Born and raised in Otara, of Samoan descent, Beulah Koale is one of the busiest young actors in the country. It's been six years since the 22-year-old was offered the chance to attend a drama programme run by Auckland-based theatre company Massive Company, and he's since had roles in Harry, Shortland Street, Fantail, and theatre shows like The Brave and Black Faggot, which he's just been performing at the Edinburgh Festival.
But it's Kiwi film The Last Saint, in which he plays lead character Minka -- a young man trying to help his mother overcome a methamphetamine addiction who finds himself pulled into the Auckland underworld -- which has really got critics' attention.
He has a quick chat with us about the role.
The producer has called The Last Saint a "rebel film". How do you think of it?
I think it's something that New Zealand hasn't seen, that's for sure. The closest film you could compare it to would be Once Were Warriors, it definitely has that kind of vibe. It's a rebel in the way it was made, because there seemed to be a lot of people who didn't want the film to be made, or to support the film, but it's a story that needs to be told. And the film is hard-out, you walk out feeling pretty knocked out. There's not actually a lot of violence in the film, there's only really two full-on fight scenes, but I guess that violence feels real and heavy, and that's because of the story, and the world that's portrayed.
Do you remember when you first read the script?
I was 16, still at school and had no idea about the acting world, and I auditioned for a movie called Matariki, and I didn't get the role, but the director passed my name on to Rene Naufahu [writer and director], and suggested I audition for The Last Saint. So it was the second-ever audition that I'd done, and I was really raw and didn't know anything. But Rene saw something in me, and from then on he taught me pretty everything I know about acting, he's taken me under his wing -- I look at him like an older brother.
What appealed to you about the role of Minka?
Hopefully you can't help but love Minka for what he does in the film. His journey was to save his mum, that's his number one aim, and he'd do anything to try and help her, including including compromising himself.
I've talked to cops and so on, doing some research, and there are definitely Minkas out there, and people need to know they exist. I'm from South Auckland, so I know what's out there, and I don't need to go far to see people who need help. That's what I love about this film, is that people normally turn a blind eye to it, but the film is trying to convince people to take another look, because those kids are really out there, doing anything they can to save a loved one.
Have any of your other roles contributed to the way you played Minka?
They all contributed little snippets of Minka, and I would always try things out in these other roles to see how they worked, and I would take away little ideas and put them in my Minka box. Because Minka goes through so much stuff, characters like Lua in Harry gave me an opportunity to give things a test run, and because he was a real person, doing research on him also helped me with the world of Minka.
They're all linked by a sense of desperation, they're desperate, and lost, and they don't really know what they're doing, and they're very vulnerable. But I was waiting to shoot this one, to play Minka, for five years.
Did you do anything in particular to prepare yourself for filming any heavy scenes?
Well, Rene's a director that doesn't say much, and we've known each other for a long time, so he knows that I know the story, because I've read it so many times, so he let me play. He didn't say 'Hey, do it like this', he let me work it out and trusted me. I guess my preparation was the script, and those five years really, and that made me confident that I knew everything I could about the film and the character. So there were no special exercises, I just tried to play each scene as truthfully as I could.
What do you want to do next?
I want to do more films if I can. I want to be the Samoan version of Cliff Curtis. I'm just going to keep learning, and taking opportunities, and see how far I can go.
Who: Beulah Koale
What: The Last Saint
Where and when: In cinemas from today