Sometimes a character stays with you long after you put down the script or leave the stage. They can influence your behaviour and relationships in ways that may or may not be healthy or even useful to the show. Actors often use this as a tool to help make a performance more honest; living the life of, and even becoming the character. I personally find ‘method acting’ unnerving. It can risk blinding an actor to what might be necessary for telling the overall story. That said, while working on The Prospect I found myself falling into my character Hombre’s life. My personal relationship with Tola Newbery was pretty much replaced with Hombre’s relationship to Te Manawanui and, to a lesser extent, perhaps all personal relationships with Tola were replaced.
Honestly, it was kind of terrifying. At the top of the show Hombre, Te Manawanui and Ugg are tight. Nothing comes between them. So, naturally, I got close to Tola and Moana Ete – very close: we drank together, smoked, jammed. I distinctly remember one night we were on Cuba Street, Tola and I decided to busk but I was so out of it that I couldn’t sing any louder than a whisper. That same night we spoke of potential acts of vandalism we could perform. There’s this four way intersection on Cuba Street and Abel Smith Street with four stop signs and road markings that from the top-down make up the edges of a very infamous symbol. If he and I were to stand in the middle of adjacent streets with rollers and yellow paint we could both run a line from one side to the other thereby making the cross that would ultimately finish the giant swastika hidden in the middle of town. This was, looking back, Te Manawanui and Hombre up to their usual mischief. It’s also worth mentioning that until doing this show I’d never been on stage with another young Māori male – usually I’m it – and that certainly played its part in our friendship.
Later in the show however, their friendship is challenged. They take very separate paths. Hombre joins the army and Te Manawanui becomes a fully-fledged gang member. And so, when we began to work on the later parts of the story, Tola and I stopped hanging out, stopped talking to each other. On the floor things were unpredictable and sometimes even dangerous. I felt like I had lost my best friend and it hurt. I wanted to reach out to him and get him back but I didn’t know how. It seemed to me everyone felt the same. Director Tammy Davis’s direction slowly went from giving notes to actors to having counselling sessions with characters.
One night in particular we were rehearsing one of the final scenes in the play. Ugg and Hombre come to collect Te Manawanui. They forgive him, he forgives himself and they all live happily ever after. But it couldn’t happen for us. We would run the scene to a certain point then hit a wall. Here was me looking into the eyes of a face I no longer recognised. Tattoos exclaiming that he was now property of a gang and me in a uniform that basically said the same. It almost got to a point that the only logical next step was for one of us to punch the other and see where that would take us.
Hone was in that night and he decided to talk to Te Manawanui. He reminded Te Manawanui that he wants to go home, that he needs his whānau and the aroha that comes with them. It was beautiful, amazing and bizarre all in the same. We never did manage to reflect exactly what was on the paper to the stage but it didn’t feel right for us in the world we’d created to do so. It was an incredible feeling stepping on stage every night not knowing for sure if I was going to get him back or not. That’s what the whole story was about. We lose people and we don’t know if we’ll ever get them back. It’s tragic but it makes us stronger.
Recently a documentary came out about Jim Carrey’s portrayal of Andy Kauffman. It’s extreme. He won’t answer to the name Jim, he behaves disrespectfully and he even gets people to carry him around when he’s shooting scenes where the character is unwell. It looks like hell for all involved, but it works. He won a bunch of awards for that role. Daniel Day Lewis did the same in My Left Foot because the character couldn’t walk. Great performances but are they really worth making somebody else’s life harder? Is the idea that Viggo Mortensen went bush for a while what made Aragorn so cool?
On the flip side of all of this is New Zealand’s TV industry. While overseas as an actor you are too precious to even be spoken to for fear of interrupting your process, back here things can get pretty casual. So much so that it can be embarrassing to look like you care about your job. Sometimes it feels like nobody even wants the show to be any good. You can be waiting to walk out in front of the camera, teary eyed, breaking down about whatever this example is leading to… and standing right next to you are two crew members talking about what they got up to over the weekend.
I often look back over my time working on The Prospect. Maybe more than any other job I’ve ever done. A few years later I worked on All Our Sons. Things got heavy there too. At one point, we basically performed an exorcism to relieve one of the cast members of his demons. Just last year while playing Brayden in Pakaru I was a wreck after every show, I was out of breath and crying for a good ten minutes before being able to walk into the bar. As actors we throw ourselves into the dark and we need support to make it all safe. There has to be a balance with all things creative and I think we found it on this gig. It was Māori theatre, of course, we found a balance.
Image Credit Dawn Cheong
The Prospect by Maraea Rakuraku, World Premiere Season 29 August 2012, Gryphon Theatre, Wellington, New Zealand.
Ko Joe Dekkers-Reihana tōku ingoa. I’ve worked professionally as an actor since I was 15 years old. First, with kids’ TV and short films in Wellington.
I left school early and started working as a facilitator at Te Rakau Hua o te Wao Tapu with Jim Moriarty, kind of by chance; I wanted him to write me a character reference for Toi Whakaari NZ Drama School and he said he needed to work closer with me to get one. The job was cool and I learnt a lot about myself and other troubled rangatahi. From there I went on to Long Cloud Youth Theatre with Willem Wassenaar, who truly built me up as an actor. His death hit me hard and I think of him daily. Next I went to Toi Whakaari but ended up in the hospital for a couple months and had to leave without a degree.
Since I’ve worked up and down the country in film and theatre as an actor and storyteller. My whānau are my core. I was raised, alongside my three siblings, by my mother Carolyn Dekkers. She is an artist of the finest quality. My goal in life is to make work with my whānau.