By LOUISA CLEAVE
Not many actors would turn their backs on a part in a major Hollywood movie, but that is exactly what happened when Star Wars came knocking for Tupoutahi Winitana.
The 11-year-old Turangi performer came to the attention of casting agents for the second instalment in the Star Wars prequel trilogy through Kiwi actor Temuera Morrison.
According to Tupoutahi's father, Chris Winitana, Morrison put the boy forward for a role as the 10-year-old version of his character in the movie, which has started filming in Sydney.
A casting agent for Lucas Films flew to New Zealand, met Tupoutahi and filmed him in various menacing poses, using a taiaha as a weapon, and took still photographs.
Mr Winitana said an offer came back for Tupoutahi to take the part if he could meet the filming schedule.
However, Tupoutahi has been playing the lead in Ahorangi 2000, a touring stage show written, directed and produced by Mr Winitana.
"[The casting representative] got back in touch with us in early June to say yes, the job was there. Tupou's part would involve him being filmed on location over a week.
"We explained [in Hamilton] that Tupou was the lead in this musical and nothing would be a problem if everything could be scheduled to fit around that."
Mr Winitana said every date put forward for filming clashed with Ahorangi's tour.
"The bottom line was Tupou was in something I had been working on for 18 months. There are 25 to 30 people involved ... and every single person in the cast could be replaced by somebody else but Tupou couldn't."
Mr Winitana said he and his partner, Tina Kaipara, explained the situation to Tupoutahi and said that once he had started with a project like Ahorangi 2000 he should see it through until the end.
"If they chase him once, someone will chase him again."
By LOUISA CLEAVE