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Before They Were Famous

By NZ On Screen team
27th September 2012

 Before They Were Famous

Before They Were Famous

 NZ On Screen team

By NZ On Screen team


Stars in the their eyes

Buckle up as we blast from the past Russ le Roq, gameshow host Paul Henry, tweenaged Kimbra and catwalk model Rach. Paul Casserly primes the collection: "pig out on these pre-fame Kiwis, gaze upon their fresh faces and remember the good times, before they were famous, before they became household names, movie stars, action figures and flavours of ice-cream."


New Zealand's got talent

 Shazam! - 26 Nov 1985 (feat. Russell Crowe)

On this mid-80s youth music show, a cherubic Russell Crowe performs with his auspiciously-named band, Roman Antix. The future Oscar-winning gladiator then masters and commands the interview couch as the quiffed 'Russ Le Roq' (so-named to avoid comparisons with his then-famous cricketing cousins).

 What Now? - Kimbra excerpt

A decade before she graces the top spot of the US singles chart, Kimbra Johnson is an effervescent 11-year-old investigating the mechanics of song recording in a series of segments for What Now?. At Rikki Morris' studio she lays down one of the first of what will be many vocal tracks to come. 

 Close Up - Big Dealers (feat. John Key)

A reporter heads into "the pit" (trading room) and chronicles the working life of an 80s 'forex' dealer: 25-year-old squash-playing accountancy graduate, John Key. The future Prime Minister is a now familiar grinning presence amongst the cowboys playing for Porsches in the heady pre-crash world.

 Benson & Hedges Fashion Design Awards 1986

The ‘B&H’ Fashion Design Awards were the big fashion event of the year from the late 70s through to the 90s. You can’t beat a trumpet they say, nor it seems can you beat soon-to-be-super model Rachel Hunter as a teenage vehicle for shoulder pads, geometric prints and scarily bright 80s colours.

 Heartland - Wainuiomata

This edition of Heartland was legendary. Chloe Reeves, with her squeaky voice and tiger slippers became a national figure, and in the second clip the young fella directing traffic with a road safety lollipop is future All Black halfback Piri Weepu. To help you play 'where's Piri?' — he's around 6.40 in.

 Pulp Comedy - Series Five, Episode Two (Flight of the Conchords)

This episode of the TV stand-up comedy series marks an early screen appearance for Flight of the Conchords, performing versions of songs that will later appear in the first HBO series and on their debut album: funky 'Ladies of the World' and the homage to the Thin White Duke's space years: 'Bowie'.

 No Opportunity Wasted - Tough Guy (Episode)

This episode of the reality show from Kiwi Amazing Race host Phil Keoghan sees a gang of hardmen compete in old school challenges for NZ’s ‘toughest man’ title. Future London 2012 Olympic rowing champ Eric Murray is the young buck wrestling for the mantle with wily Mark ‘Horse’ Bourneville.

 Every Second Counts - 8 October 1987

This late 80s game show is perhaps only noteworthy for the TV debut of its host: Paul Henry. Henry fronts proceedings with more groaning Granddad jokes than the PC-baiting cheek he'd later become notorious for, but early warning signs are there, dressed in a formidable 80s suit and white loafers.

 Homeward Bound - Episode One

Set in a rural hamlet just south of the Bombay Hills this early TV3 soap revolves around the Johnstone family, who have farmed there for 100 years. The cast includes a young Karl Urban — worlds away from Mega-City One and his title role as the gruff law enforcer in Dredd — and Simone Kessell.

 The City of No

It's Wellington in the 70s and Bob is in the midst of a midlife crisis in this early tele-drama. A bearded, bohemian Sam Neill features as the epitome of unfettered youth, six years before his breakthrough in Sleeping Dogs. Bob's square-peg mate Graham is future 'Mr Wilberforce' Bill Johnson.


'Trippin'' was the debut single and biggest hit for early 90s North Shore hair-metalers Push Push, powered by the lung-filled squall of future media personality Mikey Havoc. It spent six weeks atop the NZ singles chart, propelled in part by this effective performance video from Chris and Tim Mauger.

 Funny Business - Excerpts

This selection of skits from the award-winning comedy series features fondly remembered Funny Business creations The Hoons, and Norman the Mormon. In the fourth clip wannabe Warrior Princess Lucy Lawless makes her TV debut in a perfume ad spoof that anticipates her future role in Spartacus.

 Sea Urchins - Series Three, Episode Five

In this kidult TV drama teenagers Peter, Nik and Hape find themselves trying to foil a thuggish gang of Marlborough Sounds tuatara smugglers. The 'urchins' are aided by a young Rebecca Gibney (the Packed to the Rafters star's first major TV role), while future broadcaster Robert Rakete plays Nik.

 Shark in the Park - Lamb to the Slaughter

Years before she became westie matriarch Cheryl, Robyn Malcolm was Janice: a bright-eyed wannabe cop looking at a career firmly on the other side of the thin blue line. The first series of NZ TV’s first urban police drama was the screen debut for Malcolm — then not long out of drama school.

 Pepsismokefree Rockquest 2000

Since 1988 the Smokefreerockquest's nationwide talent competition has been a rite of passage for school-age musicians, offering the promise of (at least local) fame. The class of 2000 includes Nesian Mystik, Evermore — then the youngest band ever to compete — and future members of Die! Die! Die!

 The Living Room - Series One (Flight of the Conchords)

This is an early off-island screen outing for "the music comedy phenomenon" aka Flight of the Conchords. The duo head from Wellington to perform at the 2002 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Dreams of fame confront Jonah Lomu (!), budget digs and anonymity, which they face with trademark droll resolve.

 Kimbra - Berkley Middle School

Twelve months after featuring on kids' TV show What Now? and two years before her first Rockquest success, this NZ Music Commission piece offers a tantalising glimpse of the US-chart topper as an assured 12-year-old: working with schools' music mentor Chris Diprose at her Hamilton intermediate.

 3:45 LIVE! - Interview Compilation

Before he became the Emmy-winning host of Amazing Race, Phil Keoghan was a presenter on this TV2 after school show. Here he and Hine Elder interview singers Martin Phillipps, Mark Williams, Dave Stewart (of the Eurythmics), rapper Redhead Kingpin and newsreaders Judy Bailey and Richard Long.

 Gloss - Kevin Smith's TV debut

"I get around. I know everything. Except your name." Kevin Smith made his TV debut in this Gloss episode, playing smirking DJ and man-about-town Damien Vermeer; here he has his sights set on rich brat Chelsea (Lisa Chappell). Mikey Havoc also appears, as a member of his real-life band Push Push.

 Pulp Comedy - Series Seven, Episode Three (Taika Waititi)

Director, writer and actor Taika Cohen (aka Waititi — Boy, Two Cars One Night) stands up and stands out in this episode of Pulp Comedy. His off the wall routine unleashes Gunter the German 'joke' teller — a buck-toothed, bewigged persona pitched somewhere between Andy Kaufman and Sacha Baron Cohen.

 Heroes - Episode One

Aping The Monkees and preceding the Flight of the Conchords, Heroes followed the triumphs and pitfalls of a band trying to make it in the (mid-80s NZ) music biz. It was a first lead role for Jay Laga'aia (Star Wars), and early gigs for Michael Hurst and Margaret Umbers. Synth and leopard skin abound.

 Hero Parade

"He's a model and a style-guru and he certainly looks like one." Kerre Woodham describes a young Colin Mathura-Jeffree as he parades, topless, atop a giant flower, atop a cherry-picker, heading down Ponsonby Road, as part of the 1997 Hero Parade. How would older Colin have rated his Top Model form?

 Pulp Comedy - Series Five, Episode Three (Rhys Darby)

In this episode from the stand-up comedy TV series Rhys Darby (prior to his association with Flight of the Conchords) steals the show: a very limber tyrannosaurus rex impression animates a surreal tale about taking his grandfather to the movies that results in dinosaurs running amok in Auckland's Queen Street.

 Shazam! - Mockers Special

Phillip Schofield introduces Andrew Fagan and the Mockers at this benefit concert at the Christchurch Town Hall, later broadcast on his youth music show Shazam!. The band are well on their way to becoming pop stars, and Schofield would shortly return to the UK for presenting and pantomime stardom.


Shy teenager Ricky and extrovert misfit Telly, slip out into the night and commandeer Ricky's father's fishing boat in this Cannes-selected short. Tilly was an early role for future Underbelly star and Logie TV Award-winner Chelsie Preston Crayford, for which she won a Best Actress NZ Film Award.

 Newsnight - Series One, Episode 171

One Network News newsreader Simon Dallow cut his straps on TV2's late night news show. Here he watches US boy band All-4-One perform in an Auckland record store and quizzes them about the trappings of fame. Meanwhile, cheeky Marcus Lush channels Country Calendar visiting an emu farm near Katikati.

 Strangers - Episode One

Before getting Toxic with Britney or coveting Kirsty on Shortland Street, Martin Henderson debuted as a boy in a gang of plucky teens who are plunged into a world of spies, jewel thieves and magicians. Hamish McFarlane (fresh from The Navigator) also stars in the Margaret Mahy-penned drama.

 Ice TV - Best of

Ice TV launched the careers of hosts Jon Bridges, Nathan Rarere and Petra Bagust. Irreverent, fast-paced, and imbued with a (mostly) family friendly sense of fun, the youth show took in skits, music, satire, gags and interviews, and a sign-off where L&P bottles were subjected to various stresses.

 Gloss - Episode One

Yuppies, shoulder-pads, sports cars and methode champenoise abound in this cult 80s "glitter-soap"; Gloss was NZ's answer to US soap Dynasty. In this first episode schoolgirl Chelsea (played by future McLeod's Daughter Lisa Chappell) wags, listens to her Sony Walkman and gets an unorthodox haircut.

 The Champion - Yankee Soldier

Writer Maurice Gee's experiences growing up in West Auckland during World War II were the basis for this home front drama. Twelve-year-old Rex Pascoe (Milan Borich — future singer in the band Pluto) is a war-obsessed schoolboy affected by the not-always-welcome presence of Yank soldiers on NZ soil.

 A Bit After Ten - Series One, Episode 11

It's the semi-final in this stand-up comedy talent quest presented by Jeremy and Nigel Corbett. Judges Ian Harcourt, Theresa Healey and Strawpeople's Mark Tierney preside over a line-up that includes a composed Michele A'Court and a hirsute Jon Bridges, away laughing early in their comedy careers.

 Gone up North for a While

This controversial teen pregnancy drama can claim to have effected social change, stirring up public debate about the DPB for single Mothers. Keep an eye out for a young Paul Holmes as a moustached wannabe lothario, and a fleeting appearance (her screen debut) by nine-year-old Jennifer Ward-Lealand.

 Don't Fight it Marsha, It's Bigger Than Both of Us

The video for Blam Blam Blam's second hit from 1981 sees clowns, magicians, fire-eaters and trick cyclists join the band, while actors play out the saga of 'Don't Fight It, Marsha'. The young Harry Sinclair-directed troupe of actors included Phillip Gordon, Michael Hurst, Hester Joyce and Donogh Rees.

 Finn for a Day

On a 2001 tour of his homeland, Neil Finn challenged his perfectionist instincts by playing with a changing local line-up at each gig. Amidst the performers offered a chance to "glisten like a pearl" was teenage guitarist-singer Jon (four years away from the Australian Top 20 with band Evermore).

 Koha - Te Māori, a Cloak of Words

This Koha episode looks at the milestone Te Maori exhibition of Māori art which opened up a world of Māori taonga to international audiences. The episode features the powhiri at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, with future Māori Party co-leader Pita Sharples leading a kapa haka performance.

 Eyewitness - Punk

TVNZ journalist (and future Communicado founder) Neil Roberts does an ethnomusicologist turn in this segment on NZ's fledgling punk scene. Much of the focus is on Auckland but Doomed lead singer Johnny Abort (aka future Radio with Pictures TV presenter Dick Driver) flies the flag for the south.

Instant fame

 The Piano

Jane Campion's tale of colonial sexual emancipation in the mud and bush won wide acclaim and a Palme d'Or. It also announced the talents of future True Blood star Anna Paquin. The 11-year-old's sweetly gasping Oscar acceptance speech (for her role as a settler's daughter) moved viewers worldwide.

 Heavenly Creatures

Rhapsodic reviews greeted Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson's vision of friendship, creativity and matricide, and the lead performances of teen newbies Melanie Lynskey and Kate Winslet. Winslet’s Hollywood career sunk big time, and Lynskey went on to be core cast on hit US TV comedy Two and a Half Men.

 Whale Rider

This Niki Caro-directed tale of young East Coast Māori girl Pai — who challenges tradition and embraces the past in order to find the strength to lead her people forward — found global success. And scored an Oscar nomination for Keisha Castle-Hughes, for her stirring screen debut in the title role.

 Smash Palace

Bruno Lawrence’s brooding lead turn in this Kiwi cinema classic reputedly made Jack Nicholson’s envious. Also much praised was the chemistry between Bruno and young Greer Robson (as his estranged daughter). Robson’s screen debut was followed by Starlight Hotel and as an adult, Shortland Street.

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