Lydia Jenkin talks to Shopping's leading man about his transformation from roofer to star actor
Kevin Paulo was chowing down on a butter chicken in a Paraparaumu food court when the film's directors noticed him. Mark Albiston and Louis Sutherland had been waiting for Paulo to finish his lunch before asking him if he wanted to try out for the film they were going to make.
"I was walking away when Louis started calling out, 'Hey bro, hey bro', trying to get my attention," says the 21-year-old. "When I turned around, Mark was standing there with a camera and a tiny whiteboard and I was like, 'Hmm, what are these guys up to?' and they said, 'Oh, um, we're two directors and we're starting to shoot a film next year, we just wanted to ask you if you'd like to audition for the lead role."
Paulo jumped at the chance, wrote his name down on the whiteboard, and got himself an audition. "It was interesting because as soon as I wrote my last name on the whiteboard, Louis asked me, 'Are you half-Samoan?' No one ever says that to me, they always ask if I'm part Italian. Anyway, he was like, 'I'm half-caste as well'. So we kinda clicked right then and there I suppose. And then I went to audition and got the part."
Had you ever thought about acting before, or was this a new idea for you?
It'd never really crossed my mind. When I went to the initial audition, in all honesty, I was hungover, and I almost didn't go. I just had this thought that I probably wouldn't get the part, but then I was trying to hang out with some friends that morning and no one texted me back, so I thought I might as well go and try it.
You grew up on the Kapiti Coast - when Mark and Louis explained what the film would be about, did the story ring true for you?
It definitely wasn't a surprise, and I could relate to some aspects of the story, so I suppose in a sense that made it easier to bond with my character, Willie. But also for the four weeks of rehearsal I actually lived with Louis and his family, and that meant we had lots of time to talk about the character and what we both experienced growing up there. Kapiti had changed a bit by the time I went through school, but I think the discrimination is still there in some sense. It lingers.
Was there any particular part of the shoot that you really enjoyed?
I suppose the scenes where I had to be angry, funnily enough. I'm not normally that angry, but for some reason that was probably the easiest thing to pull out over and over, whereas scenes where I had to cry, or seem scared, sometimes they would take a few takes before I could put my mind in the right emotional space.
The film has already screened at Sundance Film Festival, and won the Grand Prix award at the Berlin Film Festival - has that changed your life very much?
Well, I was roofing before the movie and then, afterwards, I lost my job because I was committing too much time to the film, doing pick-ups and promotion and so on, so my boss ended up having a little cry, and we broke that off. And then I started working for a friend, doing some landscaping, and moved to Karori. I'd met a couple of guys on the set who were doing the stunt work and stunt choreography and they offered to get me in the loop with some stunt work later on this year, so I moved into town so I could be closer for that opportunity. And also Laura [Peterson, who plays Nicky in the film] and I are in a relationship now, and she's at Victoria University, so being only a five-minute bus ride apart is a bonus.
You guys got to go to Sundance with Mark and Louis, what was that like?
It was awesome. I've never been out of New Zealand before. The furthest I've been away from my home town is Auckland and Picton, so Utah was amazing. It was interesting because a lot of people who saw the film could relate to it; it's not just a New Zealand thing, not just about being half-Samoan, everyone can relate to the story of finding yourself, trying to make the right decisions, and trying to reconcile your identity and culture.