Kiwis will recognise the mythical world of The Dead Lands, but leading man Te Kohe Tuhaka believes the new series promotes Māori culture in a way the world has never seen before.

"It will be very surprising for a lot of people," Tuhaka told TimeOut.

"To what I know of our industry and history, nothing like it has ever been made.

"It's pretty special. It's a pretty special kaupapa anyway. I am excited for people to see it."

The Dead Lands premieres tonight on TVNZ OnDemand. Photo / Supplied.
The Dead Lands premieres tonight on TVNZ OnDemand. Photo / Supplied.

The eight-episode action and fantasy series is co-produced by AMC Network's horror streaming service Shudder and TVNZ and premieres January 23 with a double episode landing on TVNZ OnDemand following its international debut.

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The series is written by Glenn Standring (6 Days) who also wrote the 2014 The Dead Lands feature film, which has the same setting as the show but is unconnected to its characters or story.

But while the genre and style of the series will be familiar to viewers, Tuhaka says it gives new insights into Māori culture, which along with large doses of Kiwi humour, will appeal to foreign and local audiences.

The Dead Lands follows Toa Fraser's acclaimed 2014 film of the same name. Photo / Supplied.
The Dead Lands follows Toa Fraser's acclaimed 2014 film of the same name. Photo / Supplied.

"There are plenty of shows that have a similar feel and theme and are set in a similar genre, but it's the fact that it comes from this part of the world," he said.

"It's been influenced by Māori culture and Māori styles of storytelling and ritual, which a lot of the world have no real understanding of or have ever seen or heard.

"And the performance style is very us as well, it's very Aotearoa. It's got lots of moments of dry New Zealand humour within some pretty high-stakes scenes."

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Tuhaka, who also starred in the original movie, plays Waka Nuku Rau, a murdered Māori warrior sent back to the real world to make amends for his sins. But a breach between the Life and Afterlife has left the fictional Aotearoa under threat with Ghost Warriors roaming and hunting throughout the land of the living.

Rau, together with a determined young woman, Mehe Te Wehiwehi, played by screen newcomer Darneen Christian, contends with tribal politics, the unsettled ghosts of ancestors, and forces natural and supernatural, during their quest to save the world.

Darneen Christian plays Mehe Te Wehiwehi in The Dead Lands. Photo / Supplied.
Darneen Christian plays Mehe Te Wehiwehi in The Dead Lands. Photo / Supplied.

As a flagship show under TVNZ's umbrella, it's somewhat surprising that The Dead Lands is heading straight for streaming, but the state-owned network promises it will eventually be available free-to-air.

"We schedule shows where they can make the biggest impact – whether that's online or broadcast TV," said a TVNZ spokesperson.

"Launching The Dead Lands online ensures viewers can watch this local story at the same time as US audiences and be part of the global conversation around the show.

"We'll also have a linear broadcast later in the year for those who prefer to watch on our TVNZ channels."

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The Dead Lands features screen combat performed in the Maori martial art of mau rākau. Photo / Supplied.
The Dead Lands features screen combat performed in the Maori martial art of mau rākau. Photo / Supplied.

And while The Dead Lands movie was shot entirely in te reo Māori, the reality of having foreign backers means the new series uses both te reo and English to broaden its appeal.

"That's just pretty much the only way it would have ever been funded going to an American market," explains director Peter Meteherangi Tikao Burger.

"The original Dead Lands might have attracted more of an art-house market. The movie was quite earnest, very serious, and this is a lot more fun and has a lot of comedy all the way through it. In that sense it's more accessible."

The Dead Lands director Peter Meteherangi Tikao Burger behind the camera. Photo / Supplied.
The Dead Lands director Peter Meteherangi Tikao Burger behind the camera. Photo / Supplied.

Tuhaka is comfortable with the compromise, however, and notes the entire production was firmly grounded in Māori protocol.

The series was mainly filmed in West Auckland at North Piha, Te Henga, Karekare and a private property, Atwoods Forest.

"Te reo is more than just the language, it's the rituals that encase that language, and it's the rituals that encase the people who are delivering [the series].

"We shot in some pretty beautiful places and some pretty sacred places.

"Every shoot day there was karakia in the morning and karakia at the end. And the sharing of kai was a massive thing too."

Stunning visual effects

Tuhaka donned an elaborate face prosthetic for weeks at a time as part of the stunning makeup and effects work on The Dead Lands.

The new series features supernatural Ghost Warrior characters and graphic scenes of violence including decapitation, among action scenes performed in the Māori martial art of mau rākau.

Tuhaka's murdered Māori warrior character's face moko took four hours to apply each day, so he quickly decided to stay in character around the clock for much of the six-month shoot.

"For the character of Waka, I wore a five-piece prosthetic for five days," he says.

"On the Monday I'd get it put on and then wear it for the whole shoot-week and then on Friday I'd get it removed. I did that for 17 weeks.

"But at the end of every day I'd have the wig removed and the colouration in my moko removed so I didn't freak out my newborn baby, who had only just arrived at the time, and I'd wear it home.

"That's how committed I was to the character and to the process. I felt like it needed to be done otherwise we would lose lots of time. The other [makeup] options didn't bring Waka to life as the prosthetics did."

The Dead Lands premieres on TVNZ OnDemand on January 23 at 7pm, with new episodes weekly