New Zealand actor and film producer Mike Minogue is "coming home" to Levin next weekend for a special screening of his critically acclaimed feature film Coming Home in the Dark.
The former student of St Joseph's Primary School and Horowhenua College will front a live Q&A session at the end of the movie, showing at Focal Point Cinema on Sunday, August 15.
Minogue, best known for his comedic roles in films like the Taika Waititi-directed Hunt for the Wilderpeople and What We Do in the Shadows, had recently seen his side-splitting TV show Wellington Paranormal premiere to good review in the US.
But the film bringing him back to Levin is no joke, and a huge departure from the types of offbeat gigs with which he was normally associated.
Coming Home in the Dark is a grippingly tense thriller with strong social themes that knock the wind out of you - one reviewer noting "it's not so much a film that you watch, as a film that happens to you".
So why Coming Home in the Dark? Why not stick to the funny stuff?
Minogue said one read of the script and he was hooked. And he got excited at the prospect of leaving audiences stunned.
"It's bloody tense, man. It's a thriller, but it's challenging. It asks some tough questions and leaves the audience wondering "who is the good guy here?'," he said.
"But, first and foremost, it's just a f****** good film. A film New Zealand can be proud of."
And it ran deeper than that for Minogue. There were threads in the storyline that touch on New Zealand's youth justice facilities and youth offending, and the range of ripple effects it has had on our society.
Minogue grew up in Levin at a time when the Kohitere Boys home was operating on CD Farm Rd, as was the correctional facility for boys at Hokio Beach. There were similar types of boys homes scattered throughout New Zealand.
Minogue knew Kohitere well, having had a close family member briefly attend and, while working on Coming Home in the Dark, he came to realise other people involved behind the scenes had similar stories.
"Three of our team had brothers that had been in one of these facilities. It affects a lot more people than we realise because it's very rarely spoken about," he said.
"These were not great places to be and the testimony being heard at the royal commission that's currently under way into these institutions is bearing that out.
"Most people in Levin know someone who has been involved in those institutions, either in care or who worked there in one way or another."
Interestingly, there was series of 1980s films based on boys homes that were made in Levin by the late Michael Walker, including Kingpin, Mark II, and Kingi's Story. As a youngster Minogue watched them all.
"I loved those films. They are part of the cinematic fabric of this country and it was inspiring that they were made by a guy that was from Levin. Mike Walker lived at the end of my street."
Coming Home in the Dark is one of only 10 New Zealand films to have its world premiere at the hugely prestigious Sundance Film Festival, having debuted there this year to rave reviews.
The film has been a huge boost for the career of director James Ashcroft who has recently signed on to direct Devolution, from acclaimed author Max Brookes (World War Z). The film is being produced by Legendary Pictures, which is behind such blockbusters as Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy; Jurassic World and the Hangover films.
Meanwhile, producing a major film gave Minogue a chance to wear another hat in the entertainment and film industry, a career that started from humble beginnings.
For more than 15 years he worked behind the scenes, largely as a lowly assistant, on major projects including Lord Of The Rings and Avatar, before having a crack on the other side of the camera.
His acting debut came at the age of 32 in the 2009 film Separation City, with roles as policemen in True Crime: How To Murder Your Wife, and the anti-apartheid Rage, for which he received a nod as best supporting actor at the NZTV awards.
He won the best actor gong in 2019 for his role as Officer Minogue in Wellington Paranormal. "I guess I've got a policeman's head or something," he says. "They seem to be the only roles I ever get."
Wellington Paranormal had featured in the review columns of the New York Times and Rolling Stone magazine this month to critical acclaim. It was the No.1 streamed show stateside, finding an audience in perhaps the world's toughest television market.
Minogue's offbeat comedic wit was now being used to great effect as a member of the ACC (Alternative Commentary Collective); as a drive-time disc jockey on Radio Hauraki alongside fellow funnyman Jason Hoyte, and as an occasional guest on Leigh Hart's Late Night Big Breakfast.
He has also done a string of television commercials, including one for Toyota Hilux where a monkey on a motorbike famously asks for a Hokey Pokey icecream.
"It's just great to be able to do different things from day to day. I get a bit bored doing the same thing for too long." he said.
Minogue cut his teeth as a producer on his own comedies including web series The Watercooler, which finished 20th in the world out of over 900 entries in the 2019 Web Series World Cup, and more recently the sharply funny satire Talkback, which he also co-wrote and stars in, and which screens on TVNZ On Demand.
Coming Home in the Dark will have its New Zealand premiere at the Embassy Theatre in Wellington on Tuesday, August 10, before its official nationwide release on Thursday, August 12.
Minogue will be in Levin to watch the film at Focal Point on Sunday, August 15, and will be part of a live Q&A session after the screening.
:I'm stoked to be able to bring something home and share it with the people I grew up with."
Tickets are on sale now.