Kiwi actor John Tui is still pinching himself at landing a role in mega-blockbuster movie Battleship, writes Lydia Jenkin
It looks likely to be one of the biggest flicks of this year's blockbuster season and Kiwi actor John Tui is still tingling with excitement, and a little disbelief, about his involvement.
Having spent the past 10 years with roles of various sizes in Power Rangers, Outrageous Fortune, This Is Not My Life, Go Girls and Sione's Wedding, finding himself on sets in Hawaii and Louisiana as a key member in the cast for the US$200 million ($243.8 million) Battleship was a dream come true.
"My wife and my kids were ecstatic, and I was just pumped. I actually bagged the role from down here. I'd auditioned, and I didn't have to go over there, just when I had the callback. They'd been trying to cast this role for a while, and they'd expanded the casting net to include Australia and NZ to try to find the right person."
Directed by Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights, Hancock, The Kingdom), the film is loosely based on the old-school boardgame where two naval forces face off against each other - a boardgame Tui hadn't played much as a child.
"Growing up in South Auckland, it was all about rugby, playing at the park, and just doing lots of stuff outdoors. We weren't wealthy, so I didn't grow up with that kind of luxury, but we had friends who played Battleship, so I had played the game."
The big names associated with the film and its ambitious sci-fi plot were enough to make him enthusiastic though. Starring Liam Neeson, Rihanna, and Taylor Kitsch, the film supposes what would happen if alien spaceships - discovered in the middle of the ocean - got into a battle with the might of the US Navy and a few allies. Think Independence Day on the high seas.
"With the game, you're fighting another enemy - say another country, or however you choose to perceive it, but in the movie the world is together, fighting a common enemy and defending our planet. So the film is more inclusive maybe, it's an international fleet, and there are no barriers.
"The cast is international, which I thought was awesome. It's funny, 'cos it's almost like, 'hmm, who can we be fighting, we don't really want to pick on any one country, I know, aliens!'."
One of Tui's first preparations to play Lieutenant "The Beast" Lynch was to learn how to pilot a naval rigid inflatable which confronts the alien ship in a pivotal scene.
"On that boat, during the film, I had Rihanna and Taylor, two of the stars of the movie, so I had to be careful, I had the lives of those actors in my hands. And I'd never driven a boat before in my life, so it was all a bit crazy; it was probably the hardest training I had. But with a bit of Kiwi ingenuity I picked it up pretty quickly" he laughs.
Filming on a barge off Honolulu is not your generic film set - no trailers or special dressing rooms - but Tui isn't the kind to be a Hollywood diva anyway, he'd rather be hanging out on set with the crew.
"I was so happy and excited, and keen to learn. Captain Rick, he was a serviceman for 30 years and he was our advisor, he just gave me all the knowledge I needed. My character is a chief engineer in the film, and I have to help the ship run, otherwise we're just sitting targets out in the ocean. The cool thing is that Peter Berg used a lot of ex-servicemen in the movie, and that shows the integrity and honour that he has for the navy."
From Tui's reports, it sounds like the cast in general were great to work with - he has great respect for Rihanna, who was also a newbie to a big Hollywood set, but was "awesome, a constant professional", and he's equally complimentary of Liam Neeson.
"He's the man, he's definitely the man. I've watched a lot of his movies and been a fan for a long time, and to work around such a class act was just a dream for me. He was always calm, comfortable, and he treated everyone the same, he embraced us. With his Irish background and me being a Kiwi, we bonded over the rugby."
Who: John Tui, local actor
Where and when: Opens in cinemas April 12