Tandi Wright began acting at primary school, but didn't call herself an actor until she turned 30. Since her big break playing nurse Caroline Buxton on Shortland Street, she has gone on to a prolific and diverse acting career, while displaying her gift for comedy in Willy Nilly, awardwinning teen show Being Eve and Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby.
Wright' was born in Zambia, living there for two years until her family returned home to New Zealand. Her father, journalist Vernon Wright, was in Africa to train Zambian reporters after the country gained independence. Her mother — then a teacher — is actor/author Dinah Priestley.
At the age of six, Wright played one of George Grey's grandchildren in Kiwi TV epic The Governor, only to discover that her role had disappeared in the editing room. As a teen she had a small role in 1984 tele-movie Iris (not to be confused with the 2001 Judi Dench film, based on another writer named Iris).
Later Wright studied theatre and film, and began to come round to the idea that acting might be for her. "It's such a risky thing financially, it took me a long time till I thought I could own the (acting) mantle".
While studying at Wellington acting school Toi Whakaari in the 90s, she was offered an acting role on Shortland Street. She chose to complete her studies, before joining the series as straight-laced nurse Caroline Buxton. "For me that probably was the best training I could have had." Three years later, after telling the show's producers it was time for her to leave, Wright had an exciting final season in which her character jilted someone at the altar, got pregnant, became a lesbian, then rode off into the sunset with bad boy Greg (Tim Balme). Wright can also be spotted among the ensemble cast of 1996 short film Permanent Wave.
After four years on Shortland Street, Wright took some time out, before returning afresh to acting. In 2001 she was pleased to join the cast of "funny and smart" teenage drama series Being Eve. Playing the "warm-hearted but really rather dizzy" stepmother of the main character, Wright let loose in peroxide-blonde hair and 10-centimetre heels. Eve was followed by roles on two shortlived programmes - Australian backpacker drama Crash Palace and quirky soap send-up Atlantis High - before Wright struck gold in popular Sunday night comedy Willy Nilly.
Willy Nilly featured Wright playing the "daft but lovely" Joy, an undertaker's assistant who moves in with two forty-something brothers. "Working with Mark Hadlow and Sean Duffy was amazing because they are such good comedians," Wright says in her ScreenTalk interview." Sean Duffy is the driest, funniest guy in the world, and Mark Hadlow is the best physical comedian I've ever seen. I learnt so much from them."
For a number of months while working full-time on Willy Nilly, Wright found herself flying to Auckland each weekend to spend her Sundays fighting crims, for the fourth season of Street Legal. She played "little toughie" detective Angela Watson. She also appeared in another longrunning drama, Mercy Peak.
2004's Serial Killers saw Wright reunited with many of her Shortland Street co-stars. The acclaimed comedy from Shortland Street scribe James Griffin goes behind the scenes on a hospital soap opera. Wright played a venal, passive-aggressive producer who wishes she could make the show without having to deal with writers.
The same year Wright found herself suffering various indignities on politically incorrect comedy Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby. She played the "dippy", kindhearted teacher who falls for the charms of hypocritical, egotistical counsellor Steve Mudgeway. She next found herself wandering through the New Zealand bush trying to find her children, in period drama The Lost Children, before being catapulted into the future for Margaret Mahy fantasy Maddigan's Quest, and dealing with the troubled present on ambitious drama Doves of War.
Peter Cooke TV-biopic Not Only But Always featured Wright in a cameo role as Sound of Music star Julie Andrews. Wright has also cameoed on season six of Outrageous Fortune, and played small parts in a number of feature films, stretching from 1992 road movie Absent Without Leave to a role as a mad scientist, in the popular Black Sheep (2006).
That year Tandi Wright faced the "extraordinary challenge" of playing a mother caught up in the horrors of the Aramoana killings in Out of the Blue, for which she was nominated for best supporting actress in the 2008 NZ Film and TV Awards. Wright described the role as "the most full on experience I think I have ever had in making anything".... "the deepest and darkest and wildest I've been."
Wright reunited with Out of the Blue director Robert Sarkies and Street Legal actor Charles Mesure for offbeat television drama This is Not My Life. "It felt like we were making something really ambitious and something really unique," Wright told journalist Kimberley Rothwell. Wright played feisty but loving housewife Callie Ross, who discovers one day that her husband (Mesure) doesn't recognise her or their children. The series premiered in July 2010. "He is everything to her and she would do anything to please him and to protect her family," says Wright of the role. "She's quite a tiger in that respect."
In 2011 Wright joined the ensemble of hit series Nothing Trivial. Wright enjoyed playing a character who "doesn't need other people's approval", something she finds rare for female characters on screen.
'Talking with Tandi' (Interview) This is Not My Life page, on TVNZ website. Accessed August 2010
Kimberley Rothwell, 'Right role at just the right time' (Interview) - The Dominion Post (TV Week liftout) 14 September 2010, Page 3
'Tandi Wright - as seen on TV' (Video Interview). NZ On Screen Website. Director James Coleman (Uploaded 3 October 2011). Accessed 3 October 2011