Photography and creative direction by Kath Gould. Styling by Sammy Salsa
Your eyes do not deceive you, that is indeed Kimberley Crossman.
Probably not the Kim Crossman you thought you knew: the ‘bubbly blonde’ that graces our TV screens, currently as the co-host of new TVNZ show Snack Masters, or the moody teen on Shortland Street a decade and a half ago. This is Kim Crossman straight from her own mind, brought to full, saturated life in collaboration with makeup artist and photographer Kath Gould and stylist Sammy Salsa.
Who is this Kim Crossman? Perhaps more accurately, it's a question of who she isn't. To start, is she Kim or Kimberley? You choose.
“I like people to land on what they enjoy calling me,” Crossman reassures me. “I think as an actor you have every different name. Some people like Kimbo, or Kimmy, Kimchi is my latest one. I love it. Just have ham at it.” Her Zoom username says Kim, so let's go with that.
What then are we to read of this edgy Kim? What did she want us to get from this shoot, because she looks... different. “Unrecognisable, one might say," she says laughing.
“I just wanted to look different, and a little bit cooler and a little bit more edgy. I can actually be quite edgy in my life, but I think because I've grown up as a little sweetheart,” - she makes an angelic cherub face - “I think it is quite nice to strip that away.”
Behind the camera lens is Gould, who has worked closely with Crossman for years - across a period where the actress has undergone a transformation both outwardly and personally. Crossman looks different because she is different. But she is quick to deflect to the talent of others.
“It's so interesting, even on my Instagram the work that Kath has done: there's almost this clear line where ‘Kim got cool’, and it's nothing to do with me. It's entirely the people around me.”
Crossman has changed a great deal over the past two years and deflect as she might, she has to be responsible for part of this shift, I point out. Her presence comes strongly through that camera.
“I should own it. I think I look f….g incredible but there's a bit of a disconnect between the images and how I see myself. I see myself as a constant mess of energy fizzing around the planet.”
Crossman has broached that disconnect previously on her podcast Pretty Depressed. The idea that one's identity is made up not just of how you see yourself, but also how others perceive you. It strikes me that because she started on Shortland Street so young (Crossman was 15 when she began playing Sophie McKay), the New Zealand public probably solidified in their minds an image of who she was before Crossman really knew herself. Does any of that ring true?
“Oh my gosh, I still don't know who I am, so I'll take everyone's lead. You tell me and I'll adapt!”
People pleasing behaviour aside, more accurately Crossman supposes that it was the other way round. “My character on Shortland Street was quite edgy, quite outspoken and more mature and bold than I, Kimberley, ever was at that time so I think I spun the other way.
“My very first [experience] dipping my toe into publicity and photoshoots when I was only 15 was bikinis, all very sexy and at that stage I did not identify with that. So I actually tried to swing the pendulum the other way because I didn’t feel I was in my body, I didn’t feel overly sexual - I pushed it the bubblegum route a little bit more. I identified as a good girl,” she says.
“Now that I'm in my thirties I feel a little bit more in my body and in my personality which feels ever growing and ever changing by design. I feel like I've caught up to a place where I feel more comfortable taking more risks with the clothes that I wear, the look that I'm going for and this [shoot] was a great way to start that.”
How much does Crossman chase that tag of ‘good girl’ now?
“There is an element of pride with it too, because I like being on time, I really set myself to quite a high standard. I don’t necessarily mean ‘good girl’ as being obedient and meek, it's more that ‘I've done all the things that are asked of me and I've done them well’, that kind of over achieving tendencies,” she explains.
While she may have wanted the world to see her as the overachiever, Kim’s self view was much much different. “I think the biggest difference in how I'm perceived is someone who's got it all together. Well, maybe not got it all together but who is doing well and is achieving things, but my [internal] version is that you haven't achieved anything yet, you've still got so much to do.”
This is where that transformation comes back into play. In 2019 Crossman was diagnosed with depression and since then, she's made it her mission to reconcile what that means for her identity and has documented much of the journey on the podcast.
“My brain has a tendency, which is so in duality with how I see others. I always see the good in others almost to a fault and I always see other people's potential and I fall in love with their potential... but I don't offer myself that grace.”
“I didn't realise until recently, going through the process on my podcast, of just how bad my negative self-talk is. And it's in everything: I chop a tomato and think ‘that looks like a f….g piece of shit Kim’.
“It's been quite an awakening to realise that narrative, because it went almost 30 years being unchecked, when I didn't get any help or therapy and allowed it to seep into almost everything that I did - it presents itself in perfectionism essentially.”
It tracks, then, that Crossman's approach to her mental health has in essence been to turn it into a job that she can do perfectly. She's doing the work and doing her very best at it.
“It's totally work but it's also work that I'm not scared of. It's the best type of work because it means I'm a better functioning human with more empathy,” she says. “So yes, it's work but I'm a hard worker. I have an absolute fear of ever being lazy. so I'll always be productive and I'll always make the most of things.
“Doing the work can be challenging at times because it can be confronting but I quite like hard work. I’m a sucker for punishment I guess.”
Initially Crossman was hesitant to get started because she was terrified of what lay ahead. She worried about the extent of the issue she'd been hiding from others and herself.
“I definitely don’t like to be burdensome. I like to be there for others and be the first one there. When it comes to myself, I always have a layer of feeling like I am burdensome or that my problems are trivial so when I had to get help I was really pushed into it by my sister. I think my fear was that I'd go in and I'd get taken away, maybe I'd completely lost it and it was worse than I could have catastrophised.”
Like all self-talk, the reality was nowhere near as disastrous as she’d made out internally.
“The reality of going to therapy was actually such a relief, to almost get a label of depression, because the conversation quickly became ‘cool how are we going to work with this? What tools do we need?’ I was concerned I'd get given a label and I didn't want to identify with it and now I'm trying to wear it a little bit more like a badge because it makes me a bit more edgy and vulnerable and everyone else has got stuff too."
Her candour about her mental health is admirable, but because she has a profile does she feel obligated to share? Is there always a lesson to be learnt publically?
“Not at all. But I’ve learnt that it is therapy for me and that a problem shared is a problem halved. I spent 30 years not sharing all my yuck and it ultimately made me unwell.
“I was afraid of intimacy and hated being asked ‘how are you?’ I would always flip the question back because there was part of me I didn't love and I was two different people. In sharing, I'm trying to marry the two and it feels so much healthier.
“I had a panic attack on television last year on Treasure Island and that was a very scary thing for me because not even my family or closest friends have ever seen me in ‘a state’. So there's been a real gift in sharing that I've overcome insecurities. Because that was the scariest thing for me, exposing my yuck and only good came from it, so I kind of feel like I have a superpower now,” she says.
By her own admission, Crossman has trouble sitting with herself. Perhaps because of that negative self-talk and fear of perceived laziness. So how did she handle a pandemic where she was essentially forced to stop?
“A big part of my therapy is reframing the narrative as soon as possible. I knew that I'm a nomad and rarely home for extended periods of time so I set up a situation where, as soon as we were going into level four, I said to myself, ‘this is time that I wont get back, this is time that I get to spend with my parents who are getting older’. It was quite scary and confrontational spending more time with them because I'm usually so transient.
“The hardest part was doing those MIQs, because I was alone,” says Crossman, who did five stints. “But after I did a couple of them, I tried to set myself up for success and I wrote a humungous to do list of all the shit that I’d been meaning to do and ticked so much of it off.
“I'm working hard to anticipate those moments where I'm going to be in a situation that I know I have a tendency to spiral or doom scroll and plan ahead for how to make things a pleasurable experience rather than one that can open the floor beneath me and swallow me.
“I basically have to manage myself as if I’m an employee of myself. Fun hey?” she says, laughing.
The reason for all those MIQ visits is down to the other dualities in Crossman's life. She lives between Los Angeles and Auckland (in 2019 she went between the two cities 18 times) but also works frequently as both an actor and an interviewer. She seemingly thrives with the constant motion.
“While I'm able bodied and have the energy, I’m really excited about this post-pandemic chapter where I can go and soak everything in. I feel like I'm really in a season of life where I want to be open to these things while they're available to me, because I know there's someone younger and way more fun and talented waiting to come up in the wings.
“I'm well aware that following this season is a season of drought and unemployment, and that's just the nature of it. The nature of this career is that it has those dramatic feasts and famines. But I'm feasting and it feels good!”
This is a surprisingly laid back approach for someone who is a self-described planner, someone who has what she calls 'lofty goals' and works towards them constantly, someone who plans her every day and writes lists and checks things off. Does this transience not unsettle her?
“I'm getting better at it. I used to strangle each opportunity out of the fear of unemployment on the other side of it. I think as I get more secure in my talent I get more confident, and that's been really difficult because when you are in a rejection business where its nine nos to one yes, it's so easy to doubt that you have any talent The more secure I'm getting in in that the less strangulation there is.”
Her dedication to making it work in Los Angeles is admirable given that she struggles with self doubt. New Zealanders are humble to a fault: just try complimenting a Kiwi on their outfit, points out Crossman. How does that psyche cope in the land of self confidence?
“I quite like it because I think there's such beauty [in both]. It's so nice to be back in humble New Zealand after LA where everyone is like ‘I’m awesome’, and in the same respect it's so nice to be in that dreamer energy.
“That's something that LA has: it's full of people who left somewhere to pursue something. It gets a lot of shit because it's plastic or whatever, but there are so many who are pursuing these lofty goals that it's hard not to feel inspired there, it's such a cool energy of ambition.”
That Crossman is a dreamer shouldn't surprise; she literally has an LED sign that spells out ‘dream’ on her bedroom wall. If someone as talented as Crossman can convince herself that her inability to dice a tomato is holding her back, then her mind is clearly worthy of leaps.
What big dream is Crossman chasing now then? What is the thing that would make it worth living in the home of the brave boasters as a person who battles feelings of inadequacy? It's more obvious than you may think.
“My big dream is to be the lead of a successful, funny, American TV series,” says Crossman forthrightly. “I’ve had the dream a few times and it just hasn't got picked up, or it's got altered slightly but I've worked on those shows.
“Part B would be that but for hosting. I'm developing a show and I'm in school at the moment for marine biology because that's the show I want to create: entertaining but secretly educational. Those are the two North Stars that I'm heading for.”
Marine biology - that is surprising. What's behind that? A desire to do something properly of course. “If I'm going to develop a show in that area, I should have a real base knowledge because the alternative is stepping into it in a host role and being fed lines, and I really want to take a role in the driver's seat.”
It's a year-long correspondence course that Crossman is completing for, she says, her “own nerdiness”. You will not be surprised to hear that she's received full marks in every assignment so far.
Kimberley Crossman is doing the work. She takes life seriously and we should take her seriously too.