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Elizabeth McRae wins Lifetime Achievement Award

Some of the biggest names in New Zealand entertainment have queued up to thank an acting legend for her lifetime of work in the industry.

Elizabeth McRae, who is still acting after 60 years in the business, was awarded the Equity Lifetime Achievement Award at a special performance at Q Theatre in Auckland this week.

The award is sponsored by Ryman Healthcare and recognised Elizabeth’s outstanding contribution to entertainment as well as supporting development of the profession during her long career.

Elizabeth has starred in film, theatre and television but is best known as the busybody receptionist Marje from the early days of Shortland Street.

Fellow actors Martin Henderson, Temuera Morrison and Michael Galvin paid tribute to Elizabeth. When they started out on Shortland Street Elizabeth was already a seasoned performer had she a big impact on their careers.

Martin Henderson – who played her son in Shortland Street and has gone on to become a Hollywood Star - praised the humour and the joy that was Marje. He was intimidated by Elizabeth at first but learned an awful lot from her professional approach.

“I personally wanted to say how big an influence you had on me when I was a young actor stating out on Shortland Street. I had zero training, no idea what I was doing and no awareness about the craft of acting. You were the first actor that instilled in me a sense of dedication, curiosity and work ethic. I just want to say a sincere thank you for the influence you had on my career.’’

Michael Galvin, who played Dr Chris Warner on Shortland Street, praised her as an insightful and calming influence on the young actors as they coped with their new found fame.
Most of all he loved her sense of humour and her kindness to other actors.

“There are simply very few people as smart as her, as skilled as funny as her as generous as her as inspired as her, and as inspiring as her.’’

Temuera Morrison, who famously played Dr Ropata in the show, also said he learned a huge amount about acting from Elizabeth.

As well as the acting advice Elizabeth gave him plenty of extra help. Her role as receptionist meant she could hand him fake phone messages, which contained his next lines.

Elizabeth praised her husband Don and her children for supporting her through all the ups and downs of an acting career.

Her professional highlight was acting in Samuel Beckett plays at Theatre Corporate in Auckland in the 1970s. She loved Beckett because of his skill with language.

But she was also proud of Shortland Street and the busybody gossip that was Marje. Shortland Street had had a profound impact on the industry and her career, she said.

“I’m proud of it because we were telling genuine New Zealand stories in a way that we hadn’t before.’’
“It meant that I’ve been typecast as a busybody and a gossip. If they need a mad old lady they ring me.’’

After 60 years Elizabeth is still working, starring in the Brokenwood Mysteries.

David King, Corporate Affairs Manager at Ryman Healthcare, congratulated Elizabeth on her award: “We are absolutely delighted to support this recognition of the contribution Elizabeth has made to entertaining us all over so many years. Anyone who watched TV in the 1990s will remember her with affection as the busybody Marje from Shortland Street. As well as a superb actor she has been an inspiration to many generations of younger people learning their trade, and she thoroughly deserves this recognition for her long years of hard work and commitment to the profession.’’

Equity President Jennifer Ward-Lealand said: “I’m absolutely delighted that Elizabeth has been chosen as our Equity Lifetime Achievement Award recipient. She is well-known for her fine work as an actor and teacher and there are generations of actors who have been the lucky recipients of her wisdom and experience.”

Elizabeth McRae was nominated by New Zealand performers and selected by the board of Equity New Zealand.

About Ryman: Ryman Healthcare was founded in Christchurch in 1984 and owns and operates 30 retirement villages in New Zealand and Australia. Ryman villages are home to 10,000 residents, and the company employs 4,000 staff.

Media advisory: For further information, photos, video footage, interviews or comment please contact Corporate Affairs Manager David King on 03 366 4069 or 021 499 602.

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