closest to her heart.
Most recently, she has been one of the faces of the Human Rights Commission’s Give Nothing To Racism campaign as well as supporting MyBodyMyTerms, a campaign that challenges people’s perceptions about sex, sexual assault, and victim blaming.
“Those two campaigns are particularly meaningful to me,” she says.
“Being a Polynesian girl growing up in New Zealand, racism was rife, especially where I was from (Tauranga and then West Auckland). Being able to have contributed to the Give Nothing To Racism campaign, especially for the Human Rights Commission, I felt incredibly honoured and in terms of MyBodyMyTerms, equally so.
“I’m an advocate for sexual empowerment for young women – in fact, for everyone. That was an issue that was very, very close to my heart and actually which went with a lot of other work I do.
“When I’m not on screen and I’m not acting, I’m always just sort of being me and (highlighting) those issues – and anything to do with encouraging other people to have the best life that they could possibly live.”
For Blakely, who had her son Jared, now 25, when she was 16, Filthy Rich’s Malia is helping her do just that.
“One of the most fascinating aspects of playing Malia was that she was a very different kind of mother to me. She got pregnant very young in life like I did but I kept my child and she gave hers up,” Blakely says.
“I think it’s fascinating to be able to explore human behaviour and understand the motivation of women who choose that. It’s been a real gift to play as an actress because there is never a dull moment. Mind you, that’s the nature of a show like Filthy Rich which is why it is so great to be involved in the second season.
“It is such a different type of production to Shortland Street and I really love the extremity, not only of the characters but also of the details of the houses, the cars, the clothes, the shoes, the behaviour and the fact that there are really people like that in real life, that really do live those kind of lives.”
Filthy Rich, TVNZ 2, Tuesday.
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