Lydia Jenkin is an entertainment feature writer for the New Zealand Herald.

David de Lautour meets his match

Playing the game-winning second five-eighth in the Rugby World Cup final, was a dream come true for actor David de Lautour. He tells Lydia Jenkin about his pre-film nerves and preparation.

LA-based Kiwi actor David de Lautour was stoked to land the role of former All Black Stephen Donald in The Kick.
LA-based Kiwi actor David de Lautour was stoked to land the role of former All Black Stephen Donald in The Kick.

Hearts beating fast, sweat beading on every brow, the tense silence slowly growing ... wherever you were on October 23, 2011, you'll remember the atmosphere as fans all over New Zealand watched the final minutes of that Rugby World Cup final against France.

Winning 8-7 wasn't a comfortable experience, but it didn't change the jubilation felt when the All Blacks took home the Webb Ellis trophy for the first time in 24 years, and it's impressive how this week's Sunday Theatre local production The Kick brings both the stress and relief flooding back.

The film tells the story of Stephen Donald, a true-blue rugby player who rose through school teams, was brought in to play for the Counties Manukau NPC team when he was just 17, then selected for the Chiefs, and eventually tapped to join the All Black squad.

With a strong kicking game and fast hands, he was a perfect fly-half, and though he was never going to take Dan Carter's jumper, things went well for Donald, until he made a couple of crucial errors in the last minutes of the Bledisloe Cup final in Hong Kong in 2010, and the fury of the nation came crashing down on him.

The bumpy road Donald travelled from there, to kicking the winning penalty in the World Cup final, had all the makings of a good Kiwi film, and actor David de Lautour couldn't believe his luck when he was given the starring role.

"It's an honour. I'm a huge rugby fan, I'm often rounding up a group of people to watch the games in Los Angeles [where he is based], and I have framed All Black jerseys on my wall. I came home for the World Cup though, and I remember that final so vividly. And not only that, I've actually got footage of me watching it at a bar at the Viaduct."

Why did he have footage? Well, in a strange coincidence, while he was planning the trip home, Lautour had a brain wave -- he'd bring a camera man along and make a documentary about New Zealand's love for the game in order to try and convince Americans to get behind the sport.

"It's about contrasting rugby in America and rugby in New Zealand, and sort of trying to promote the sport to Americans a bit more I guess. I'm just finishing it, but it's quite funny to go back and watch the footage that we got, and see me reacting to Stephen running onto the field. It's bizarre to look at it now, having played him in the film."

De Lautour has been based in the US for most of the last 10 years, working on series like NCIS, Touch, Once Upon a Time, and Beauty and the Beast, but he'd been keeping his eye out for parts in New Zealand, so was very excited when he made the shortlist for this one.

"I was dead keen as soon as I read anything about it. So I put an audition tape down, and then I got a call saying they wanted to see more, and that's when I started getting excited. I sent them a tape of me kicking a ball around so that they could see I didn't have two left feet, and it went from there."

While not a rugby player himself, de Lautour was happy to do whatever was required to look the part.

"I did have to put on a bit of weight -- I've never been accused of looking like an All Black, so there was a lot of eating and a lot of working out. I put on about 10kg for the role. And then when I got down to New Zealand, they got all the boys together, the whole team of actors, and we just did a few training sessions together. That gave me a bit of confidence -- I knew I wasn't the best player there, but I wasn't the worst, and it also built a bit of camaraderie with the team, which gave it a really good feel when we were shooting."

Seeing that camaraderie behind the scenes, the relationships between the players, their friendship and support of one another is a key part of the film's appeal.

"It gives you an insight into what the players are like when they're hanging out together, just mates. And also with their families and girlfriends. You see that they're just normal guys to some extent, and how they might be affected by a game, or the public's reaction to a game."

The New Zealand Rugby Union and Stephen Donald were both substantially involved in the film, and though it takes some creative licence, both the producers and de Lautour wanted to make sure Donald was portrayed with accuracy.

"Stephen came in, and on everything right down to my wardrobe, he gave pointers -- he actually went through all my outfits. Everybody involved did a great job of getting the essence of his world, right down to the details of his family home -- they went to his mum and dad's house and then recreated it. I think that's a big part of what gives it a real Stephen Donald feel. It's laid-back and chilled out, but determined and focused. I hope the movie represents him well.

"The fact it's such recent history does make it feel quite strange. It's not like I'm playing someone who's now 80 -- these events and memories are a very fresh part of his life. But I heard from the producer that he's seen it, and liked it, so that's really cool."

Getting into the mindset of a guy who was dealing with the constant tension of being in or out of a team, getting rejection phone calls, and having his hopes dashed wasn't too hard for Donald -- he reckons he's had plenty of experience with rejection in the acting world.

"In a funny way I draw quite a lot of parallels with Stephen -- getting down to the last two for a great role, and then you don't get it, or you do a show for a series, and then you don't get asked back for the next season. So I drew on those experiences, even though there's obviously plenty of differences in the sporting world," he says with a laugh.

He did have to ask Donald what was going through his head in the moment he had to take that penalty during the final though.

"He said it was just another kick at the time. He wasn't thinking about the four million Kiwis watching, he's just thinking about the other 14 guys on the field, and doing his job, which is what he did. He stepped up, knocked one over, and it turned out to be a pretty enormous kick."

De Lautour also got familiar with that little moment of nervous tension right before you try to get one through the posts, as he had to do it on camera a few times himself. "I actually had Stephen watching me one day, shooting a scene where I'm practising by myself in a rural paddock, so that was a little bit nerve-racking. I didn't get any pointers either, I think all he did was suggest to the director that we move a little further away from the post, because it looked a bit easy," he chuckles.

"Fortunately I got one across."

Who: David de Lautour
What: The Kick
Where and when: TV One, 8.30pm, Sunday

- TimeOut

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