Doctor of comedy

Robbie Magasiva as Dr Maxwell Avia on Shortland Street.
Robbie Magasiva as Dr Maxwell Avia on Shortland Street.

Naked Samoan Robbie Magasiva is now Shortie's Dr Maxwell Avia. But he'll soon have a fresh part, writes Nicola Russell.

IT was touch and go whether our interview with actor Robbie Magasiva would go ahead.

He's not in his publicist's office when I arrive at the Shortland Street location, and she fears he might have snuck out the back door.

He's done this before, apparently, but he gets forgiven, because of his charm.

When he does arrive 10 minutes later, he fills the room with his height, his muscles, but most of all his personality.

Dry as toast, Magasiva's jokes are inexhaustible. Occasionally he erupts into laughter, a fantastic peal that pulls him out of character for a moment.

It turns out he's been on set filming Shortland Street, so he's not in trouble, but trouble may be something this larger-than-life character gets into a lot.

I ask him about working with Oscar Kightley who wrote and acted beside Magasiva in Sione's Wedding and was a co-member of Naked Samoans, an all-Polynesian comedy group that has made its mark in theatre, TV and film since 1998.

"Oscar Kightley's a dick!" he says, with high emphasis on the last word.

"Nah kids, jokes. He's a very clever man our Oscar Kightley, very, very clever.

"He has a clever side and he also has that boy side. We put the cleverness aside and start calling each other dicks."

Magasiva, 38 is looking forward to Sione's Wedding 2, which starts filming in April.

"I love Shorty Street but I haven't done a film in ages so I am looking forward to doing a film, also doing it with the Naked Samoan boys."

Magasiva joined David Fane, Mario Gaoa, Jerome Leota and Shimpal Lelisi in the group in 2001.

Sione's Wedding, filmed in 2006, was New Zealand's fifth highest grossing movie, a fact Magasiva believes is owed to the chemistry he and the Naked Samoans already had.

"I think because the boys were so natural. It takes so many weeks to get the chemistry, but we already had it... all you had to do is point the camera basically."

Born in Wellington, the father of Austin, 14 and Sophie, 10, spent years of his childhood in Samoa.

"Dad wanted to go back for family matters, and... he had a good job there."

Magasiva e has just flown back from Samoa on the morning of our interview.

"Dad's moved to Samoa to live. I took him fishing on the last day. That was the first time I have ever been fishing with my old man. He'd never been fishing on a a charter boat, so he was stoked."

This is because the Magasiva family are from Tanupua, a bush community in Samoa.

"I remember every day after school walking down to Dad's work, getting some money, then going to the market to catch the bus with my brother Steven, getting some pancakes, eating them on the bus, getting off the bus and then a 45 minute walk home. We were bushmen."

Magasiva's mother has stayed in New Zealand, and travels back and forth to visit her husband.

"He was here for so many years and he lost his job, and he was unemployed for two years, and it just got so depressing for him because every time he applied for a job someone younger would get it."

One of six siblings, Magasiva is not the only one to choose an acting career. Mickey is a director and Pua, an actor, has also been on Shortland Street.

Steve and Tanu, says Magasiva, are the more practical brothers.

"Tanu and Steve were always quite close. They're kind of the real men. Steve loves the bush. He's inherited the bushness from Tanupua and Tanu is always good with his hands. He's a builder."

Steve, who has been on his OE for five years, returns to Aotearoa soon.

"I see my brothers regularly but I think when Steve comes back we'll have Christmas in Samoa. That will be the first time in ages [that we are all together]. There will be a lot of Vailima [Samoan beer] being consumed.

"Growing up with the bros, we were a close bunch. It was always fun. We always entertained each other during the school holidays. We didn't have much, we improvised and entertained ourselves.

"I remember when we were in Strathmore. After cleaning the house, we used to put the music on and pretend we were a band... I was the lead singer, everyone wanted to be the lead singer but I said `look, who's the oldest?"'

Magasiva met his wife, Anna, who works in marketing, at Saatchi and Saatchi.

"Where did I meet my palangi wife? I met my palangi wife at the reception of Saatchi and Saatchi, where I was a receptionist. I was the best receptionist in Aotearoa.

"She thought I was showing off when she came to have lunch with her friend, but hey, I sleep next to her every night now, so it absolutely worked.

"I am usually a big eater and I turned up on the first date, I bought a roll and I didn't even eat it. I was firkin nervous, man. I ended up just having a coffee.

"You know what the worst thing was? They had those firkin skinny-as long things, like a French roll... For anyone who goes out on a date, don't buy that, because it's a real bad look trying to chew the firkin cardboard stick crap and impress a girl."

He much prefers his Mum's chicken curry.

"My mum can cook, she's a mean cook, man I love her chicken curries."

Magasiva and his wife have Sophie and Maxwell, his children from a previous relationship, every second week, something he says is not too hard to juggle because he has done it for so many years.

"They use my fame to get what they want, especially my son, now he's 14. All the girls want to be his girlfriend, 'cause his dad's on TV – nah I'm kidding... But the sad thing is they want to be actors and I don't want them to be, not yet. I want them to do their own thing and get an education before they do that. I never had an education, that's why I'm pushing for them to have an education to fall back on."

Anna and Robbie's favourite restaurant is Kura, in Queen Street, Auckland, but if it's raining home is No1.

"In the winter, and if we're hung-over, we get platters, hot and cold, and then just get a whole lot of DVDs and just chill out or [we like to] go away on holiday – I think I'll start going to Samoa more often but we've been to Bali, been to Thailand, Fiji."

Down time for Magasiva is spent surfing with his mate Kirk Torrance.

"Torrance taught me. He was the one who put the pressure on, and finally I rang him up and said `dude let's go get a board'."

Magasiva's trademark humour will be seen on Shortland Street soon, but not in his role as Dr Maxwell Avia. He recently asked the writers to create a part for him as a Fa'afafine. His wish was granted and "Melissa" is outrageous.

"It was so much fun dressing up. The makeup girls had so much fun and wardrobe girls had fun finding a big nurse's uniform and it was just a good blowout... it's so stressful up there. The crew lost it – you could hear them cracking up."

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