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KIGHTLEY, OSCAR & MAGASIVA, ROBBIE – SIONE'S WEDDING

VISIBLE FOR THE RIGHT REASONS
The Samoan wedding comedy is a new and so far small genre, represented by Sione’s Wedding, but if there are more like this, bring it on! As the film begins its Australian season, Andrew L. Urban meets two of the Naked Samoans from the film, Oscar Kightley and Robbie Magasiva. Samoans are visible in New Zealand – but this time for all the right reasons, they say.


Like kids in a lolly shop, Oscar Kightley and Robbie Magasiva are visibly, physically excited as we shake hands, the understated elegance of the Sydney Park Hyatt and the sparkling backdrop of the Sydney Opera House an incongruous setting for their earthy ebullience. There is an armchair and a two seater; I take the armchair and plonk my mini disc recording gadget on the coffee table, but Oscar drops to the floor, huddling the table. “It’s more …. intimate like this, innit” he grins. Robbie squats next to him. They wait like expectant puppies, to be fed with questions. Their good humoured nature is infectious – exactly like it is in their first feature film, Sione’s Wedding.

Two of the Naked Samoans – a much loved comedy troupe of Samoans in New Zealand – Oscar and Robbie play Albert and Michael, two of the four larrikin friends who must kick the habit of disrupting weddings and parties if they are to be allowed to attend the wedding of Michael’s brother Sione – played by Robbie’s real life brother Pua. (Their real life parents play their on screen parents, too.) They have to get genuine girlfriends to bring along, to prove that someone has found something worthy in them to really care for them. The comedy springs from the characters and the situations, most of it scripted but with healthy doses of improv.

"Of course we’re excited"

The excitement comes, partly, from being on a media tour in Australia. “Look,” says Oscar (who also co-wrote the screenplay and was associate producer) “it took so long to make, what, four or five years, waiting to see if we could raise the money … and we were really determined to make it. We had to work hard but hey, in New Zealand, getting a film made, and being in a film, and being in a film with all your mates … how hard is that? And then here we are, the two of us, travelling around, staying in hotels … the other guys are back home very jealous. Of course we’re excited.”

The film was a hoot to make (and it’s a hoot to watch) and there were no negatives to the process, but Oscar’s mum wept when she saw it. “She was soooo proud .. I mean think about it: where we come from, when there are about 115,000 Samoans in New Zealand and we’re always visible for the wrong reasons. This puts us up on the big on the screen and we’re visible for the right reasons. She cried.”

Considering Oscar as a kid wanted to be “cool”, this is success, but he and co-writer James Griffin had no idea who would be cast as Albert when they created the character of Albert. “If I knew I would be playing him I would’ve made Albert much cooler. I would have definitely given him better clothes.”

As he points out, the parts they play, “they’re not us, but we channel different versions of ourselves to make them real. They’re composite characters of all the boys that James and I have ever met and hung out with. But there are little scenes all throughout the film that are taken from real moments, and the weird thing about that was how they involved people in the cast. It’s really strange because you think ‘I remember the funny time we got kicked out of the club and someone was break-dancing in front of the bouncer to make a point’ and then a version of it ends up in the film.”

Robbie, who grew up wanting to play in a band, also gets his wish, although instead of air guitar, he’s now playing jokes on his Naked Samoan colleagues. Or dropping his daks when the script calls for it. (But he does have a serious side both as an actor and as one of the internationally acclaimed Black Grace Dance Company.)

"it was important for us to be authentic to the Samoan community, but also accessible"

The film is obviously culturally specific (it’s even set in Grey Lynn, the Auckland suburb where Oscar and co-writer James live) and Oscar says “it was important for us to be authentic to the Samoan community, but also accessible.” The script had been solidly crafted, but there was room to bring in ‘found’ material on the set.

“My upbringing was a little bit different than the other boys,” says Robbie. “I grew up in Wellington (Go the Hurricanes!). But I know lots of Aucklanders who grew up in Grey Lynn and Ponsonby. We’ve all had our sleep-outs [caravan-type stand alone huts featured in the film]. I know one guy, he had a sleep-out and he spent $20,000 on doing it up. $20,000 to renovate his sleep-out, and his parents lived in front. How’s that, man! That’s very Grey Lynn.”

The film has been a huge success in New Zealand, and as it begins its journey in Australia and beyond, Oscar looks ahead: “Overseas I want immigrant communities to see it and realise that New Zealand has different cultures that are all Kiwi but have different flavours. I’d love to hear what Jamaicans in London think of it and what Puerto Ricans in Brooklyn think of it ‘cause when I see a film from those communities I see heaps of crossovers. And I want Kiwis to see it and realise that there are so many Kiwi faces and Kiwi stories.”

Published July 13, 2006
 

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Oscar Kightley and Robbie Magasiva

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