Rob Mokaraka was shot by police when he charged them with a meat cleaver hoping to die. Now the actor, writer and poet is in a new play in Auckland before heading to the Edinburgh Festival.

1.Where did you grow up?

My Dad was in the army so we started in Christchurch, I went to school in Singapore for a couple of years, then we came back to Mosgiel. The kids called me Ching Chong there 'cause I was pretty dark coming from Singapore. It was cold man. Mosgiel! Then he was posted to Hobsonville and finally to Papakura. I had four schools for primary and intermediate then went boarding at St Stephen's College. A lot of bad shit went on there but I think a lot of bad shit happens at boarding schools anywhere. I made good mates but getting the beats from seniors wasn't great. It was just the way of life. I left at 16 and went to be a deckhand and a pearl diver in Broome where my uncle was working.

2.Was Maori culture important to you as a teenager?

Yes, culturally definitely. My mum's side is Tuhoe and we were steeped in that. On my Dad's and Koro's side, they were Ngapuhi, from the wops near Kaikohe, and even though my grandparents were fluent speakers they wouldn't speak Maori to us. My dad had joined the army when he was 17 then went to Vietnam so he didn't have the language either.


3.Did you suffer depression at school?

I didn't know it at the time but talking to my family and shrink now, I did. After my body healed (after the shooting) I started seeing a shrink. He said "you've been this way for a long time". These dark places and dark times sweep through you. You feel like you better not tell anyone because you feel like a freak. I had bursts of anger and sadness and not knowing why. The great thing about going to a shrink is they give you some tools to deal with it.

4. Do you remember much about that day in 2009?

I remember everything about that. I'd been living the dream. Our play (Strange Resting Places, co-written with Paolo Rotondo) had toured in London and Singapore. People were flocking to our shows but I didn't believe anyone who said they loved it. I was suspicious and paranoid but people didn't know I had these feelings. I hid it really well. I hid it from myself. But then I wanted to die and I was too scared to do it myself. I had a similar episode when I was younger and my family had stepped in then. There are emotional triggers connected. Bad relationship breakups. Switches are being flicked. Then the pain makes you present.

5.The pain of the bullet?

Yeah. I wanted to die but as soon as the bullet hit me all reality came crumbling down on me. I just knew I'd made a major mistake. The bullet felt like having a hot metal poker in the fire for hours and hours then someone stabs it in you and the burning doesn't stop. I'd asked the police to shoot me then the moment they did I knew I'd f***ed up. And the pain. It's excruciating. When I was in hospital, they had to keep the wound open to let it all ooze out and I looked like I had a boil-up on my chest. I would write poetry and short stories to take my mind off the pain.

6. Have you continued to write about what happened?

I've written a theatre project called Shot Bro: Confessions of a Depressed Bullet which is a black comedy about a bullet who suffers from depression and he's looking for Rob Mokaraka. It's abstract right, but it's got really deep themes. And there's a short film too which is a bit more serious, about the masks of depression.


7.Did you feel for the police officers you put in that position?

At first I obviously had no sympathy but as time has gone on definitely. My friends are cops and they've given me a few insights. I play rugby with police too and they know me. If I had a chance to, I would like to sit and have a coffee with them and ask how they are. I've been lucky. I've had so much support from family and friends and the acting community. I haven't had to go it alone.

8.Do people always talk about it with you now?

It's taken me a while to be able to talk about it and it's a relief in some ways now that people know what was going on in my head. People will come and check on me, that I'm okay, which is great. I also feel like the moon bringing in the tide of crazies. They'll come up to me and say 'I heard about what you did and I'm not like you' and they've just got their own stuff going on. At first I wanted to save them all but you can't. My Dad and my step-mum have been amazing to me. My dad was heavily wounded in Vietnam and he and I have very similar scars now. I think he saw reflections of himself when he saw me in hospital.

9.Were you always going to be an actor?

I did all kinds of jobs. I was a fishmonger in Sydney and I'd drive past this acting school and I'd feel this urge. I'd sit outside it and think 'who the hell are you to go and do this'. My family didn't do that. No one I knew did. I'd never, ever been to the theatre. I came home [from Australia] and my cousin was doing an acting course at the polytech [in Whangarei] and I went along with him and just knew I had to be there.

10. What was it that drew you?

I think I needed to express something and I didn't know what it was at that time. I wanted to connect with people emotionally, spiritually and intellectually. Mike King has helped me a lot since that life and death experience in 2009. He told me 'secrets make you sick' and he's right. I see it in families, in people. The play we're doing (Putorino Hill) is all about secrets and how you need hope. Before, shame, guilt and failure ran through me a lot. Now I know that when those thoughts happen, I have to talk. I have to articulate myself. See my mates, tell them. Not keep it secret.

11.The play is also about spirituality: where do you fit spiritually?

I take it from Maori spirituality and I listen to my Buddhist mates. A bit from here and there. When I need it, I'll do a karakia to myself.

12.What is love to you?

It's when you're so vulnerable and you think you are shit and people have unconditional love for you. People don't judge. People have your back. I have had so much of that love in my life. I don't have to go it alone.

Rob Mokaraka stars in Putorino Hill at BATS Theatre in Wellington to July 5 and at Q Theatre in Auckland from 15-19 July.