It's not every day we talk to a local who's worked on the same movie set as Clint Eastwood and Matt Damon.

To be truthful, we've never talked to anyone who has, and it's likely we wouldn't have had Inia Maxwell not crossed our path.

Well, not so much crossed our path as been pinned down by us when we discovered he's returned to live at his place of origin, Ohinemutu.

Inia's been away a while now but has remained a familiar Rotorua presence where his kapa haka connections have been life-long; he performed his first haka at Tamatekapua, aged 4.


Unsurprising, to anyone who's lived in the area more than five minutes. Inia's late mum, Atareta (Dina) was one of Te Arawa's outstanding cultural performers, his dad's former deputy mayor, now the council's cultural ambassador, Trevor Maxwell. Need we say Sir Howard Morrison was his uncle?

With such impressive credentials it's apparent no genetic modification was needed to programme Inia to be a performer par excellence in his own right.

Fresh out of school he enrolled in a two-year film and drama course at Bay of Plenty Polytech, later moving to Hastings' Eastern Institute of Technology (EIT) drama and performing arts school.

Between the two he spent seven months in Spain performing in a South Pacific group at the Salou PortAventura theme park near Barcelona.

"We had to dance each others' cultures, some of those Island dances were pretty tough on the legs for us Maori boys."

The experience led to his inclusion in a two-month cultural group tour of the US, in partnership with the New Zealand Brass Band; "another awesome experience".

Being a roadie for 'Uncle Howard' followed "doing everything from packing and unpacking the lighting to ensuring his dry cleaning was in his dressing room".

His godfather, Dick Johnstone, suggested he auditioned for EIT.


"Dick's the Pakeha responsible for bringing choreography to kapa haka, he taught us how to perform visually, Ngati Whakaue was one of the first to do it."

At his audition Inia 'went for broke', "I remembered Uncle's words 'do what it takes, son'."

Wise advice, he flew in, spending the next two years "channelling things that were very different for me, how not to be stereotyped as the staunch Maori boy from Rotorua but learning a lot of skills".

He admits the course was tough going. "We had a lot of theory, had to learn how to get our heads around Shakespeare, I never really grasped it but could deliver it, playing the Moor in Othello was pretty amazing, I went for a different spin on it, swinging my taiaha while switching in and out of English and te reo."

In a Napier staging of a Midsummer Night's Dream he played Puck "naked except for my underpants with a big daisy in front, I portrayed him as a cheeky little patupaiarehe [fairy]".

Out of drama school there were bit parts in TV's Hercules and Xena Warrior Princess series, followed by roles in Wellington's BATS Theatre productions.

"I was the least experienced actor, that peed off a few New Zealand Drama School students".

Opera also embraced him. "I needed a lot of voice training, mine was shot from all my haka, opera taught me the importance of warming up, I'm now applying that to our kapa haka."

As so many before him have discovered jobbing acting's no easy gig, a day job was essential to survive, again it was "uncle" to the rescue.

"I got this timely call from him saying 'get your CV together, dress sharp, meet me at Saatchi & Saatchi [advertising agency], I thought he wanted me to play Whakaaria Mai for him on the guitar, but he'd organised a job for me as their front of house receptionist, they liked brown faces there."

In his words the creativity of the place "blew this Pa kid away . . . nothing but the best was acceptable".

At Saatchi's he moved upward then onward to other agencies, primarily as a "Maori creative" working on campaigns specifically targeting Maori . . . (think the "ghost chips" ad).

He was appointed Maori adviser for Adidas' 1999 Rugby World Cup campaign "featuring other Arawa boys, Warwick Morehu and moko artist Robert Rika, my first big job, I loved it".

Mixed in with his advertising career came a summons from the NZRFU to act as cultural adviser on the set of Invictus, the Eastwood-produced movie based on the controversial 1995 All Blacks-Springboks clash.

"My role was making sure the South African actors' haka was up to scratch."

Eastwood considered it was.

"I was growling the boys when I first met him, he really impressed me because he'd learnt how to pronounce my name properly."

Damon, who played Springboks' captain, Francois Pienaar, regularly crossed his path.
All pretty exciting stuff, but there's a whole heap more that's gone on in Inia Maxwell's 39 years.

Pin him down on his all-time favourites and it's not his cultural involvement or employment opportunities he places at the apex of his personal pinnacle but meeting his now wife, Rongopai Stirling-Maxwell (Te Whanau-a-Apanui) and the birth of their daughter Kahu-Tarena 18 months ago.

Rongopai "she was the pretty girl in the office" came as a package deal with two sons from a previous relationship, Tamati, 16, and Maaka,7.

They influenced Inia's return home.

"It's the lifestyle here, I had such a wonderful childhood myself I wanted them to experience it too, what kid wouldn't enjoy growing up in this amazing place with steam coming out of the ground?"


Born: Rotorua, 1975. "Premature at 4lbs, I've been in a hurry ever since."
Education: Rotorua Primary, Kaitao Intermediate, Western Heights High, BOP Polytech, Eastern Institute of Technology
Interests: Whanau, kapa haka "more a lifestyle than an interest", good beer, fishing, his Harley Davidson.
Whanau connections: "I'm blessed to have been born into a distinguished family passionate about everything they do."
Personal Philosophy: "To be the best you have to work with the best."