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Reluctant star

Chelsie Preston Crayford started her acting career with a chocolate bribe. Now she needs no convincing.
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Photograph by Florence Noble

“I was the girl who sat in a deck chair and told people not to drown,” Chelsie Preston Crayford recalls of her first acting job, aged four. “I remember being bribed to say my lines with peanut butter sandwiches and Moro bars.” Now 22, she sits cross-legged on her double bed and chomps on a bean salad.

Crayford‘s path to stage and screen seems inevitable: her parents, filmmaker Gaylene Preston and musician Jonathan Crayford, met on a film set. But she loathed the connotations of being an aspiring actress, before eventually deciding acting was much better than packing coffee. Good call.

Once committed, she held nothing back. Studying at Toi Whakaari drama school, Crayford broke school rules by taking sick days off to play an outcast in the short film Fog, and won an Air New Zealand Screen Award for her performance. She’s had the obligatory turn on Shortland Street and a part in Eagle vs Shark; played her grandmother as a young woman in her mother’s film Home By Christmas, due out in April 2010; is currently starring in the epic TVNZ thriller The Cult and has just completed a season headlining with Oliver Driver in the play Ruben Guthrie, only a year after finishing at Toi Whakaari.

Crayford brings an unaffected appeal to her roles: she is wide-eyed, animated and bursting with energy. Her spare moments are spent singing, climbing trees, craft-making and playing her Omnichord. When I take her first photo she pulls an extreme grimace at the camera—so strange it looks Photoshopped—and then grins at me like a Cheshire cat.