We use cookies to help us understand how you use our site, and make your experience better. To find out more read our privacy policy.
Profile image for Katie Wolfe

Katie Wolfe

Actor, Director, Producer [Ngāti Tama, Ngāti Mutunga]

Katie Wolfe was born in New Plymouth in 1968 — a descendent of Ngāti Tama/Ngāti Mutunga on her maternal side, and the daughter of an All Black (Neil Wolfe).

As a 14-year-old, she made her first stage appearance in the supporting cast of Annie, performed by the local operatic society. "If I've ever had a feeling of coming home that was it. It just felt right." Further roles followed.

In 1986 Wolfe enrolled at Victoria University in Wellington and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English, having spent "most of my time in the drama department". Determined to become an actor, she auditioned successfully for Toi Whakaari, and graduated in 1990. Her first full-time professional acting job followed, when she joined Dunedin's Fortune Theatre for $199 a week. So did her first taste of television  — as a presenter on several episodes of popular children's nature series Wild Track.

Her screen acting break followed shortly afterwards. Actor Ginette McDonald, in Dunedin visiting writer Robert Lord, recommended she audition for a part-Māori role on Marlin Bay, the first prime time drama series from South Pacific Pictures. Three years of playing the feisty Ginny Galloway followed. The show gave her the chance to learn "so much of my screen craft" from fellow cast member Andy Anderson

Wolfe made her big screen debut in The Last Tattoo (1994), played the missing girlfriend of an American soldier. The movie had at least one lasting effect: within six months she was married to fellow cast member, ex Toi Whakaari classmate Tim Balme. She also travelled to China, for an episode of Intrepid Journeys.

Her next role was much bigger  as a hard-bitten TV journalist on Cover Story. "I loved playing Amanda Robbins," says Wolfe in this interview. "I loved the character ... she was opinionated, she was politically incorrect. She chainsmoked for gods's sake, which you can't do any more.' After the 'teenage angst' of her Marlin Bay role, she admired Amanda's intelligence, abrasiveness and determination to get the story. Wolfe won Best Actress at the 1997 NZ TV Awards for her work on the show's second season.

She was also appearing in short films: Grant LaHood's Lemming Aid, a double role in Andrew Bancroft's ambitious Cannes Critic Week winner Planet Man (alongside her husband), and La Vie en Rose — written by Anna Reeves, a friend from New Plymouth.

Continuing her stage career, Wolfe formed Tasman Ray Limited with Balme. After hit show Blue Sky Boys, the couple toured Balme's solo show The Ballad of Jimmy Costello. They were in Dunedin contemplating a profit of $200 and a $120 speeding fine when Simon Bennett invited her to join the cast on Shortland Street.  

The role was bright but chaotic locum Bridget Armstrong. "My role was breaking up the marriage" between Peter Elliott's David Kearney and Robyn Malcolm's Ellen Crozier. The episode where the romance took off eclipsed Holmes in the ratings. 

Appearances in drama series Duggan and horror movie The Irrefutable Truth about Demons provided an antidote to 18 months on Shortland Street, but an ill-fated theatre venture provided a reality check. In 2000 Wolfe, Balme, Robyn Malcolm and Simon Bennett formed the New Zealand Actors Company; but, after two successful productions, the failure of the third saw the curtain close.

Wolfe had now given birth to her first child and continued to act occasionally in Mercy Peak. She was keen to explore new avenues after a busy decade of acting on stage and screen. Working with Bennett on Shortland Street had given her the opportunity to closely observe the craft of directing; she liked what she saw. She applied for a trainee's position on Shortland Street. Thrown in the deep end, Wolfe knew she was in the right place. By 2003 she was directing episodes of Shortland, and would go on to produce on the show.

Wolfe kept up her association with the stage, but tried limiting herself to a show every two years. Her role was changing there too. In 2005 she won Most Promising New Director at the Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards.

Wolfe was also becoming more aware of her Māori heritage. As an actor, she'd largely been cast in Pākehā roles. Directing for Māori Television underscored her lack of fluency in the language. Over the next years she juggled a second child with te reo classes, and then a full immersion course. She went on to direct te reo shows Pūkoro, Kōrero Mai and Whānau. In 2021, Wolfe took on the partly te re role of Hinapouri Phillips, the formidable matriarch of gang Te Toki in drama series Vegas.

As a director, she was keen to make sure actors were given room to do their best work. Black comedy This Is Her (2008) explores the bitter aftertaste of love. Initially written in an evening by Shortland Street scribe Kate McDermott, the short film required nine locations and 13 characters — including three children. It was invited to festivals around the world, including Sundance, Aspen (where it won Best Comedy), Palm Springs (Future Filmmaker award) and Prague (Audience Award). It was named Best Short Film at the 2008 NZ International Film Festival, and was a finalist in all four short film categories at the 2008 Qantas Film and TV Awards.

In 2010 Wolfe directed her second short, coming of age story Redemption. She co-wrote the script with Balme and Renae Maihi, working from a short story by Phil Kanawa. Wolfe called it "my first Māori film", adding that "the connection I have to the material has been with me many years."

In 2010 Wolfe directed a tele-movie adaptation of Witi Ihimaera's book Nights in the Gardens Of Spain (aka Kawa), which debuted in January 2011. Wolfe had already read the ale of a married man revealing his homosexuality before she was asked to direct the script. Said Wolfe: "Witi's book was an amazing story, and it was a great opportunity."

In 2017 Wolfe joined the team of female directors and writers behind Māori anthology feature Waru. She has also directed 2018 women's suffrage documentary He Māngai Wāhine - The Women's Voices, and episodes of Marae DIYGo Girls, Māori Television comedy The Ring Inz, The Brokenwood Mysteries and Head High.

Profile updated on 19 December 2021

Sources include
Katie Wolfe
'Katie Wolfe: Moving from acting to directing...' (Video Interview) NZ On Screen website. Director James Coleman. Loaded December 2011. Accessed December 2011
Trisha Dunleavy, Ourselves in Primetime: A History of New Zealand Television Drama, (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2005)
Sarah Lang, ‘In the Director’s Chair’ (Interview) - Next, March 2009 
James Littlewood, ‘Cry Wolfe’ (Interview) – Pavement, August 1994
Veronica Schmidt, ‘What Katie Did Next’ (Interview) – The Sunday Star-Times, 17 April 2005
Lisa Turner, ‘Acting on Impulse’ (Interview) – The NZ Women’s Weekly, 24 November 1997
Diana Wichtel, ‘This is her’ (Interview) - The Listener, 21 February 2009
Virginia Winder, ‘Katie Wolfe’s Dramatic Life ... So Far’ (Interview) (Broken link), Puke Ariki Website. Updated 4 August 2004. Accessed 27 July 2010
'Nights in the Garden of Spain', The Big Idea website (Broken link). 23 December 2010. Accessed 21 December 2015