Actor Xavier Horan appears in TVNZ1's new five-part crime drama The Bad Seed. The forthright star says New Zealanders need to be honest about racism.
1 The Bad Seed is a TV event screening five nights in a row in April. What character do you play?
I play a politician the polls predict will become Prime Minister in the upcoming election. He's a rich, former All Black captain with a beautiful young wife. It seems like all his cards are in place until it begins to unravel. He's a guy that's used to leading. It was fun; I'd come to the set from footy training and Calvin Tuteao, who plays my political advisor, would drive up from Huntly in his beat-up Hilux then we'd suit up and bring the mana to these characters.
2 You play rugby league for the Otahuhu Leopards. How did you get into the sport?
Rugby league's always been a big part of my upbringing. Dad's an Aussie and Mum loves league. James, Thomas and Kylie Leuluai are cousins. At Papatoetoe High, a few of us boys started the school's first league team. At first we were getting smashed 80-nil by schools like de la Salle but by the end we beat Mt Albert Grammar in the B Grade final. I support the Warriors. My wife's a Bulldogs supporter.
3 Your wife Nicole Horan is a television producer who made The Bachelor. How did you meet?
At intermediate school in Otara. We went for a couple of walks around school holding hands and then got together again after high school. She works really hard, always has, and prides herself on her work ethic. Anything she produces, she'll be first one in and last one out.
4 Have you ever made TV shows together?
We make a hunting show for Maori TV called Toa Hunter Gatherer, now in its third season. A couple of years ago we made School of Training with a good friend of mine Joe Naufahu who runs the Ludus Magnus gym. I also got to follow the All Blacks round the world as a helper when Nicole co-produced the All or Nothing Amazon docu-series.
5 How do you both juggle work and family?
We've been in this industry 18 years and we couldn't have done it without her Mum and my Mum. We all live near each other in Papatoetoe. When our kids were younger I worked at the local rec centre running sports programmes. I decided to run the after school care programme so I could have more time with them. Our daughter is now 15, our son's 14 and our youngest is 4.
6 Have the Christchurch mosque massacres affected your family?
Hugely. The day afterwards, I took our daughter to the mosque up the road. It was so hard; how do you explain that to a 4-year-old? It's sad and it's scary and we have a responsibility now as New Zealanders to grow as a country from this terrible thing that's happened. Our work's not done. We need to be honest about that fact that racism exists in our country; that white privilege exists in our country and we need to start teaching the real history of our country. Tell the bloody truth about what's happened to my people! Don't try to skim over it and say we're all good because that's bull****.
7 Do you think Taika Waititi was right when he said New Zealand was racist?
Of course! So many people said, "Come on mate, pull it back, that's a bit harsh." Well how do they know if they haven't been affected? I've experienced racism throughout my life, especially in my career as an actor. Mum was forced to change her name to Blossom because they didn't want to say Puawai. How do you think that affected her and thousands of our whanau that grew up being told the name gifted by their ancestors is not important? These are things we need to acknowledge to move forward. If we can be real with each other, we'll grow stronger - honestly. A lot of Pākehā fear giving over their power but it's not about that. It's about being equal.
8 Growing up in Whakatane, was te reo spoken at home?
Yes, I lived with my Nanny who was Ngati Awa and a fluent speaker. Mum worked two jobs, cleaning in the mornings and nights at the takeaway shop till 3am to put herself through teacher's college. When we moved to Otara, I had to learn the South Auckland lingo. We kept our tikanga Maori but lost the language.
9 How did you get into acting?
When I was 14, Mum saw an ad for auditions for Witi Ihimaera's Bulibasha. I got a role, but mum didn't feel it was right for me at the time. Sport was my thing. I played touch for Counties Manukau. I'd always try to impress the older guys with my Jean Claude van Damme impersonations. They kept telling me I should be an actor so one day I picked up a phone book and got an agent. My first audition was for Toa Fraser's No. 2 and I got the role. Over the years I've collated tips from the masters in a little notebook that's become my acting bible.
10 Which acting role are you most proud of in your career?
Performing Shakespeare's Troilus in te reo Maori at The Globe in London. Most of us came from a kapa haka background and had never done a play before so we were all on the same journey. To perform on Shakespeare's stage to a sold out audience was an incredibly fulfilling. The Language Commissioners who translated Shakespeare into old Maori had to bring out their koros' dictionaries. The sacred power and emotion behind the words was unreal.
11 You then had a lead role The Dead Lands, also in te reo Maori. What was that like?
The thing I loved the most was that we filmed in a Maori framework. Tainui Stevens would start each day giving us the whakapapa of the location we were working in. After our mahi we'd have a karakia to finish. The guitar was always around, we were always jamming, doing push ups, practicing fight scenes. It was the most empowering film set you could aspire to be on as a young Maori man.
12 You played Sonny Bill Williams in the documentary The Kick. Have you ever met him?
Yes, I've got to know Sonny Bill since playing him. He's a beautiful man. He embodies the type of leadership we need. Sonny isn't perfect but he's owned up to his mistakes and been accountable for them. That's the greatest lesson any role model can pass on to our young men. The way he stood up and spoke with aroha after what happened in Christchurch was influential for so many.
• The Bad Seed launches on Sunday 14 April at 8:30pm on TVNZ1