Two chips off the old block

Common ground: Temuera Morrison and Darcey-Ray Flavell-Hudson.
Common ground: Temuera Morrison and Darcey-Ray Flavell-Hudson.

Most memorable line from 1992: "You're not in Guatemala now, Dr Ropata."

Most memorable line from 2011: "I've been internalising a really complicated situation in my head."

These two phrases are stitched into New Zealand's pop culture history. The former was spat at Temuera Morrison in his role as the renegade doctor Hone Ropata on Shortland Street. The latter was said by Darcey-Ray Flavell-Hudson in the much-lauded anti-drink-driving "Ghost Chips" Legend ad.

Temuera Morrison in new Kiwi film Mt Zion.
Temuera Morrison in new Kiwi film Mt Zion.

For better or worse, these famous lines have followed Morrison and Flavell-Hudson around since they were first uttered.

"Everyone wants to say ‘Hey bro! I've got a complicated situation going on in my head' and that's worse than bloody listening to all of that ‘Hey, Dr Ropata!'

"At least my one - ‘you're not in Guatemala now' - that's over and done with quick but he's [Flavell-Hudson] got to listen to that line, which goes on and on and on and on," Morrison says.

Says Flavell-Hudson on his fan attention: "I like it."

The pair are sitting outside Ohinemutu/Tarimano/Awahou marae next to the Awahou stream on a scorcher day in Rotorua. It's a place that has a deep connection for both of these Te Arawa men. Nineteen-year-old Flavell-Hudson, who lives nearby, and Morrison, 52, born in Rotorua, are strong kapa haka performers and Morrison fondly recalls performing on this site when he was younger.

"[I spent] many a long Saturday and Sunday afternoon doing this [kapa haka] in the hot sun," he says, demonstrating some moves. "My uncle would blow the whistle: ‘Break!', and everyone would just do bombs in the river."

Rotorua is gearing up for Te Matatini, the national kapa haka festival, an event Morrison and Flavell-Hudson are usually involved with. "But now we're in the movie business so we can't make the practices," Morrison says.

The movie business, or rather, Mt Zion, is the latest shared connection between Morrison and Flavell-Hudson. They star in this Kiwi film; a story about a young man's struggle between realising his dream and adhering to family traditions and values.

Set in Pukekohe in 1979, Australian Idol winner Stan Walker plays Turei, a young man who desperately wants to be a musician and be the warmup act for Bob Marley on his visit to New Zealand. The problem is, Papa (Morrison), Turei's formidable father, is adamant that Turei will be a potato picker like the rest of his family.

Flavell-Hudson plays one of Turei's bandmates, alongside David Wikaira-Paul and Troy Kingi.

The film is an important contribution to New Zealand's cinematic history, playing to themes of family and pride while being a touching tribute to aspects of the country's history.

"I think we made a movie which has got a bit of heart and a bit of soul," says Morrison. "It's kind of got a lovely - what would you call those elements? Maori-isms, you know . . . more community, more family, everyone's more interconnected and they've all got the one thing [in common] - the potato."

Indeed Mt Zion is plump with spirit. Writer and director Teareapa Kahi developed the film after seeing Dylan Taite's clip of Bob Marley receiving a powhiri. All up, he spent seven years working on the feature. Kahi based the film family on his own family history of potato pickers, and the role of Papa was specifically written for Morrison.

"I just thought that Tem in some overalls, a hat, poor singlets and some work boots riding a tractor across the field and leading his people would be a really really good role," says Kahi. "And the way I pitched it to Tem was: ‘Bro, we've seen Pakistani-helicopter Tem, we've seen Jake-the-Muss Tem, we've seen Pamela Anderson kissing Tem but we're yet to see broken Tem, the man who's put his dreams aside to put food on the table for his family."

Mana is intrinsic to the character of Papa, who is a mentor for the family. It's a character Morrison could relate to as he took on a guiding role for

the younger actors on set, teaching pronunciation and giving advice. "It came in handy when we were workshopping a lot," says Morrison. "Because these fellas, they had one or two lines in the past but now, all of a sudden . . ."

". . . we've got a whole paragraph, whole page," jokes Flavell-Hudson.

"The boys were generous too, because they gave me a little bit of respect, I think," Morrison says.

The actors all immersed themselves in their roles, learning about potato picking first-hand. "We had to pick potatoes, tie ropes around and hook our sacks on and pick," Flavell-Hudson says.

They spent weeks rehearsing and living together in Pukekohe to create that familial feel that is at the forefront the film.


Says Kahi: "We probably had the coffee budget of The Hobbit in terms of our overall budget but, because of the way that we made it and because there were so many family connections and because we all got to know each other so well. . . I think that's how we arrived at the overall performance that the film captures."

Mt Zion follows Morrison's recent role in horror-comedy Fresh Meat and is a favourable addition to his long list of films, notably Once Were Warriors, in which he starred alongside another Kiwi success story, Cliff Curtis; Barb Wire (the Pamela Anderson kissing one); Broken English; Speed 2; and Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith.

For Flavell-Hudson, Mt Zion is his third film. He was 9 when he appeared in the short film Kerosene Creek, and he met Kahi at the preview of his second short film, Ebony Society.

He says his character in Mt Zion, Pou, is a good fit. "I could relate to my character very well because, yeah, him being a family boy, I'm a family boy."

Until Mt Zion, "Ghost Chips" had been Flavell-Hudson's propelling force into the public eye. "It just hit off straight away, it blew me away. I didn't think it would be that big but, yeah, it's big as. As soon as it previewed on TV, I just couldn't even walk 10 metres and I'd get bombarded."

"He's more famous than Cliff Curtis and Temuera Morrison put together!" says Morrison.

A testament to their profiles, while we talk outside, every car that passes toots or waves at the actors.

Flavell-Hudson's acting experience is limited to his television and film roles. He didn't perform in school plays or attend acting classes; his success comes from a natural affinity for the craft. "Darcey-Ray has a quality that for an actor you can't teach, and that's just genuine magnetism, something Tem's got as well," Kahi says.

"I didn't know acting, had no skills in acting - it was just natural I think, just came from the kapa haka," Flavell-Hudson says.

"That's where mine comes from, too," adds Morrison. "That's what we have in common, we love getting on the stage doing the haka and then I've kind of transferred it into the theatre, into the film camera."

The experiences Morrison and Flavell-Hudson have gleaned from Mt Zion will leave long-lasting impressions for the pair.

"This was a nice film for me to work on because it was earthy, it was from New Zealand . . . and your best work comes from this land, this soil," Morrison says. "And I didn't want to turn up ‘acting' like sometimes all these fellas in Hollywood, they act too much, they're always acting. But I learnt from Mt Zion and the boys and Stan, we keep everything natural.

"That's what I learnt from Zion, after how many years have I been acting? A long time now. So I can retire. I'm going directing next."

It's hard to tell whether Morrison is being deadpan or not.



What are you directing?

"Oh I don't know yet, something. I'll direct you. I'll direct those people down the road. But I'm a director now. Only because my work in Zion, I am very content with and I felt I have hit that plateau. Bam! And so I feel I wasn't acting in my film, it's my best work yet. And that came from a wonderful platform, from a wonderful spirit, from a wonderful ensemble."

Mt Zion is out on February 6; Waitangi Day and Bob Marley's birthday.

Sunday Star Times