Temuera Morrison: 'These were powerful people back in the 1860s' (2024)

Temuera Morrison: 'These were powerful people back in the 1860s' (1)

Temuera Morrison in Ka Whawhai Tonu. Photo: Trigger Marketing / supplied

Temuera Morrison says the strongfaces of 19th-century Māori leaders inspired his performancein the historic new film Ka Whawhai Tonu.

"Their eyes look so much deeper. They could connect to the cosmos a lot better than we can today… They knew about warfare, they knew how to run a tribe, an iwi, how to build a house, how to grow food… none of the things that I can do today. Sometimes a bit of acting comes in handy," he tells Saturday Morning's Susie Ferguson.

Listen to the interview with Temuera Morrison (Ngāti Whakaue, Ngāti Maniapoto)duration 24′ :10″

Listen to the interview with Temuera Morrison (Ngāti Whakaue, Ngāti Maniapoto)

Ka Whawhai Tonu(Struggle Without End) tells the story of the 1864 battle of O-Rākau from the perspectiveof Māorisurvivors.It will be released in cinemas on Matariki Weekend - 27th June 2024.

Since his early roles in Shortland Street and the award-winning film Once Were Warriors, Morrison has become a familiar facein international blockbusters like Star Wars and Aquaman.

He was on a break from filming Jason Momoa's upcoming historical dramaChief of War when he headed to the Waikato toshootKa Whawhai Tonu.

Although being part ofthe film was a "beautiful experience" Morrison says he doesn't really enjoy taking acting gigsin his hometown of Rotorua.

"We have a number of Māori actors here that are very good and sometimes I feel a little guilty that I'm taking one of my brothers' jobs … But there was no one else, really, because I whakapapa to Ngāti Maniapoto as well."

Playing the role of Ngāti Maniapoto chief RewiManiapoto wasa way for Morrison tohonour not only his ancestors but also thefilm's director - his "very, very close friend" Michael Jonathan (Tainui, Mātaatua, Te Arawa).

Jonathan - a former cameraperson and director of photography- was one of the early supporters ofMorrison's Hollywood acting dreams.

"When I had the desire to go to Hollywood, he was always there recording my auditions, editing them. We'd box them together, and he'd send them off to Hollywood."

In Ka Whawhai Tonu,Morrison stars alongside Cliff Curtis (Ngāti Rongomai, Ngāti Pikiao), Miriama Smith (Te Arawa, Tūwharetoa) andnewcomers Paku Fernandez and Hinerangi Harawira-Nicholas.

On set, he was reunited with fellow Māori actors he'd started out withand also fed off emotional performances bysome "cuzzie bros" who hadn't been on camerabefore.

"The woman who said the final quote [in the film], she was just so powerful. There was pain in her voice … the manawe call it,was coming through her voice. She had spirit, wairua. Man, that soon woke me up to the fact that our tupuna passed away [in this battle], a lot of our people passed away.

"These people were powerful people back in the 1860s. They still had mana. When they spoke, everyone listened.

"The tears were flowing, and the pain in the voices from some of the other performers really ignited my performance energies, in a way.

"Powerful, powerful feelings, a warm feeling, a camaraderie. And everyone's in the same waka .... of 'let's do the best we can and make a good film for our brother [Michael Jonathan]."

On theKa Whawhai Tonu set, Morrison found it "beautiful" to hearcrew members call out instructions like'Karawhiua!' [Action!] inte reo Māori.

"One day not so long ago, I was the only Māori on either side of the cameraso my heart was beating a good beat."

Ka Whawhai Tonu is part of a recent"renaissance of Māori filmmaking",he says.

"We're just getting a bigger pool of talent, a bigger pool of actors and we also need people behind the camera."

Pākeha crew members worked "side by side" with Māori, Morrison says, and were "right in there with the reo" while also lending their expertise.

"They can make [a film] look epic with a very intimate budget because of their technical ability. They bring their excellence, they bring their expertise, and they certainly give us a bigger look."

Because it was "a little bit scary" stepping into the shoes of aMāori ancestor, Morrison says, so he tried not to think about the pressuretoo much.

While performing, his focus was mostly on the dialogue - some taken directly from the survivor's accounts.

Morrison says being part of Ka Whawhai Tonu haswoken him up to the "big fight" his tupuna had to put up to try and protect their land.

"People were standing on the Bombay Hill looking down the Waikato, saying 'Gee, this is going to be great farming land for us. There's just one problem. We've got to get rid of these natives. Oh, my God, how we're going to do that?'

"Boy, we can't ignore that. [War] was how we were settled. We didn't turn up in Boston and then have a cup of tea party, that's for sure."

Temuera Morrison: 'These were powerful people back in the 1860s' (2024)

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