Actor a role model
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.”