There’s a strong Māori cast in your film. Do you see yourself as a Māori filmmaker, or a filmmaker who is Maori?
Well, I’m a Māori everything. I’m a father, I’m a husband, I’m a friend. Everything that I do goes back to my DNA and my whakapapa [lineage]. So that’s just how I view my identity and my world. In terms of categorizing it, I don’t put anything in front of who I am as a storyteller. I’m an actor, I’m a director. I follow the stories that sort of haunt me more than anything. They all have something to do with my experience and how I see the world through my identity and my life—past, present and hopefully future.
In terms of the cast, Matthias Luafutu [who plays Mandrake’s sidekick Tubs], he’s Samoan. Miriama McDowell [who plays Jill, the mother of the family] is Māori. I knew that this story, in the way that I wanted to tell it, was always going to feature Māori in some respect. Both the ‘couples’, I suppose you could say—Hoaggie [Erik Thomson] and Jill on one side and Tubs and Mandrake on the other—I knew one of each would be of a [different] culture. So I knew I wanted to mirror that.
Probably more than anything, I knew if I had to choose one role that was going to be played by a Māori actor, it was definitely going to be Jill, because for me, Jill’s the character that really is the emotional core and our conduit to the story. Her relationship with the audience, we have to be with her—a strong middle-class working mother who has a sort of a joy-ness at the beginning of the film and then goes through quite a number of different emotions and realizations as it goes along.
Those are sometimes the roles that Māori actors, I often feel, don’t get a look at usually. That’s normally a different kind of actor that gets those kinds of roles. And then obviously when Miriama McDowell auditions for you it’s just a no-brainer, because she can play absolutely anything and everything. I have a strong relationship with Miriama from drama-school days, so I knew how to work with her on that.