Ac­tor a role model

Auckland City Harbour News - - Front Page - By Jo­ce­lyn Rein

FOR A small town boy from the East Coast, stick­ing with a “vagabond’s pro­fes­sion” has earned him one of the coun­try’s top hon­ours.

Ge­orge Henare was awarded a New Year’s hon­our this year for ser­vices to the­atre, af­ter a life­time of un­wa­ver­ing com­mit­ment to his trade.

His face has ap­peared on New Zealand’s tele­vi­sion and movie screens and stages for more than 40 years.

“I re­mem­ber my fa­ther say­ing: ‘Get a real job’,” says Mr Henare.

“I told him, ‘This is my real job’.”

Be­ing made a Com­pan­ion of the New Zealand Or­der of Merit is the ic­ing on the cake in an im­pres­sive list of life­time achieve­ments for Mr Henare.

He re­ceived an OBE in 1988 for his ser­vices to the­atre, a best the­atri­cal per­for­mance award at the En­ter­tainer of the Year Awards and Best Ac­tor at the TV Guide New Zealand Tele­vi­sion Awards in 2000.

In 2006 he won the Chap­man Tripp award for best ac­tor, in 2008 re­ceived a Te Waka Toi award for his out­stand­ing con­tri­bu­tion to Maori The­atre and was made an Arts Foun­da­tion of New Zealand Lau­re­ate.

He is bet­ter known for his roles in films Once Were War­riors, Crooked Earth and the Si­lent One and on stage in Je­sus Christ Su­per­star and Phan­tom of the Opera.

His act­ing ca­reer had un­likely be­gin­nings af­ter a suc­cess­ful au­di­tion with the New Zealand Opera Com­pany, af­ter which he joined the Maori The­atre Trust and Mer­cury The­atre at age 25.

The work started rolling in and it hasn’t stopped since.

From read­ing Witi Ihi­maera sto­ries on ra­dio, to tour­ing Rus­sia with the Maori The­atre Com­pany, to star­ring in Mel­bourne and Syd­ney The­atre Com­pany pro­duc­tions and hav­ing guest roles on Short­land Street and Xena, Mr Henare ap­pears to have done it all.

The key to his suc­cess, he says, is ver­sa­til­ity.

“A lot of ac­tors get type­cast, but they kept try­ing me out in all sorts of roles,” he says.

With no pro­fes­sional the­atre train­ing, Mr Henare says he learned by ob­serv­ing his fel­low ac­tors.

He only re­mem­bers one oc­ca­sion when he was so swamped with work he thought of pack­ing it all in.“

I thought: ‘Why can’t I have a real job, the pres­sure’s too much’,” he says.

“But then I thought, how ridicu­lous. This job is far more ful­fill­ing than any other job.”

When he’s not re­hears­ing for his lat­est stage pro­duc­tion Le Sud, he’s record­ing talk­ing books for the blind, read­ing through prospec­tive scripts or pound­ing the pave­ments near his home in Grey Lynn.

“I like to keep fit,” he says. “The­atre can be very phys­i­cally de­mand­ing.”

Le Sud, a far­ci­cal com­edy about what would have hap­pened if the French took over New Zealand’s South Is­land, starts next month at the Maid­ment The­atre and later in the year Mr Henare will be tour­ing the coun­try with a pro­duc­tion of Mark Twain and Me.

He says he’s al­ways try­ing to take a dif­fer­ent ap­proach to his new roles.

“I just like to be sur­prised by some­thing new.”

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