Haunting, dark and grim sums up the characters and storylines of the latest Samoan movie to hit our screens but the actresses of One Thousand Ropes were very much relaxed at Studio 81 Newmarket, Auckland, giggling and admiring their outfits as they glammed up for our SUGA Magazine Photoshoot.
The movie which has themes of redemption and forgiveness has a noticeable and impressive cast of Samoan actresses, both experienced and first-timers in a feature film. We speak to the actresses about working with their amazing director Tusi Tamasese; the challenges of being a Samoan actress finding work and what being a Samoan woman means to them.
Veteran actress and core cast member Sima Urale, 49, who plays the devious spirit ‘Seipua’, is a graduate of NZ’s top acting school Toi Whakaari and has been in the film industry for 15 years. Urale, from the villages of Matavai, Fagamalo, Falealupo is used to being behind the cameras but after reading the script, she knew the role of Seipua was meant for her.
“Seipua is a very unusual character,” she says. “She is in a different timeline to everyone else, different space, different universe, different reality but the same world. I really feel for Seipua. I feel for her because she is frustrated with the world she’s in – she is an unhappy woman that’s for sure!”
On working alongside Tamasese, Urale says she was very excited about the experience.
“Films about Pacific people are so rare and far between that it’s a privilege to be a part of this film. It was incredible writing and Tusi just blows me away with his talent for storytelling. I love The Orator, so I knew Tusi would come up with another special and memorable film.”
Frankie Adams, who has returned from the States after working on her first Hollywood gig, The Expanse, is proud that she is part of a Samoan film that is close to her heart – and home. The 23-year-old plays Ilisa, the battered pregnant daughter of Maea (played by Uelese Petaia).
“It feels really awesome,” says Adams. It’s the first Samoan film that I’m part of and so it’s really important for my mother to see it as she has not seen me in anything like it. I’m just proud to represent for Samoa and for New Zealand.”
Being the most successful young Samoan actress right now, Frankie says it does not mean she is immune to the challenges that Pacific actresses face.
“I’m really fortunate to be in a time where mixed race is really accepted and popular in the industry at the moment. But the reality is that there are really not enough roles for young Pacific actors. Theres’s a huge sea of talent out there but the challenge is getting it out there so that people can write more roles for us.”
We asked what a Samoan woman means to her.
“Samoan and Pacific women are really empowering and you see a lot of that in this film. They have a lot of inner strength that is usually overlooked. Samoan women are the strongest women I’ve ever met.”
New Samoan actresses on the scene Lagi Farani, Atina Lipa Patau and Gabby Solomona also offer great performances in the film.
Napier raised Lagi Farani, 27, (Faiaai, Sala’ilua and Moamoa) is excited for the premiere of her first feature film where she plays Eva, the older protective sister of Ilisa (Frankie Adams).
“I’m a huge fan of Tusi’s work and I’ve always wanted to work with him since his last film The Orator. Even though my role was minor, it’s been a privilege and exciting moment for me to be working with strong Pacific actresses and becoming instant friends with everyone. I’ve learnt so much from them on-screen and off.”
Lagi’s acting credits include lead theatre roles in Samoan productions and acting in small-budget Samoan films. Having travelled to Los Angeles two years ago for an acting boot camp, Lagi is no stranger to the hurdles Pacific actresses face when looking for roles.
“As an actor, you always want to do your best and I’ve found that I needed to fully understand the highly competitive nature of this industry to be able to succeed. There is huge competition between female Pacific actresses purely because of the lack of roles available to Pacifc actors especially here in New Zealand. This puts more pressure on us and makes me more determined to hone this craft.”
It is also the first feature film role for Auckland based Atina Venasio Lipa Patau, 23 (Letogo, Vaimoso, Lauli’i) who plays the character Apaula.
“It’s really exciting to be part of One Thousand Ropes,” says Patau. The females in this film are so talented. I’m extremely blessed. This is my first time in a film and I was able to speak Samoan in the film as part of my character which was a bonus.
On Pacific actress hurdles, Patau says with her, the challenges are more to do with typecasting than anything else.
“One Thousand Ropes was my introduction to show business. I have been in a few theatre productions. I am a naturally outgoing and boisterous person so I tend to be cast as the funny character. So for me, it’s challenging to grow as an actor and performer when I keep having to play comical roles.
“But in One Thousand Ropes, I was happy as I got to play the role of Apaula who is quite a serious woman.”
Gabrielle Solomona, 25 (Afega, Tafitoala) who plays Elena, was thrilled when she landed her part.
“I remember our first read through of the script and looking around at the room fully dominated by Samoan women both young and old. The feeling is surreal and I am so honoured to be part of the telling of this story.
“I hope that through the One Thousand Ropes, women of all cultures, particularly our Polynesian women are empowered and inspired to bring more of our stories to the big screen to share with the world. For me, One Thousand Ropes confronts a raw strength of our Pacific women and the significance of our position within our culture.”
Other female cast members in the film include Anapela Polaitaivao, Asia Tumama, Esther Lees, Joy Vaele, Quizel Franheim, Niki Si’ulepa, Ma Si’ulepa, Eseta Alesana-Patea and Wallenda Tolai.
Hundreds audition for One Thousand Ropes
Producer of One Thousand Ropes Catherine Fitzgerald and her team put out the public casting call for the movie two years ago, to which they received a huge response.
“With the casting call, we went far and wide on the media and social media and received a lot of interest and lots of “self tapes,” she says.
“Our casting team was overwhelmed but thrilled. And many of these actors ended up in the film.
“So many Pacific people and even those in our cast, have a lot of non-professional acting experience, but certainly many of our roles were filled by ‘newcomers’. That said, trained actors always have an edge even if this was their first feature film opportunity.”
Her advice to Pacific actors aspiring to a career in acting:
“I suggest that anyone who would love to work as an actor build their knowledge and experience through acting classes and theatre companies and enrol in some of the great tertiary courses we now have.
“These give you a chance to learn from some of the best and from the most experienced actors and from there you will get chances to work in short films, films and theatre.
“The opportunities for Pacific actors will, I trust, continue to expand as our films reflect our community more and more, in all its richness.”
One Thousand Ropes is out in cinemas NZ & Samoa from Thursday March 23rd. All other countries TBA.