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Dominic Corry: Does the classic Kiwi leading man exist?

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Roxanne Mesquida and Matt Whelan from the film The Most Fun You Can Have Dying. Photo / Supplied
Roxanne Mesquida and Matt Whelan from the film The Most Fun You Can Have Dying. Photo / Supplied

In addition to a certain superhero movie you may or may not have heard about, this week sees the release of Kiwi filmmaker Kirstin Marcon's debut feature The Most Fun You Can Have Dying, starring Matt Whelan (Go Girls) and French actress Roxanne Mesquida.

It's a generally charming, stylish film that easily supercedes its bummer premise (terminal cancer patient on last global hurrah), but it's completely Whelan's show.

He's in practically every shot, and holds the camera in an interesting way that hasn't necessarily come across in his TV work.

It got me thinking about the notion of a classic or typical Kiwi cinematic leading man. Like our cinematic identity as a whole, what constitutes an archetypal Kiwi male movie lead remains undefined, yet continues to tangibly evolve.

There's a large group of fine actors in this country, but it often feels like only a very small percentage of them qualify as leading men. Sometimes it seems like our filmic identity is still at a point where the idea of a Kiwi leading man is an oxymoron.

The Most Fun You Can Have Dying is Whelan's second lead in a row after last year's low-key romantic drama My Wedding And Other Secrets.

In New Zealand terms, that's practically an entire oeuvre.

He didn't exactly jump off the screen in Wedding, but he ably carries things in his new film. He's as good a notion of a typical Kiwi leading man as any other Kiwi actor working today.

Like New Zealand itself, he's slightly awkward, sensitive and pretty.

Despite that, he doesn't feel a million miles removed from the closest thing we have to an all-time classic leading man: Bruno Lawrence, who also happens to be the greatest ever on-screen talent to be referred to as a New Zealander. Fact.

Although he had an awesomely gruff exterior, Lawrence possessed a deep vulnerability which is well-explored in my all-time favourite New Zealand film The Quiet Earth, directed by Geoff Murphy.

Peter Bland and Phillip Gordon represent two other appealing interpretations of the classic Kiwi leading man in one of my other favourite local films, Came a Hot Friday, directed by Ian Mune. The former (a Brit, it should be noted) is full of looming, officious blunder; the latter a wiry, fast-talking nugget.

Sam Neill is an amazing actor and a fantastic leading man, and although he maintains strong ties with New Zealand, his massive international success renders him less of a type and more of an individual.

Temuera Morrison is probably the most dominant Kiwi leading man of the last 20 years, and for a long time I would've cited him as archetypal, but he's evolved into a more specific - and more supporting - talent.

Also, the whole Star Wars thing doesn't help his New Zealandness much.

I'd be tempted to cite Karl Urban as another example, but his work in America so dominates his career, New Zealand barely figures into my perception of him. He's a great actor, though.

Antony Starr might qualify, but as solid an actor as he is, there's something not hugely New Zealand-ish about his appearance. And the fact that his name is Antony Starr.

But he seems to be doing a good job of entrenching himself in the Australian acting world, so that's nice.

Martin Henderson is a decent leading man, but again, he doesn't seem very New Zealand-ish. Cliff Curtis is our most prolific acting export ever, and he's fantastic, but he's not really a leading man.

Robbie Magasiva will instantly qualify when someone gets around to putting him in an action film. Seriously, that needs to happen.

Former Shortland Street actor Owen Black delivered an interesting spin on the classic Kiwi leading man in his self-funded film Netherwood, and although he's playing an American gunfighter, Kiwi Cohen Holloway cuts a nice line in silent stern aggression in next week's 'Pavlova Western' Good For Nothing.

Whelan's The Most Fun You Can Have Dying co-star Pana Hema-Taylor has a pretty cool look, so it'd be interesting to see him in a leading role.

If Kevin Smith was still around, he'd definitely qualify.

* Who else could be cited as a classic Kiwi movie leading man? Rawiri Paratene? Craig Hall? John Bach? The ghost chips guy? Comment below!

Watch the trailer for The Most Fun You Can Have Dying:


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