Rawiri Paratene given top honour for arts contribution

9:47 am on 13 December 2016

He has played a gangster, a duke, a Priest, and was the voice of Rangi from Footrot Flats; actor and director Rawiri Paratene has spent half a century being someone else but the recent Toi Māori achievement award was all his doing.

Rawiri Paratene in Hamlet.

Rawiri Paratene in Hamlet. Photo: Supplied

He joins a list of renown entertainers including Sir Howard Morrison, Inia Te Wiata and Frankie Stevens, and jokes it is his ability to sing that has won him the honour.

His latest accolade, the Toi Māori Award, managed to knock him off his feet, he said.

"I'm flattered, I was shocked, a little bit overwhelmed, but yeah its a great list to be part of."

The Hokianga local and father of six said humour has always helped him along the way, just as it did when he accepted the award for Best Actor for his part in The Insatiable Moon in 2010.

Mr Paratene had the audience in fits of laughter when he said, "I'd like to acknowledge my wife, she never comes to these things because she hates them.

"Lots of you are surprised for me to mention my wife because you've never met her and lots of you probably think I'm gay."

Mr Paratene said he enjoyed public speaking from an early age, and after shifting from the Hokianga to Otara he joined the Hilary College debating team.

As the third speaker, his job was to destroy the arguments of the opposing teams. Mr Paratene said his team entered the knock out competition and drew King's College first up.

"We didn't know they were the champions and we smashed them and then we went on and got beaten by a Catholic school, St Dominics," he said.

Rawiri Paratene (right) on the set of Hamlet.

Rawiri Paratene (right) on the set of Hamlet. Photo: Supplied

He found his political voice early in life, and recalls as a child pushing to have a library built in Otara.

Years later he joined Ngā Tamatoa fighting for te reo Māori, but eventually had to make a choice between that and his career.

"I remember Taura Eruera and my school friend Morehu MacDonald came over to kidnap me to take me the other side of the bridge, to become part of the land march, and my professionalism had kicked in by then and I pulled out and said I had shows to do."

Two years ago he led a Māori group of actors on a global tour where Shakespeare's plays were each performed in a different language.

Mr Paratene acknowledged working in a second language required more effort: "I've always known I have to do the hard yards with my reo."

The Māori actors performed Hamlet and the experience for Mr Paratene was more than just acting, it was political too.

"To walk onto that stage with a bunch of Māori has been a dream, the punishment that my parents got for speaking in the playground, the anguish that we all felt in the early 70s is all worth it. Nō tātou katoa te reo, kia mau kia ū kia ora."

Mr Paratene said his toughest and most important role was being a grandfather to his 15 te reo Māori speaking grandchildren.

He is currently working on a feature film script which he hopes to have made into a film, but he's keeping the plot close to his chest.

Rawiri Paratene will 11 of his 15 grandchildren.

Rawiri Paratene with 11 of his 15 grandchildren. Photo: Supplied

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