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“A Dog’s Purpose” Kiwi star KJ Apa on the weirdness of working in America

KJ Apa has kissed a girl with her face smeared in chicken fat. It’s not what it sounds like.

The girl was actress Britt Robertson, and they were filming a scene for feature A Dog’s Purpose. Their characters, teenagers Ethan and Hannah, share a kiss in the back of a car. Ethan’s dog Bailey decides to get in on the action, running his slobbery tongue up the side of Hannah’s face. When filming, the only way to convince canine actor Trip to do his part was to wipe chicken fat on half of Robertson’s face. Apa concedes it was “not very romantic at all”.

Apa has had to quickly get used to situations like this. Within just over a year the 19-year-old has gone from Shortland Street to A Dog’s Purpose to US teen drama Riverdale. He seems to be cruising down the road to genuine stardom. Like many Kiwi actors who have gone on to experience overseas success, for Apa it all started at Shortland Street. He played Kane Jenkins on the show from 2013 to 2015, his first acting experience.

Speaking over the phone from Los Angeles, Apa says he has nothing but good memories of his time on the soap – he just wishes he took it a little more seriously. “I didn’t really treat it with that much respect, if I could go back in time I would for sure put a lot more effort into it. I was new to acting, I had no idea what I was doing, and I was just having fun.”

Towards the end of Apa’s time on the show, he began sending self-takes to audition for overseas productions. While the tapes didn’t score him any acting gigs, they did help him make connections in the industry. He mined those connections on a subsequent trip across the Pacific, where he auditioned for a range of projects including A Dog’s Purpose.

Apa talks about his success with a typical Kiwi humbleness: “I ended up just kind of getting lucky, and I booked it, came home for a bit and then flew out to Canada to shoot for three months.”
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