Fiona Samuel was born in Scotland in 1961 to New Zealanders abroad. She came to New Zealand at the age of five, and grew up in Christchurch before moving to Wellington to train as an actor at the New Zealand Drama School. Her first exposure to a national audience was on New Zealand's first television soap opera Close To Home - after playing four different characters without a surname or a story of their own, she began writing her own material and has been working as a writer, actor and director ever since.
Her first original work was radio drama Blonde Bombshell (1983), which won a Mobil Radio Award and was published in 3 Radio Plays (1989) by Victoria University Press. Two subsequent works for radio, comedy series Don't Touch That Dial (1993/4) and drama A Short History of Contraception (1993) also won Mobil Awards. A Short History of Contraception won the National Radio Suffrage Centenary Playwriting Competition in 1993, and has been broadcast around the world.
Her first work for television was The Marching Girls (1987), an original seven part drama series with ten young female leads - something unheard of at the time. Fiona continued her interest in the lives of girls and women on screen with Face Value (1994), a trilogy of solo dramas. The first of these, A Real Dog, marked her debut as a director. Following this, she made two short films - Bitch (1994) and Song of the Siren (1997), which won awards for Best Drama and Most Popular Short at the Bilboa and Turin Film Festivals.
Fiona has continued to write and direct drama with a female focus, particularly for television. This work includes Home Movie (1998), Virginity - A Documentary (2001) and Sunday Theatre telemovies Piece of My Heart (2009) and Bliss - The Beginning of Katherine Mansfield (2011), both available on DVD.
| Kate Elliot in peacock feather hat (hat maker, Natalie Keane)
Scene from Bliss by Fiona Samuel
She has also created a body of work as a playwright, with stage plays including The Wedding Party (1988); Lashings of Whipped Cream - A Session with a Teenage Dominatrix (1993); One Flesh (1996); The Liar's Bible (2004) and Ghost Train (2009), winner of the Writers Guild Award for Best Play in 2010. These plays have been staged around New Zealand and internationally. Scripts are available from Playmarket.
Fiona's career as an actor has continued throughout the development of her own work and spans television, theatre, radio and film, with appearances at every professional theatre in the country. Most recently she conceived and starred in the stage adaptation of The World's Wife, a collection of poems by British poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy. Commissioned by the NZ International Festival of the Arts in 2002 with an original score by Arts Laureate Don McGlashan and David Long, The World's Wife toured New Zealand from Keri Keri to Invercargill. Her favourite film roles include the voices for both Cheeky Hobson and Pongo in NZ's first animated feature Footrot Flats, and starring in iconic Kiwi shorts Stroke and Lemming Aid, as determined swimmer Dorothy and crazed animal-rights activist Raewyn.
These shorts can be seen on the NZ On Screen website, along with Fiona's short films Bitch and Song of the Siren, and early television dramas The Marching Girls, Face Value and Home Movie.
In 2018 Fiona was made a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to television and theatre in the 2019 New Years Honours List.