Boy wonder: Novice makes top grossing filmKYLIE NORTHOVER
August 10, 2010
THE performance of 11-year-old James Rolleston in the lead role of Boy, a new film from New Zealand, has been widely praised as brilliant, but when you learn it's his first acting gig, it's astonishing.
The indie film, a coming-of-age story set in a remote Maori community, premiered at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival in the US, and is written, directed by and stars Taika Waititi, a filmmaker, comedian and actor already a celebrity in New Zealand.
Waititi had already chosen a lead for Boy, but when he met James, who had never even acted in a school play, he changed his mind.
Photos:Acting novice breaks a record
James Rolleston and director and actor Taika Waititi. Photo: Rebecca Hallas
..''It's the only time I've ever acted,'' James says. ''I don't know if it was hard, because it was my first time.''
''He just launched himself into it, he was so enthusiastic about it,'' adds Waititi, in Melbourne with James this week for a special preview screening. ''It was awesome - he was just being himself.''
Set in 1984, in a remote underprivileged town on the east coast, Boy is the story of a kid named Boy, who lives with his little brother, his grandmother and a slew of cousins who have been deserted by their family. Boy's heroes are Michael Jackson and his dad, Alamein, who has been in prison for several years, but who Boy likes to think has actually been living a heroic life. When Alamein gets out of jail, Boy discovers his dad may not be the man he thought he was.
James, who has been lauded for his poignant, funny performance, says he enjoyed the film-making experience, but isn't quite ready for a thespian's life just yet.
''I like to do a bit of acting part-time, but I also want to get my own hunting show or maybe be a marine biologist,'' he says. ''I love the outdoors.''
Waititi grew up in the area where the film is set, and drew on some aspects of his own life - most notably the Michael Jackson references, the best of which is a wickedly funny Maori version of the cast doing the Thriller dance mixed in with a haka.
''We used to do weird, hybrid things like that when we were young,'' he says of the Maori-Jackson mash-ups.
''It's just that it was before the internet, so nobody knows about it.''
The Maori community life depicted in the film is also, he says, similar to his own upbringing, as well as James's.
''We were both brought up by our grandmothers - James still lives with his - and had similar background to the characters,'' Waititi says of the extended family life.
''I think that's normal in a lot of indigenous communities outside of cities, poor places. I think it's actually a rich upbringing, though.''
Boy has become the top-grossing New Zealand film ever, and has drawn comparisons with the films of American indie director Wes Anderson.
''It's amazing , I didn't expect it all,'' Waititi says of his second feature. His first was Eagle vs Shark, starring Jermaine Clement from Flight of the Conchords, for which Waititi has also written.
''New Zealand films make about $NZ2 million or $NZ3 million [$A1.6 million to $A2.4 million] if they're popular, but this film's made $NZ9.3 million! And I don't think the fact it was at Sundance mattered - people in New Zealand don't really care about that sort of stuff, especially in the communities that have been going to see the film.''
Waititi is working on another script and hopes to cast James again.
''We're definitely going to work together again and there's lots of stuff I want to make in New Zealand,'' he says. ''I've just got to hurry up and do it before James gets too old.''
Taika Waititi and James Rolleston appear at a special preview of Boy at the Cinema Nova tonight, followed by a Q&A session moderated by Alan Brough. Boy is released nationally on August 26.