Lani Tupu, sometimes credited as Larney Tupu or Lani John Tupu, is the first Samoan to have starred in a Kiwi television series; in 1985 he segued from theatre onto the screen, to play doctor David Miller on period TV drama Country GP. The New Zealand-raised Samoan then relocated to Australia, where his many screen roles include Lantana, sci fi success Farscape, and a TV reboot of Mission Impossible. Read the full biography
I think we’ve got a wealth of actors and actresses in this country who are world-class. People like Michael Hurst, Sarah Peirse, Philip Holder, Roy Billing, Judy Gibson. Lani Tupu, in 1984
Sons for the Return Home tells the story of a Romeo and Juliet romance between students Sione, a NZ-raised Samoan, and Sarah, a middle class palagi. Director Paul Maunder shifts between time and setting (London, Wellington, Samoa) in adapting Albert Wendt's landmark 1973 novel. Sons was the first feature film attentive to Samoan experience in NZ — alongside themes of identity, racism and social and sexual consciousness. In this excerpt Sione meets Sarah's parents, and his tin'a has him scrubbing their Newtown pavement prior to Sarah's reciprocal visit.
For the third series of this TVNZ kidult drama, the location moved from the Hauraki Gulf to the Marlborough Sounds, where there's also plenty of water for floatplane and speedboat thrills (and an explosion). Brothers Peter, Nik and Hape — the "sea urchins" — attempt to foil a thuggish gang of tuatara and kākāriki smugglers, led by cravat-wearing evil mastermind, Carl. The urchins are aided on the ground and in the air by a young Rebecca Gibney (the Packed to the Rafter's star's first major TV role), while future broadcaster and Wiggle Robert Rakete plays Nik.
This series follows the interconnecting lives of eight 20-something characters — one of them dead — as they search for happiness. An ambitious 'meta' concept, strong performances from the ensemble cast and stylishly-shot Wellington locations won the Gibson Group drama awards and acclaim, particularly from its targeted youth demographic. In this excerpt from Chapter Eleven, Lindy accepts a job in Toronto but fails to tell boyfriend William; Barry and James discuss Chaos Theory and relationships; and Sam uses flowers in an attempt to fix things with Tina.
The Country GP (Lani Tupu) takes a back seat in an episode set in the first week of 1950 which centres around the arrival in Mason’s Valley of the parents of local teacher Tim Bryant (Duncan Smith). The discovery that Tim’s father is a unionist and paid up member of the Communist Party shatters the township’s apparently relaxed way of life. Sid Bryant (Graeme Tetley) has come to warn his son of difficult times ahead that could see him back in prison, but his presence inflames some of the locals and leads to a questioning of the true meaning of freedom.
Swimming Lessons is the story of jaded swimming coach Jim Sadler (Marshall - Came a Hot Friday, The Navigator - Napier) and a spirited seven-year-old delinquent who comes under his instruction. The troubled Samoan boy is a potential champion, but the challenges of training him force the coach to confront his own failings in life: one as seemingly straight as the pool's lane line. Directed by Steve La Hood, Swimming Lessons won three NZ TV Awards. It screened as part of Montana Sunday Theatre and was the TV producing debut for Philippa Campbell.
Tala Pasifika was a pioneering Pacific Island drama series; this award-winning episode is one of six films that screened on TV One in 1996. 'Talk of the Town' is an entertaining short drama about Cindy (Henry Ah-Foo Taripo), a fa'afafine who has grown up to become a cabaret performer. She breaks the fourth wall from her dressing room to tell her story, which begins in her youth when her father (Alvin Fitisemanu) is impressed by her culinary skills and assigns her to the role of family cook.
Part one of a four part thriller written by Keith Aberdein. In a small North Island town, a mysterious unmarked grave is believed to hold the remains of a tohunga who died ridding his people of a deadly epidemic. Now, an archaeological dig might be getting too close to that grave. A visiting doctor (Cathy Downes) arrives in town to find the locals in a state of agitation; the archaelogist (Martyn Sanderson) full of good intentions, but unaware of where his actions could lead; and relations between Māori and Pakeha strained as two cultures struggle to co-exist.
Country GP was a major 80s drama series that charted the post-war years 1945 to 1950 in a rural central South Island town. Using fast-turnaround techniques that anticipated later series like Shortland Street, 66 episodes of Country GP were shot in 18 months at a specially built set in Whiteman’s Valley, Lower Hutt. It was groundbreaking as the first NZ series to cast a Samoan in a title role (Lani Tupu as Dr David Miller); but it also provided a nostalgic look back to an apparently kinder, gentler time than mid-80s New Zealand with its major social reforms and upheavals.
Tala Pasifika was a pioneering Pacific Island drama series produced by He Taonga Films and mentored by Ruth Kaupua and the late Don Selwyn. NZ On Air and the NZ Film Commission backed the project. Of eight short dramas; the first six screened on TV One as part of Tagata Pasifika in 1996 and another two screened in 1999. Seen as an opportunity to extend the cultural diversity of local TV drama, it was the first drama series dedicated to Samoan culture in NZ and a showcase for emerging Samoan screenwriters, directors and actors.
Marlin Bay was a drama series following the comings and goings of a far-north resort and casino. Andy Anderson, Ilona Rogers, Don Selwyn, Pete Smith, Katie Wolfe and others made up the cast of earthy locals, wealthy foreigners, and city weekenders. Created by writer Greg McGee, Marlin Bay was one of the first primetime drama series from South Pacific Pictures. Kevin Smith received a 1995 Best Supporting Actor nod for his role as villain Paul Cosic.