Temuera Morrison explores his comedic side as a modern-day cannibal in his new film, writes Scott Kara.
Temuera Morrison reckons he might have to leave the country after people see his latest film, in which he plays a deranged and deluded Maori academic and cannibal.
"It's quite out-there," he says of new Kiwi comedy horror Fresh Meat. "It's not everyone's cup of tea but we'll see what happens. I might be on the first plane to Rarotonga," he laughs.
Fresh Meat centres around the Tan brothers' gang, made up of leader Ritchie, his brother Paulie, Ritchie's hot and dangerous gun-toting missus Gigi (played by Kate Elliott) and bumbling sidekick Johnny, who take the Crane family hostage in their suburban Wellington home.
Little do the gangsters know that there is a bloody great butchery in the basement of the house and Morrison's character, Hemi, is a devotee of the ancient Solomonites cult, deadset on reintroducing cannibalism to modern-day New Zealand. He also plans on making himself immortal while he's at it.
The action escalates out of control as the cannibals take on the gangsters, with side stories of lesbian love, cross-dressing fetishes and a nosy, lovelorn Pakeha neighbour thrown in for good measure.
Morrison laughs off the cannibalism element of the film and likes writer Briar Grace-Smith's take on the issue as a bit of cheeky fun.
"Let's face it," she says, "in just about every culture on the planet there is a history of cannibalism. [So] I have treated cannibalism as something quite normal. It's cheeky. It's about owning our [Maori] past ... rather than pretending it didn't happen."
And in the film Hemi offers an alternative view: "We're not Maori cannibals, we're just cannibals who happen to be Maori."
Still, says Morrison, who appears at the Fresh Meat stand at the Armageddon Expo at ASB Showgrounds on Sunday, when he watched the finished film he thought "that guy is insane".
Initially though, like when Hemi picks up his daughter, the beautiful Rina, from boarding school, he comes across as reasonably normal, if a little arrogant.
"I play him as quite an intellectual and I wanted to keep him calm and serene and peaceful at the beginning so I could go, 'argh' at the end," says Morrison with a laugh.
He says part of the inspiration for the character came about while driving down the road in his hometown of Rotorua and seeing a poster of politician Te Ururoa Flavell.
"It got me thinking about Dr Pita Sharples, and all these other intellectual Maoris who have a certain way about them. And I got to thinking, 'what happens if one of these types of guys has got something else going on on another level?"'
Morrison, who's best known for playing Jake the Muss in Once Were Warriors and Jango Fett in Star Wars, has never done a comedy role before. And even though he admits "being funny is quite hard work and a serious business", he does it well.
He's at his comedic best when he's on the phone to the police, imitating one of the Asian gangsters ("I don't know what planet I was on when I was doing that. I'm going to have to hide away from the Triads"), and he even got to improvise, like when he tells Rina that Gigi is about to become "kai kai".
He's gutted he didn't use the line "cook me some legs" when TimeOut suggests it to him.
"Ah, I'm too slow. I could have said, 'cook me some legs, woman'. Maybe we could dub it in and I can say it when I'm dragging Gigi through the kitchen."
For director Danny Mulheron, Fresh Meat is primarily about peoples' aspirations - but with shootouts, car crashes and cannibalism giving the film an edginess.
"And it's about consumption," says Mulheron, who is an actor, director and writer and has done everything from playing a hippopotamus in Peter Jackson's Meet the Feebles to co-writing and directing comedy series Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby.
"Everyone in the film wants something and is prepared to devour themselves to get it. They are all consuming themselves to get ahead, and that's part of the cannibalism."
He admits there are moments when you wonder if you should really be laughing at what's happening. "But hopefully we've trodden that line carefully and made it affectionate and funny, because I'm not there to denigrate anything or anyone."
And though Fresh Meat might sound more like a cult film, Mulheron says he made it with a wider audience in mind.
"I wanted to make a film with a broader appeal that uses elements of the cult films I've loved over the years. It's not a horror movie really, it's got a couple of jumps in it, but really it's a comedy and there is a depth to it.
"It's a film that has car crashes, lesbian shower scenes, explosions, satire and arms getting chopped off. It's got everything thrown into it. I've never seen a movie like this and that's why I wanted to do it."
What: Fresh Meat, new comedy horror about gangsters and a Maori family who are cannibals.
Who: Temuera Morrison, as Hemi Crane.
In cinemas: October 25.
Go see: Temuera Morrison at the Armageddon Expo on Sunday from 12pm-2pm at the Fresh Meat stand. Armageddon runs from Friday to Monday, ASB Showgrounds, Epsom.