There are few similarities between former wrongfully convicted lifer Teina Pora and the emerging Hawke's Bay-raised actor chosen to play him in TV drama In Dark Places, hitting the screen on TVNZ1's Sunday Theatre tomorrow night.

They were both brought-up mainly by grandparents, but after that the likenesses are sparse.

Pora grew-up in the South Auckland suburb of Otara suffering, as would be diagnosed years later, foetal alcohol syndrome and destined for some sort of life of crime, albeit one which was barely getting off the ground when he was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of 37-year-old Susan Burdett in her Papatoetoe home in 1992, which happened when he was 16.

The actor, Richard Te Are, was "totally brought up in Hastings" — Hastings primary, intermediate and Boys' High — and recognises that but for that stability and the closeness of family, while being raised by grandmother Babe Te Are, he could have gone a similar path that of the man he would be doubling on screen.


More specifically, there was an apparent spread of talent around, his own theatrical or entertaining potential nurtured as he grew-up in Hawke's Bay with uncles, aunties and cousins.

But he would go through labouring, forklift driving, meatworking and carpentry, and seven years in Australia, before he would make the first move, to the EIT to do a Diploma in Screen Production in 2015.

He then went deep sea fishing on the Ocean Dawn for Sealords out of Nelson, before, effectively, jumping ship to do a Bachelor of Performing Arts Studies at Te Kura Toi Whakaari in Wellington, which he was still doing last year when he won the Teina Pora role and had to move to Auckland to start production.

It's completed a unique Hawke's Bay circle connected to the story, with the investigation and legal team which worked to overturn Pora's conviction and earn him over $3.5 million in compensation were all from the Bay — private investigator Tim McKinnel, a detective on the original homicide inquiry team, and Napier barristers Jonathan Krebs and Ingrid Squire.

It is billed as the gripping story of two people who came together as strangers from completely contrasting walks of life.

On one hand was the simple young man wrongfully convicted amid a dodgy confession to then spend two decades in jail despite the lack of any evidence placing him at the scene, and the "ex-cop," referred to as the "hero", who just knew it was wrong and got the evidence to prove it, after a second trial and conviction and finally an appeal to the Privy Council in London.

Te Are, now 28, had to learn fast about both the role as it had developed over all-but two years of his own life, but also about the man, the two more-or-less forming a bond as they met in Auckland, played a bit of guitar together and talked over each other's backgrounds, as the actor formed a plan for the daunting task of playing the same person as a 17-year-old and a 35-year-old, sometimes on the same day.

"New Zealanders need to know his story," Te Are says, and answers the obvious question: "To raise awareness that the New Zealand justice system isn't perfect, and what happened to Teina will happen to others if the right procedures aren't put in place.


"There were definitely a few challenges," he says. "I was trying to honour him, trying to really serve the story with sensitivity, but also, I have a job to do, and my job is to make people feel a certain way about him."

He says he found there was, after all, "a lot about the man I was familiar with" — familiar enough, any way, to cram 20 years of another man's life into seven weeks of production, and producer Michael Bennett's movie of less than two hours.