New series Find me a Maori Bride opens doors to culture

Find Me a Maori Bride cast L-R; Amanda Billing, Siobhan Marshall, Te Kohe Tuhaka, Matariki Whatarau and Cohen Holloway.
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Find Me a Maori Bride cast L-R; Amanda Billing, Siobhan Marshall, Te Kohe Tuhaka, Matariki Whatarau and Cohen Holloway.

There are three kinds of people in New Zealand: those who are comfortable on a marae, those who have never been, and those who are pretty used to being told off there.

They're the ones who slow their walking pace so they have someone to follow, mouth the words to songs they don't know and laugh when everyone else laughs despite not having understood a word of te reo.

It's usually someone who's been made to be there - a school trip, a work trip, a family gathering, or - god forbid - a tangi.

Cohen Holloway as Tama Bradley in Find me a Maori Bride.
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Cohen Holloway as Tama Bradley in Find me a Maori Bride.

They're the ones getting told off for playing on their phones while people are speaking, or checking their work emails during meal time.

They're the ones Find me a Maori Bride is made for.

They're also the ones it was made by.

Matariki Whatarau as George Alpert in Find me a Maori Bride.
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Matariki Whatarau as George Alpert in Find me a Maori Bride.

Maori TV's new comedy-drama follows modern day Maori men as they learn the ins and outs of their culture in a bid to find a Maori bride and claim a hefty inheritance - a tough task considering they barely think of themselves as Maori.

Tama (Cohen Holloway) is a real estate agent, obsessed with money and George (Matariki Whatarau) is an accountant.

Neither know the culture, language, protocols or experiences of being Maori but they get a hilarious crash course.

Cohen Holloway as Tama Bradley, and Matariki Whatarau as George Alpert in Find me a Maori Bride.
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Cohen Holloway as Tama Bradley, and Matariki Whatarau as George Alpert in Find me a Maori Bride.

The show's director, Kiel McNaughton says first and foremost, the series aims to entertain - but he hopes it will be an education, too.

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"The show goes off those fears - and I have them - of being on a marae and not knowing what you're doing, it is kind of a scary thing and you can feel sometimes as though you're on the outside of the culture," he says.

"It's always something I struggle with in that, it's that kind of thing where I have a desire to learn more but I'm always putting it on a backburner. But now I'm able to make it part of my work, to learn more about my culture. And the thing that I've learned during this show is that the culture is there for us to take hold of and become a part of if we want it."

Siobhan Marshall and Amanda Billing star in Find me a Maori Bride.
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Siobhan Marshall and Amanda Billing star in Find me a Maori Bride.

He has friends Scotty and Stacey Morrison working as the show's te reo advisors, and a predominantly Maori cast to help know where the line is.

"We want to be respectful. And when you're making a comedy, you want to be entertaining - you can't be too delicate with things," says McNaughton.

"These Maori men are told they need to be like their ancestors, they need to hold themselves up to a high standard, but how do they do that while still existing in today's society? That's the question."

One they aim to have some fun answering.

[DROPCAP] Walking onto the set of Maori Bride is unlike any other set - or even industry - visit. There's all the same equipment, people and everything that usually happens on a set, but it feels more like walking into a friend's busy household than a TV shoot.

Kids are running around, there's cordial, chips and dip, everyone relaxed and messing around.

The makeup artist talks to the art director about how the kids are doing at school, the director's daughter brings me a cup of water, someone's playing the guitar in the corner.

It's not until Carey Carter, the first assistant director, calls for quiet that it morphs into a shoot.

The scene actors and extras are in place, lights and cameras ready to go; but Carter's calls are ignored twice - at which point he's had enough.

He steps down off the stage, cups his hands and shouts; "Oi! Shut up!".

Everyone immediately falls to a hush though most are pulling the kind of face school kids pull when the teacher finally snaps.

Someone next to me leans in and says, "that's why he's the boss".

And he is. He and the second assistant director, Luke Wheeler walk the set making sure everything's going smoothly, quick to put things in place when they're not.

We're shooting a scene in a boxing gym - a real one. It's hot and smells like the sweat of the crowd of people who just emptied out before we moved in.

Still, it adds realism.

And despite the heat, the crew - who have been filming five days a week, and just under 11 hours a day for the past few weeks - are still, somehow, in high spirits.

Probably helps having people like comedian Cohen Holloway around.

He comes off set having just been fake-strangled by Scotty Morrison and walks past us, on the sidelines.

"You girls are all over here like, 'oh, Scotty can strangle me anytime', eh?" he says, with a laugh.

As the night goes on, "everyone's getting hoha," a woman whispers behind me. She's right. The crew are exhausted, the shoot is taking longer than anyone planned. To wrap things up faster, Carter announces they're going to do their establishing shots before wrap, summing up the spirit of the whole shoot in one sentence: "Three things at once, we can do it!"

This is not just a story the creators want to tell - the cast believe in it too.

It might have started off as just a job, or a favour for their mate McNaughton, but once Holloway and Whatarau signed on, they knew it was important.

Whatarau describes his character George as the kind of accountant who "probably says he's a much better accountant than he actually is".

"George looks Maori, but he was brought up by his mum who was Pakeha, so didn't really feel or think he has a Maori bone in his whole body," Whatarau explains.

Which is in stark contrast to Whatarau, who is very much in touch with his culture.

"I just had to think, well how do I play someone who's not in touch with the Maoritanga, but not play it up or play it down too much? You don't want to take the piss or offend anyone. So I related it back to my father's generation, when they weren't even allowed to speak the reo."

Holloway, too, has battled with the same things as his character Tama, who he says basically sees himself as Pakeha.

"I mean, I'm part Maori even though I really don't look it. Even doing stand-up, people would say, 'well who's this white guy doing Maori impersonations?'," he says.

"So I've battled with the subject matter, myself. Like being on the marae breaking protocols, but I kind of let it go because...if you can make fun of that, you can start debate and conversation."

Holloway, despite being raised within the culture and knowing the boundaries of Maoritanga, often pushes at them.

"One day we were filming on the marae, and Tama was supposed to be laying out the tables and he kept doing it wrong and I just decided it would be funny to have Tama get up and walk across the tables to make it quicker," he says.

"Afterwards, I just thought; oh man, why did I do that? And I said a little karakia for that one, so I wouldn't get struck down by lighting."

Why? To help educate people. People who might be just like Tama, or George.

McNaughton chalks it up to the fact that if people can laugh about it, they will learn it's okay to ask questions and that there's nothing to fear from doing so.

"What I hope we'll get across is that the culture isn't behind closed doors. There are times when I have felt it's too difficult to get in there, but it's actually obvious.

"It's right there, and there are people really wanting to share it with you, and there's absolutely no reason why you should be afraid."

Find Me a Maori Bride starts on Maori TV, May 22.

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