Nancy Brunning

Nancy Brunning (1971 – 16 November 2019) was a New Zealand actress, director, and writer who won awards in film and television and made a major contribution to the growth of Māori in the arts.[1] Brunning was of Māori descent from the tribes of Ngati Raukawa and Ngai Tuhoe.[2][3] She won the best actress award at the New Zealand Film Awards for her lead role in the film What Becomes of the Broken Hearted? (1999),[3][4] the sequel to cult classic Once Were Warriors. In 2000, she won the Best Actress in Drama award at the New Zealand Television Awards for her lead role in the television series Nga Tohu. She was the acting coach for the Oscar-nominated short film Two Cars, One Night directed by Taika Waititi. According to friend and frequent collaborator Temuera Morrison, she "paved the way" for Māori actors in New Zealand.[5]

Nancy Brunning
Born1971 (1971)
Died (aged 48)
NationalityNew Zealander
EducationToi Whakaari
OccupationActor, director, writer
Years active1992–2019
Home townTaupo, New Zealand


Brunning grew up in Taupo and attended Toi Whakaari New Zealand Drama School from 1990 to 1991.[6] She lived in Wellington for most of her life.[6]

After graduating, she played many leading roles in theatre, film and television. In 1992, she won the award for Most Promising Female Actor at the Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards for the all Māori women production Nga Wahine. She also became one of the most well known faces on New Zealand television in the role of Jaki Manu in the soap Shortland Street and other programmes. In 1994, she appeared in the classic Nga Tangata Toa play written by Hone Kouka and directed by Colin McColl. Brunning also appeared on stage in major productions for the New Zealand International Festival of the Arts, the biggest arts event in the country, in productions such as Hide ‘n’ Seek (1992) (NZ and Australian tour) and Waiora (1996) (NZ, Brighton Festival and Hawai'i tours) and Blue Smoke. She played the role of Belle in the UK-NZ co-production of Beauty and the Beast (1998).[7] A speaker of the indigenous Māori language, Brunning also worked as a theatre director,[8] cultural advisor and script consultant.[9] She received a best actress nomination at the 2009 Qantas Film & TV Awards for her role in the movie Strength of Water.

Directing career

Brunning directed theatre and stage dramas from 1995. Her first production was Briar Grace-Smith's first full-length one woman show called Nga Pou Wahine. She also collaborated with Grace-Smith on a Taki Rua Theatre production in 1996 called Flat out Brown; directed Maori language play Te Ohaki a Nihe written by Selwyn Muru and devised and directed with Grace-Smith again on a touring show called Waitapu, also in 1996. She directed Women Far Walking written by Māori writer Witi Ihimaera. The play toured nationally and internationally to the UK. She was also assistant director with Nathaniel Lees on Awhi Tapu by Albert Belz for the Auckland Festival. She was assistant director for the play The Songmaker's Chair written by Albert Wendt and directed by Nathaniel Lees.[7]

Brunning directed the short film Journey to Ihipa (2008) which screened at the New Zealand International Film Festivals and internationally, including the Vladivostok Film Festival (2009) and in New York.[10] The film starred veteran New Zealand actress Elizabeth McRae and Nathaniel Lees, and was shot in the Ngai Tuhoe Māori community of Ruatahuna in the central North Island of New Zealand.


Brunning died on 16 November 2019 at age 48, nine years after being diagnosed with cancer. She posthumously won the Bruce Mason Award, a playwriting award, the following day.[6] Friend and frequent collaborator Temuera Morrison paid tribute to her.[5] In a post on Facebook, New Zealand television and radio host Stacey Morrison wrote that Brunning was "Our māmā, our sister, our aunty, our friend, she has followed the call of her tīpuna. Nancy's passion was to bring unheard stories to the light. To remind our people that our voices are a powerful tool and aroha is the most important thing of all. And while she was loved by the world, she was loved even more by us. She was the person that bound our whānau together."[11] Following her death, there were calls for Pharmac to be reformed.[12]


  1. Colin Chambers (14 May 2006). Continuum Companion to Twentieth Century Theatre. A&C Black. pp. 546–. ISBN 978-1-84714-001-2.
  2. Daniel Meyer-Dinkgräfe (20 May 2003). Who's Who in Contemporary World Theatre. Taylor & Francis. pp. 40–. ISBN 978-0-203-10590-0.
  3. Desmarais, Felix; McConnell, Glenn (17 November 2019). "Nancy Brunning wins Bruce Mason playwriting award one day after death". Stuff. Retrieved 19 November 2019.
  4. "Ex-Shortland Street star Nancy Brunning crowdfunding 'life prolonging' drug". The New Zealand Herald. 19 July 2019. Retrieved 19 November 2019.
  5. Emily Brookes (18 November 2019). "'An explosive actress': Temuera Morrison remembers Nancy Brunning". Stuff. Retrieved 19 November 2019.
  6. Desmarais, Felix (17 November 2019). "'We lost a tōtara today' – outpouring of love and grief for actor Nancy Brunning". Retrieved 16 November 2019.
  7. La Mama Theatre, New York. Retrieved 5 November 2009
  8. Huia Short Stories 3. Huia Publishers. 1999. pp. 245–. ISBN 978-1-877241-48-2.
  9. Auckland Actors Agency
  10. 2009 Vladivostok International Film Festival.Retrieved 7 November 2009
  11. "Former Shortland St star Nancy Brunning passes away". Newstalk ZB. 17 November 2019. Retrieved 27 November 2019.
  12. James Fyfe (18 November 2019). "Nancy Brunning's death: Calls for Pharmac reform". Newshub. Retrieved 28 November 2019.
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