Why Kiwi actress Darneen Christian is one to watch

The 22-year-old is making moves.

Star on the rise Darneen Christian was in a state of shock last year when she found out she’d landed the female lead in The Dead Lands, a TV adaptation of Toa Fraser’s iconic New Zealand Māori action film for American audiences. “I blacked out for a bit and said a good 14 swear words in a row out of excitement. ‘Yas b*tch’ was one of them!”

You can forgive the 22-year-old for being overcome with emotion. She’d just been cast in the first New Zealand show to be commissioned directly into the US, for the AMC network responsible for knockout successes Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead. Not to mention Darneen was still at drama school, stepping into the elevator at Wellington’s Toi Whakaari when her agent called to say she’d won the role of Mehe in the spiritual warrior action series. “I was in disbelief for a bit too, but was fully overwhelmed with excitement and pride. Like ‘Holy daaamn, it’s for real?’”

With Darneen’s show card previously filled only with work from class assessments, performance groups and friends’ projects, she was thrown in the deep end – given a month’s notice to move to Auckland for filming. However, when she walked onto the West Coast set, the experienced crew, including executive producer Matthew Metcalfe and co-lead Te Kohe Tuhaka, immediately put her at ease. “I was a rookie stepping onto some huge mahi with people who know it so well – so much flew in my head that I had to suck up,” she says. “The series itself is so unique, and to be a part of it was a learning curve I wanted.”

The wider significance of her first major role is not lost on Darneen, who’s of Māori and Pitcairn Islands descent. “I think the importance of it is for the world to see our beautiful culture. The world seems hungry for native stories, but not for the native history,” she muses. “We have more to offer than stories.”


Words: Jessica-Belle Greer
Photos: Stephen Tilley