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September 24, 2012 | by  | in Arts Film |
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The Other Little Boy

An interview with two little boys’ Maaka pohatu

The hype surrounding Robert Sarkies’ Two Little Boys has been rife, with interviews and reviews being plastered across entertainment media. Discussions about upcoming films have invariably focussed on the quintessential Kiwi comedy from the acclaimed director of Scarfies. For many, one of the film’s greatest surprises has been the remarkably assured and touching performance from newcomer Maaka Pohatu, as the worldly Gav. Salient was fortunate enough to speak to Pohatu about his accomplished theatre career, and what attracted him to Two Little Boys.

Prior to Two Little Boys, Pohatu was already an established actor, working with the National Maori Theatre Company, Taki Rua. Due to a background in the performing arts, he developed an appetite for theatre at an early age. During his youth he assisted his mother with her theatrical projects and participated in kapa-haka performances. Theatre is like “soul- food”, due to the “live, dynamic nature” of the medium. He seems to thrive on its immediacy and need for flexibility, pointing out that “there’s no second takes.”

Film may have been a significant departure, but it was a transition that Pohatu felt was easier to make for a predominately theatre actor such as himself. In his view, theatre acting requires “big, expressive movements” to really pull the audience in, whereas cinematic acting is more restrained and focusses on bringing out the finer details. “It feels easier for theatre actors to bring down their performance for film, whereas a lot of film actors who make the transition to theatre find it a bit more difficult,” said Pohatu.

Growing up in Dunedin meant that Pohatu already had an affinity for the world that Robert Sarkies has attempted to bring to the screen, not just in Two Little Boys but also in earlier features. Sarkies’ first major film, Scarfies, come out when Pohatu was beginning his studies at Otago University. He fondly recalls skipping lectures in order to see the film, saying that it “It felt really odd to walk out of the theatre, into the Dunedin atmosphere after seeing this film about where I lived.” He was particularly struck by the “mix of quirky humour and pathos”, as it reflected a lifestyle that he was intimately familiar with. When given the chance to work with the director responsible, he didn’t hesitate.

His first reaction upon seeing the script was extremely positive, describing it as “an incredibly funny and interesting take on
male relationships”. Gav is notable for his worldliness, seeing himself as a “bit of a sage and future tangata whenua”, aspects which instantly attracted him to the role. Incidentally, he also introduces cultural elements into the film, but Pohatu doesn’t see Gav as merely being “the” Maori character. In his view, Gav creates “a kind of universality in being specific.” Gav being Maori is more important in terms of the overall composition of relationships, as opposed to it being his defining attribute. He likens it to a ‘three people come into a bar’ joke, where the humour is partially derived from the contrast in the characters’ identities.

For Pohatu, the most challenging element of bringing Gav to the screen was the need to maintain continuity in the character, in defiance of his own impulses. Much comedy comes from Deano’s obvious disdain for Gav, which Gav seems to simply shrug off. Pohatu said that “Hamish [Blake] is such a skilled comeback kind of guy. I think the hardest thing for me… was that I couldn’t follow up my impulse to give it back.”

Even as Two Little Boys hits cinemas, Pohatu is already working on his next project. Together with a few close friends, he hopes to develop a cabaret-style production that evokes nostalgia for the old Maori show- bands. The idea came from many evenings of singing together at parties and gigs, which they decided to incorporate into a fully-fledged production. “Basically it’s just an opportunity for us to dress up in suits and look dapper.”

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