By JESSIE CHIANG.

 

Akuhata Keefe (or Augs, as he is known) is your normal 15-year-old teenager…who just happens to star in a leading role alongside Temeura Morrison in Lee Tamahori’s new film Mahana.

The young actor from Gisborne describes Mahana as a film which follows the harsh rivalry between two Maori sheep shearing families, the Poatas and Mahanas. Augs plays Simeon Mahana, a boy on the verge of becoming a man, who begins to unravel his family’s bitter history.

However, Simeon’s digging is not appreciated by everyone – and it changes his life as he knows it.

“I think he does that because he believes in fairness and he’s not afraid to speak his mind,” said Augs.

Standing up for what’s right is a strong message in the film and Simeon does so many times, against authority, and in one particularly raw and emotional scene, against racism towards Maori.

“Because I’m young, I didn’t pay attention to what the words meant when I was learning them. It wasn’t until I saw it on screen that I finally knew what it meant,” said Augs.

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Another recurring theme in Mahana, is that of family and Augs says it translated into how the cast interacted with each other.

“On our first day of filming, the whole cast became just like a family. That’s the first thing I liked about shooting,” he said.

Every family has its pranksters and funny moments. Augs admits that on set he and another cast member, Ed, would grab umbrellas and perform kapa haka dances in front of all the extras.

“We’re both young Maori boys and we have no shame, so we just grabbed the umbrellas and scared the extras,” he said.

It was this ‘give-it-go’ attitude that got Augs the role in the first place.

“I was only in Auckland for a little holiday and someone messaged me saying ‘hey, there’s this part in this movie, you should come along and audition for it.’ I said ‘I’ll give it a go’ and three hours later I was in the audition room.”

Three days later Augs received a callback and was then told he got the part!

There were some nerves prior to filming his first film and the teenager says that he was particularly nervous about working with Temeura Morrison.

“The only photos they had of him were on Once Were Warriors, so I thought that was what he was like. But he’s very different from his character Jake the Muss and I found out that I was taller than him.”

The famous Kiwi gave Augs advice on his acting, which really helped the young star out in front of the camera.

Something Augs found hard to do was the actual sheep shearing. In the film, Simeon becomes pretty good at the task but in real life Augs won’t be entering the Golden Shears any time soon.

“I never knew how to shear sheep and I still don’t really know. Shearing by itself is hard and then shearing for the camera and the different angles makes it harder.”

Cutting firewood on the other hand, is a job Augs has been doing since he was very young, but Simeon… not so much.

“In the movie they made me look like I don’t know how to cut wood,” joked Augs.

The East Coast resident has a very open and carefree way about him, which is good now he is being thrust into the limelight.

“I’ve been kind of prepared for it. I’ve had almost a year to get used to it. When we were over in Berlin, after watching the movie I had a lot of people come up to me in the street and in the airport, and they wanted to talk to me about the film and that was pretty cool.”

Thankfully there haven’t been any weird encounters yet and Augs hopes that there won’t be any!

Mahana opens in cinemas all over New Zealand tomorrow. It’s got a bit of everything; drama, romance, heartbreak, inspiration and some very witty one-liners that really hit the mark. Mahana is a film that is quintessentially Kiwi and, well, Augs is in it, so ‘give it a go!’

 

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