Once were Warriors star: 'Jake a millstone'

Temuera Morrison at his multi-million dollar Kawaha Pt property on the shores of Lake Rotorua and , below, as Jake 'The Muss'.
Temuera Morrison at his multi-million dollar Kawaha Pt property on the shores of Lake Rotorua and , below, as Jake 'The Muss'.

New Zealand's most notorious movie character, Jake "the Muss" Heke, propelled Temuera Morrison to Hollywood.

But on the eve of his 50th birthday, the actor says the Once Were Warriors hardman image has been a "millstone" around his neck.

"People go: 'There's Jake the Muss, there's Jake the Muss'. Someone will be telling their son: 'There's Jake the Muss, son'," Morrison told Sunday News.

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"Sometimes I feel like, 'Not today mate, not today'. Like when I am doing the washing, I don't feel like Jake the Muss – doing all the bee-ach jobs."

Morrison, who turns half a century on Tuesday, said he "didn't really enjoy" his time filming Once Were Warriors, which erupted on to the New Zealand big screen in 1994.

"It was a lot of hard work and emotional mayhem. People go nutty doing movies like that. It was full-on and [we] never knew how it was going to turn out," he said.

"I was still curly-haired Doctor Ropata [off Shortland Street] until Friday night and we rolled on Warriors on the Monday. So there was no time to get ready."

Mentoring from his uncle, the late Sir Howard Morrison, and veteran Kiwi actor and director Don Selwyn helped him get through the gruelling experience.

After his Once Were Warriors breakthrough, Morrison went on to appear in Hollywood movies Barb Wire, The Island of Dr Moreau, Speed 2, Vertical Limit, the Star Wars' most-recent trilogy, Couples Retreat and The Marine 2.

While Once Were Warriors was a worldwide critical hit, many of Morrison's follow-up movies have been turkeys. Asked to nominate the film he found least appealing, he said: "One that is not so good. They are all bloody lemons.

"There was The Island of Dr Moreau, there was Barb Wire and there was Speed 2.

"At the end of the day, maybe my choices weren't that good but I still had to pay my bills."

Acting has allowed Morrison to travel the world. But as the global recession hit the entertainment industry, the major roles once offered to Morrison started drying up.

It has impacted on him financially, putting his multi-million dollar Kawaha Pt property on the shores of Lake Rotorua up for sale.

"I have had to swim against the tide there a little bit," he said. "Over the last few years I have kept going to Hollywood and trying my luck. I am still chasing that golden dream – every now and then I get lucky.

"In the old days, about 10 years ago, they actually didn't mind hiring people from New Zealand and Australia. We had that kind of exotic look, I guess.

"These days, with the budgets, the recession and the paperwork involved they are not that fussy. They would rather employ someone from LA."

Morrison said the recession had seen middle-budget films, which still paid lucratively, vanish. Instead productions were big-budget ones which only attracted A-list actors, or low-budget independent productions.

Morrison returned to New Zealand on Thursday after spending time in Los Angeles, auditioning for two movies.

"I had two good auditions. But as I say, there are a lot of actors up there," he said.

"There was a time when you didn't have to audition. Now everyone is auditioning – even the big stars are auditioning. It is kind of a humbling experience.

"We will see what happens in 2010."

Before Once Were Warriors, Morrison was a star member of the Shortland Street cast as Dr Hone Ropata. He reprised the role last year.

"Shortland Street came along [in 1992] so me and Nancy Brunning were in there holding up the [Maori] quota," Morrison said. "I kept thinking I was gonna get fired.

"That was nice, good training. That is what it was, training and a stepping stone. It gave me my first break – South Pacific Television obviously saw some potential.

"I didn't even remember what I was doing, to try and look cool."

Morrison celebrated his upcoming 50th with a star-studded party at his lakefront property on Friday night. The guest list included reggae stars who had jetted into New Zealand for last night's Raggamuffin festival – including chart-toppers Shaggy, Lauryn Hill and Katchafire.

Guests were treated to a spit-roasted lamb and some "Kiwi culture in the backyard".

"We had a quiet function for them, have a feed, put on a bit of culture and get my family in to sing them a few songs," Morrison said. Asked about turning 50, Morrison said: "I have been doing interviews for a long time now and they keep asking, 'How old are you now Tem?'. And I keep saying, 'Twenty-six'."

Sunday News