More than a year on from the accident that nearly claimed his life, actor James Rolleston is still counting the things he's lost.

He can't run, his balance is off and he gets tired and often needs a daytime nap. Acting work has mostly dried up and instead the now 20-year-old star of hit Kiwi film Boy is working part time as a shop assistant.

But he's coping the best he can. "I just have to face the music," he says.

Rolleston will be sentenced at Opotiki District Court on Thursday after admitting a charge of dangerous driving causing injury for the crash that left him in intensive care for a month.


He was driving with his friend Kaleb Maxwell when he smashed into a bridge near Opotiki in July last year.

Rolleston had to be cut from the wreckage and airlifted to hospital. He suffered a traumatic brain injury and had to relearn how to walk and talk as well as basic motor skills.

Now he has rods in both tibias and his right femur. A graft had to be taken from his left thigh for his left shin, which now has a misshapen mass on it, bulging like a deflated rugby ball. His memory is still affected by the head trauma and he has suffered from depression. In short, it's been a rough ride.

"I just want to get back on track," he says. Acting wise, things have been quiet. "It's not like how it was."

He's working part-time at Recycled Boutique in inner-city Auckland, which he says "has been good for me", although he's "knackered" come the end of the day.

He's done one film since the accident - a Kiwi comedy, The Breaker Uppers, with Madeleine Sami and Jackie van Beek.

"Learning lines wasn't really an issue, everything else was terrible because my memory is totally shot now."

He finished speech therapy a couple of months ago, which was a huge "confidence booster", but is continuing physiotherapy.

His relationship with Maxwell, who now lives in Australia, is "tight as", despite Maxwell breaking five vertebrae in his spine and having an operation on his sternum. "He's back playing rugby, which is mean."

Rolleston has had support from friends, family and fellow actors, but is anxious about whether the public's perception of him has changed.

He gets stopped on the street, but now he's "grown up", it happens less often.

"I still get the Boy thing," he says of the Taika Waititi-directed movie that shot him to stardom in 2010.

He can still do the famous Michael Jackson moves too. "They're a bit rusty, eh. People always ask me to do them but I get too embarrassed.

"You know, it's like man, come on, I've done other films!"

After Boy, and a recurring role in Vodafone ads, he had parts in the te reo drama The Dead Lands and the true-life tale of gang life The Dark Horse, as well as Kiwi classic remake Pork Pie - his favourite film to date.

"They've all been amazing rides. Everything was given to me at a young age. I didn't have to work too hard [for movies]. I didn't go to drama school ... I didn't really know what I had, until it was almost taken away from me."

Getting the lead role in Boy was a bit of good fortune as well as natural ability. A casting director came to Opotiki Primary School and asked a few of the students if they wanted to audition.

"Me and my friends put our hands up. A little bit like 'should we get out of class for a little bit?'"

Then, all of a sudden, the cheeky, smart kid from Opotiki became a household name.

"What young teenager wouldn't want to be doing what I was doing? I just took it all for granted, you know? Having to start back at square one has been real tough. Just being at home, beating myself up as to where I could've been."

Right before his accident, he had an audition for an American film and unknown to him, two days after he crashed, his manager was told he had been given a lead role. "I can't remember what it was," he says now.

Rolleston would love to do a Maori battalion film one day and he'd still like to work in America.

"Just got to see what happens, eh. I'm not giving up."

Now just two months out of his teens, he's certainly learned about life the hard way.

"I was always real playful [as a child], but I was super shy. A lot of people freak out when I tell them I'm quite shy. Now, since the accident, I'm opening up a bit."

A one-hour documentary by Attitude TV about Rolleston's brain injury and road to recovery will screen on TVNZ in October.