When Marianne Infante joined Shortland Street in 2021, she hoped her role as nurse Madonna Diaz would shine a light on New Zealand’s Filipino migrant community.
“I think we really achieved what we set out to do, which was to create spaces for Filipino voices on screen,” Infante says, adding that the feisty nurse even taught her a thing or two.
“I’m going to have a script and I’m like, ‘Which side am I on for this? A lot of Madonna’s character traits – her tenacity, her hardworking mentality and her fight for the underdog – really resonate with me.
Madonna’s influence doesn’t stop there. Infanta’s devout Catholic mother (“My biggest fan and she’ll fight anyone who says otherwise”) began to see some things differently after seeing the young nurse’s struggles to reconcile her strong religious faith with the style of kiwi life.
“My mom and I had great discussions about why Madonna can be so snooty and also why Madonna is sometimes right on target,” she says.
“It’s really great to see the Filipino community questioning their beliefs, because I think that’s a big part of why we do what we do on screen – show other horizons.”
Madonna’s current situation is a good example. On the job, she’s fulfilled her ambition to succeed Nicole (Sally Martin) as director of nursing – albeit on an interim basis – while on a personal level, she’s eventually engaged to hot ambo Villiami (Theo David ).
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However, the changes she implements at the hospital aren’t popular with many, and things are even more difficult on the home front.
While the beloved couple had moved in together, Madonna’s concern about what other people think – especially her mother in the Philippines – means there isn’t much love. Now Viliami has moved on, leaving her devastated.
“I’m very lucky that my whānau is in New Zealand so they understand the Kiwi culture, but for Madonna, having her mum at home, she would care a lot about what the family thinks of her,” says -she.
“I relate to her that way. I have a strong relationship with my parents. I talk to my mom every day, and that’s how we live. No man will ever come into my life without having a good healthy relationship with my family because if you want to be part of my life, you have to be part of their life.
Infante says Filipino migrants may be far from home, but they are driven by the need to make their extended family proud.
“For Filipinos, our success is not always an individual success. It’s still a collective success, so I think Madonna still has this mentality that she’s not just working for herself, but working for her family at home to survive,” she says. “Our family means the world to us. They are the ones who came before us, who created who we are today and who rely on what we are becoming. There’s a lot of pressure out there, so it’s getting hard not to let that pressure bog you down. I think that’s where you have to find the balance.
At this point, it looks like Madonna has lost the fight – at least temporarily – in her relationship with Viliami.
“But I think Madonna will be praying very hard about it and between me, you and the country, I think he’s a bit overreacting,” Infante jokes, adding that fans frequently give her advice on how Madonna should process her relationship. “The girl is trying, that’s all I’m going to tell them.”
His own advice to his character?
“It will be a great opportunity for Madonna to be a little more humble and realize that we all need to ask for help, not just from God, but from the people around us.
“I think the hardest thing to do is admit that you’re not coping or that you need help, and that you can’t be more than you are now,” she says. .
“I would say that’s one of the areas where Madonna and I are very, very different, just in terms of heat and cold.
“He’s a very complex person and, after almost a year, I think we’ve finally cracked his surface.”
Shortland Street, TVNZ 2 weeknights