Young actor stable but still in intensive care and childhood friend faces months of rehabilitation after road accident.

Two young men drive into town after hanging out with their mates. One is an award-winning actor, who's kept his feet firmly grounded in his small hometown roots. The other, a promising rugby player with the X-factor to break a game open.

The pair had their whole lives in front of them. But the future for James Rolleston and Kaleb Maxwell, both 19, is not so certain after a car crash described as "every parent's nightmare".

Three weeks ago on a Tuesday night, Rolleston, best known for his starring role in Boy, was driving when the car hit a bridge on the eastern side of Opotiki.

"Half the bridge" ended up in the car, said a volunteer firefighter, who described the crash site as a "total mess".


The car was written off and police were forced to shut down the road for an hour to clear the wreckage.

Firefighters had to cut Rolleston - who was coherent but suffering "horrendous injuries" - from the wreckage before he was airlifted to Tauranga Hospital. He's now in the intensive care unit in a stable condition at Waikato Hospital.

Maxwell has been discharged from hospital and is recovering at home.

Picking up the phone at 11pm to hear the news that night was "horrific and every parent's nightmare", said his father Craig Maxwell.

The boys were childhood friends who enjoyed playing rugby and just hanging out together.

Craig Maxwell said he was relieved Kaleb had been discharged from hospital, but he was still in a lot of pain and had to wear a back brace.

Identified as an up-and-coming talent for the Bay of Plenty Under-19 team, Maxwell can play wing, centre, fullback and first five-eighths.

Head coach Cory Sweeney was glowing about his potential.

"He has an X-factor about him, the ability to break a game open and he's got a skill set that matches."

Unfortunately for Maxwell, he's out of the team as he faces months of intensive rehabilitation and next year he will be too old to play, Sweeney said.

"Kaleb has bruised lungs and his chest has been punctured. He has a sore clavicle, four fractured vertebrae in his back and neck and lacerations in his kidney," Craig Maxwell said.

"It's a terrible situation where both boys have their lives ahead of them and this happens."

Despite his newfound celebrity status, James Rolleston was a humble young man who cherished his whanau and the community where he grew up, Maxwell said.

He was raised in the small Bay of Plenty town of Opotiki by his nana, Christina Rolleston, and is spoken of fondly by his teachers.

"He was talented, popular and extremely humble about his success," said Susan Impey, principal of Opotiki College. "He was very involved in the kapa haka group and played for the First XV with Kaleb Maxwell."

Rolleston went on to become a household name after starring in Taika Waititi's cult hit Boy, as well as roles in The Dead Lands with Te Kohe Tuhaka and The Dark Horse alongside Cliff Curtis.

Tuhaka and Curtis have visited Rolleston in hospital, where his mother Angeline Rolleston and nana Christina have kept a bedside vigil.

Tuhaka, best known for his television roles in Shortland Street and Go Girls, said he was saddened by the accident and in awe of his "little bro".

"He is the most laidback, breezy Maori boy from the coast. James is unique because he never over-thinks when he is acting - he allows his instinct to kick in."

Tainui Stephens, a producer on The Dead Lands, credits Rolleston's success to his grandmother.

"Nana Christina has been responsible for guiding him through his career and making sure he didn't get into trouble.

"She is a loving grandmother - James knows that. He is a very aware, smart young man - terrific to work with," said Stephens.

"One thing that thrilled me was men like Te Kohe and a bunch of other men took him under their wing. It was lovely seeing him hanging out with those guys."