Actor Robbie Magasiva was intrigued to learn about his genetic heritage on the new series of DNA Detectives. As his two children near adulthood, the 45-year-old empty-nester is enjoying having time to take up hobbies like motorbike riding and surfing.
1. What was your childhood like?
I grew up in Wellington. When I was 5 we moved back to Samoa for five years. Dad was getting bad asthma attacks here so he decided to go back home. He got a bit of land from family, just bush, excavated it and put a taro plantation down. It was very basic. We stayed in a shack for years. The aim was to be self-sufficient but Dad ended up getting a job as a bank manager as well. I remember walking everywhere. The nearest bus stop was about 5km away.
2. Was it hard coming back to New Zealand at age 10?
I remember being on the plane and my brother Pua, who was a baby, doing this massive dump that stunk out the row. That's ingrained in my memory. When I went over I could only speak English but when I came back I could only speak Samoan. The English came back quite quickly and all the kids would say, "You don't sound like a FOB". We moved in with our aunty and uncle. There were nine cousins all in the same house - five boys in one room. That was just the norm back in the day. Most of the time you were outside anyway until you got called in for dinner.
3. When did you discover acting?
The Strathmore Primary talent quest; I remember performing and all the kids laughing and clapping. I just loved it. At Marist Holy Cross I did musicals. My sixth form drama teacher picked three of us Polynesian boys to audition for a commercial his friend was casting. On the bus trip there me and my mates Henry and Noel all said, "If you get it I'll be happy for you" to each other. At the audition they asked us to walk down a corridor and act excited as each door opened on to a new career. I was the tallest and as soon as they said "action", I was right out the front going, "Ooh, I could do that! Ooh! Ahh!" I was in the moment. On the bus trip home the boys were really quiet. I said, "How do you think you went?" and Henry goes, "I don't know. I wasn't seen. Someone hogged the camera." He still brings up that story.
4. Did your parents have any concerns about you becoming an actor?
No, and I'm grateful for that. The thing I had on my side was I was good at rugby. I got to representative level and was approached by some NRL clubs. Choosing acting was easy. I enjoyed the social element of rugby but in my heart I wanted to be an actor. I already had a foot in the door and was getting regular work. There were very few Polynesian actors around, so me and Dave Fane got most of the roles.
5. Did you ever feel like Polynesian roles were stereotyped back then?
I was on Crimewatch a lot. I was everything - the rapist, the robber, the basher. I got rich off crime. But after that I was fortunate to get roles where I wasn't the stereotypical Polynesian.
6. Your younger brother Pua Magasiva is in Shortland Street. Did you encourage him to become an actor too?
I didn't encourage or discourage him. I think it motivated him seeing me pursue that career path. He thought, "Well if my brother can do it..."
7. You've just shot the sixth season of the Australian drama Wentworth which will air here next year. How are you finding it?
I'm enjoying the challenge. Emotionally it's been hard. When I'm shooting tragic scenes and I need to think of something really terrible, I think of how I'd feel if something happened to my kids. You've really got to go there emotionally and it takes it out of you.
8. You must be almost an empty-nester by now?
Almost. My son is almost 21 and my girl is 17. It's funny, one of my best mates and I had our sons quite early so while all our mates were off doing their OE and living it up we were working our asses off back here. Now, they've all got young kids and we get to kick back and relax. I'm buying toys, a motorbike, and enjoying it.
9. Do you get out on your motorbike much?
Yeah, me and Danielle Cormack started riding during season two of Wentworth. We probably weren't supposed to with our contracts. We started off with cruisers and just got hooked. Dan still has my first bike, a Yamaha 650 cruiser. I bought a Harley streetbike when I came back after season five. I'm an emotional buyer. I've had terrible luck with cars. Every car I buy craps out. A Range Rover was the most embarrassing one. I spent thousands on it but it was a dud. I think I was going through a mid-life crisis. I bought a surfboard too.
10. Can you surf?
My mate Kirk Torrance taught me out at Muriwai. I'd been talking about learning for years so one day I picked him up, bought a nine-foot board, a wetsuit, and we were off. Long boards float easier so within six months I was actually riding and turning it. My brother and his mates started surfing soon after. They bought little boards because they wanted be the cool kids but to this day they can't actually ride the waves.
11. Which role has been the most challenging of your career?
I played a psychopathic P-addict who takes people hostage in Club Paradiso at the Basement Theatre. My mate Victor Roger who wrote it goes, "What role would you like?" I normally play good guys so I said, "Someone real evil". The content of that play is so horrific we never did it 100 per cent during dress rehearsals. On opening night we did and most of us came off in tears. We refused to extend the season past one week. It's taken a full year to recover enough to do it again.
12. You're set to appear in the new season of DNA Detectives. Did you enjoy exploring your ancestry?
My friends Dave Fane and Kirk Torrance were in season one. Dave said before he did the DNA test, "I'm 100 per cent Samoan - there's nothing else in me" so I thought "Let's see how pure I am". I got to travel to China and Taiwan where the indigenous people originally set out across Polynesia. It's fascinating how similar their language is to Samoan and some of their art work as well.
DNA Detectives starts tonight, Tuesday 7 November, on TVNZ 1 at 8.30pm with Jacinda Ardern and Stan Walker. Robbie Magasiva appears on 28 November.