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It is a wintery Monday afternoon in Tolaga Bay (Nastyville) when Akuhata Keefe strolls in telling us that he has just finished chopping up the rest of the deer he caught last weekend; he went hunting to celebrate his 16th birthday. One word that comes to mind when talking to Akuhata Keefe, otherwise known as Augie to his friends and family, is endearing. For someone who has travelled to Australia, Germany, and the UAE on press junkets, movie premieres, and photoshoots, he remains the same ol’ Ngati Porou boy who grew up at his mum’s side of the whanau in Tolaga Bay on the East Coast.
His childhood was spent watching his sister, aunties, and uncles performing in some way—predominantly kapa haka. At ten years old Akuhata became enamoured with Māori plays. “I used to watch heaps of different Māori plays, because I used to buzz out at [Māori] people becoming famous.” He never once thought that his childhood dream would become a reality, “I thought it was impossible. I thought I wasn’t good enough.” He credits much of his inspiration to his older sister, “she was my role model,” having watched her juggle learning lines for the community plays, doing her school work, and working hard. “I thought it would be really hard for me because I’m lazy… and then stuff happened.”
That ‘stuff’ meaning being cast as Simeon Mahana, in one of the starring roles for Mahana, the film adaptation of Witi Ihimaera’s book Bulibasha. Lee Tamahori, director of Mahana, can be accredited with blockbusters such as 007 Die Another Day, Along Came a Spider, and, of course, Once Were Warriors. He reflects about how he felt during the audition process, “I was doubting myself the whole time. Only because I was fresh, and I’d never done anything like that before.”
Apart from that, Akuhata found his first experience of filming very fast-paced and very informative. “The director, he’s a really fast working director so we would get about five scenes done a day. I didn’t find it hard to do all the acting… having Temuera Morrison beside me. He just gave me a lot of tips, and things that might help the director. So with that, we just flew through the filming.”
The number one tip he was given, Akuhata laughingly recalls, was “don’t look at the camera!” Most important, however, was Morrison’s parting advice to him, “he told me to be humble when the movie’s out.”
Akuhata could sense where the next question was going before we could even ask it; the awkward giggling might’ve tipped him off. He groans, “this is the most common question!” Sorry Augie, but your fans want to know the scoop. When asked to describe the kissing scene in one word, there was no hesitation, “public.” He begins gesturing wildly. “There was a camera here, a crowd here, people behind the camera, another camera here, another camera there!” He also adds that, as opposed to the rest of filming, this particular scene took a long time. “We did 25 takes!”
At one point during the interview a local Tolaga Bay resident swings by, who, upon seeing Akuhata, greets him with a quick, “Hi Augie,” then carries on. The next question asked is on his newfound fame—which clearly has had a huge effect on the Tolaga Bay locale. “I get a lot of weird looks now. I, like, check myself out to see what’s wrong with me, cause I forget I’m in a movie. There was this one time we went to the movies in Wellington and one of the workers who was doing the tickets told me that I looked like this character in this film. He showed me the poster, and I was just telling him ‘oh yeah bro, I could pass as his brother aye’ and he said ‘yeah, yeah bro!’ I didn’t even tell him it was me.”
Although his fame has not affected him, he discloses that there were a few messages in the film that did. “I had this father in Germany, who came up to me and told me that he wanted his kids to watch the movie because he wants them to learn that they’re allowed to speak their mind. That made me feel like the man. I think the message for this [film] is to teach young people that they’re allowed to speak their mind, and that they’re allowed to talk when they want to, and they’re allowed to be heard.”
The best line in the film, for Augie, was in a scene where he speaks in court. “I tell the judge, well I ask the judge, that if Māori people aren’t allowed to speak their language, then we have no way to defend ourselves. And I thought that line was the best in the film. That’s actually the scene where the most people come up to me and talk about. I’ve had a couple of nannies come up and hug me and cry.”
Rapid Fire Round
So, question one, what do your weekend’s look like now that you’re finished filming?
Surfing. Hunting. Kapa haka wananga. Chur.
What are the countries that you’ve been to as a part of this opportunity?
Germany. Abu Dhabi. Australia. Possibly Canada and America.
Is that an upcoming inside scoop?
And what are some countries that you’d like to go to in the future?
I’d like to go back to Germany. Yup, I’d like to go back to Germany, back to Abu Dhabi. I’d like to go to Hawaii. And America.
Who’s one of your favourite actors?
Cause he’s the man.
Who’s someone in Mahana that you would like to work with again?
Who is someone that you haven’t worked with that you’d like to work with in the future?
Leonard Di Caprio. My bro.
The kissing scene? In the future? Who would you like to..
UUMMM *excitedly* Zendaya! My chick.
What’s a role that you would really like to play?
A hunter. A dirty hunter.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
And last but not least, who is your pick for Te Matatini 2017.
Hikurangi Pariha! Meanest way to end an interview!
Any last things you’d like to impart?
To all the students at Victoria University, *whispers* that’s where this is going to aye?
Follow your dreams! Cause that’s what I did.