A Boy's own tale

By Russell Baillie

James Rolleston got the part of Boy at the last minute. Photo / Supplied
James Rolleston got the part of Boy at the last minute. Photo / Supplied

The young star of Taika Waititi's new feature tells Russell Baillie what it's like to be in the spotlight.

"Kia ora. My name is Boy, and welcome to my interesting world. My favourite person is Michael Jackson. He is the best singer and dancer in the world.

My favourite subjects are art, social studies and Michael Jackson. I have a six-year-old brother called Rocky. He's got powers.

"I'm named after my dad. He can dance as good as Michael Jackson. He's a master carver, deep sea treasure diver, soldier, captain of the rugby team and he holds the record for punching out the most number of people with one hand.

My dad isn't here right now. He's a busy man. When he comes home he's taking me to see Michael Jackson - live."

So begins Taika Waititi's film Boy, the droll autobiographical 80s-set coming of age comedy which hits local screens next week after winning acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah and the Berlin Film Festival.

Speaking is 13-year-old James Rolleston, who was 11 when he was cast in the film - he was a last-minute choice when the makers realised their initial pick, young Manihera Rangiuaia from Ruatoria had grown too fast to play the pre-pubescent character. Instead, Rangiuaia got the role of Kingi, Boy's classmate who is always giving him a hard time.

For Rolleston, it meant an eight-week in Waihau Bay, shoot, up the coast from his home in Opotiki. And because - well, other than Waititi who plays Boy's absentee father Alamein - he's the star of the show, he's been helping promote the film, attending film festivals in America and Germany with the director-actor. So, here's young James on his Boy-hood ...

On the audition:

Well, I was at class and this lady came into class and asked us students if we would like to be in this play film thing. Lots of kids put up their hand and I put up my hand - me and my mate - and she took us into this room at our school and I did this thing "express our feelings" and all that and they liked me and a couple of my mates. What happened was they auditioned us for different parts and I ended up getting a part as an extra. And then after all that, they got me to do a wardrobe fitting and makeup and all that and I was just walking around by myself just introducing myself to everybody and they liked my personality.

On how much travelling he's done in the past few months:

Yeah heaps. I went to America, Utah, Salt Lake City for Sundance and then to Berlin for the Berlinale. I quite liked Berlin. It's cool man. I loved it. I really liked Sundance. It was snowing.

On what it was like being the centre of attention at the festival's screenings:

It was alright. I could understand them. A couple of girls asked me if I was married.

On what it felt like watching the film with foreign audiences:

It was cool. It's just when I was back home I was nervous with family and friends in the audience. I was nervous to see how they liked it ... I wasn't really that nervous. I get shy watching myself or wondering what the audience think.

On his favourite bits of the film when he was making it:

Just acting in the film. Just the experience, meeting new people.

Or watching it:

I liked every bit of it really. I liked the school. That's pretty funny.

On whether "the 80s" is an alien concept to someone born in the late 90s:

Nah, I thought that was just a couple of years back.

On Waititi and whether he thought it strange the director of the movie was acting in it too:

Taika? I reckon he's the bomb. I thought lots of directors must do this.

On Michael Jackson, who is Boy's idol but who died while the film was being edited:

Yeah, I really like Michael Jackson. It was out of it because Taika and them were editing parts of the Michael Jackson scenes and then they were watching TV at the same time and it had showed that Michael Jackson had just died.

On what his family think:

They are proud.

And the kids at school:

They're excited. They ask lots of questions which sometimes gets annoying. But other than that it's all good.

On whether he's coming to the official New Zealand premiere in Auckland next week:

Yep. Just me and my nan.

On whether he wants to be an actor:

Um, part time, not full time. I also want to be a marine biologist. I have been brought up by the sea. I just love to fish. My koro used to take me out when I was little as. I caught my first fish when I was, like, two.

- NZ Herald

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