Paratene a class act

KARINA ABADIA
Last updated 05:00 16/01/2013
Rawere Patene
JASON OXENHAM
PROUD ACTOR: Rawiri Paratene was born in the Hokianga and now lives in St Heliers.
Rawere Patene
SUPPLIED
HONOURS CLUB: Rawiri Paratene who played Koro in Whale Rider has been made an officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit. He is pictured with his co-star Keisha Castle-Hughes.

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Veteran actor, writer and director Rawiri Paratene says in the performing arts world you have to get used to the fact your work is constantly under scrutiny.

But positive recognition is always welcome and it is a great honour to have been made an officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to film, television and theatre.

"I join a select number of Maori actors and film-makers who have received orders of merit including Merata Mita, George Henare and Don Selwyn."

The 58-year-old was born in the Hokianga but grew up in Otara. He lived in Ellerslie and Mt Wellington before settling in St Heliers with his wife three years ago.

He is of Te Rarawa and Nga Puhi descent and was the first Maori to graduate from the New Zealand Drama School in 1972.

"I was part of a wave of pioneering Maori performing artists," Mr Paratene says.

This had its advantages.

"It was a lot easier back then. I never used to have to audition.

"There was only a handful of Maori actors and no-one had agents.

"Nowadays if you are a young Maori male coming through, you need to have mau rakau [Maori martial arts] skills and be bilingual."

He says it is also important to be good at accents because Maori and Pacific actors can both play other nationalities such as Spaniards, as actor Cliff Curtis has demonstrated.

The success of his biggest hit Whale Rider in 2002 came as no surprise to him.

He played the male lead Koro alongside Keisha Castle-Hughes.

"At the audition I said if we get this film right it is going to be an international success. The shoot was fantastic and then the build-up with it winning a couple of festivals set it up nicely."

But in some ways his role as Arthur in The Insatiable Moon is more of a highlight because it is more recent, he says. The 2010 movie saw him pick up best lead actor at the 2011 Aotearoa Film and Television Awards.

Another high point was taking The Maori Troilus and Cressida to London's Shakespeare Globe Theatre last year.

It was a "smash hit" says Mr Paratene, who was the executive producer and lead actor of the production.

It was his second stint at the Globe after having been chosen as the first New Zealand actor to join the company in 2009.

What he learnt from his time at the theatre was that when it comes to Shakespeare there is no such thing as a soliloquy.

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"There isn't any line of Shakespeare that isn't delivered to someone and sometimes that someone is a member of the audience. That was a great discovery."

At the moment he is working on two feature film scripts at his house in the Hokianga. He does not want to give too much away because they are still in the very early stages, he says.

He also has another film script on the go which he co-wrote last year. At the moment the producers are applying for funding before they can start shooting.

It's not always easy surviving in an industry without a permanent salary, not that Mr Paratene is complaining.

"In the Hokianga I sit on a deck looking through native bush to a harbour. When I go back to St Heliers I'll be on a deck looking across some houses to another beautiful harbour with an incredible mountain in the middle of it. Life's not bad," he says.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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