Russell Blackstock

Russell Blackstock is a senior reporter at the Herald on Sunday.

Laga'aia homeward bound for stage role

Jay Laga'aia will star as the Wizard of Oz.
Jay Laga'aia will star as the Wizard of Oz.

Aussie-based showbiz star Jay Laga'aia is returning to New Zealand for his first major home-turf role in a decade.

The actor - best known as Captain Typho in two Star Wars movies - will play the Wizard of Oz in the smash-hit international stage musical Wicked, being staged at Auckland's Civic Theatre from September.

Laga'aia, who is of Samoan descent, can't wait to be back. His last big Kiwi role was in 2003 when he starred as a maverick Ponsonby lawyer in popular TV series Street Legal.

The married dad of eight had a tough upbringing in Mangere, South Auckland. He hopes his stage and screen success will inspire other kids from the area to aim higher.

"I hope I am a good role model and can show youngsters that the possibilities are endless and you don't need to feel inferior just because of where you come from," he said. "My upbringing moulded me and gave me a can-do attitude to everything I tackle.

"The only acting I was taught in South Auckland was pretending to be injured at rugby so they could get a faster player on the pitch; so if I can make it, anybody can."

Laga'aia said playing the Wizard would be emotional as it was a part previously performed by Kiwi actor Rob Guest, who died after suffering a stroke shortly after a matinee performance in 2008.

He added the Civic was also where he first saw Star Wars as a youngster in the 1970s.

The outspoken actor hit the headlines last year when he accused Australian network Channel 7 of axing him from TV soap Home and Away because of his ethnicity. He said he still stood by his comments and couldn't care less if he had lost any work offers.

"I have lasted a long time in this business because I have many strings to my bow and have a good career in kids' TV in Australia," he said.

"If I lose out on something, I just strum another bow. While I am back in New Zealand I wouldn't even mind a guest part on Shortland Street."

- Herald on Sunday

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