Following small parts on television, Peter Kaa won a trio of choice screen roles: an episode of breakthrough Māori drama series E Tipu e Rea (1989), sketch comedy show Away Laughing, and a central role in Barry Barclay's second feature, Te Rua. Kaa played a poet and activist fighting to return Māori carvings from a German museum. Four years later he got another big role in mini-series Savage Play, as a member of the New Zealand Natives rugby team which toured Great Britain in 1988. Kaa went on to direct plays for Māori theatre company Taki Rua, and act in Shortland Street and anthology series Mataku.

If you grow up on a marae you perform. It goes part and parcel with life there. I grew up on the Hinepare marae on New Zealand's East Coast and started orating when I was five-years-old. Peter Kaa, in NZ Film, issue 43, May 1991

The Man Who Lost His Head

2007, As: Ben Corona - Film

Mataku - The Sisters (Ngā Tuāhine)

2001, As: Ratu - Television

Mataku was a bilingual series of half-hour dramatic narratives steeped in Māori mystique. Described as a Māori Twilight Zone, Mataku was produced by Māori writers, directors and actors, and was a strong international and domestic success. Each episode was introduced Rod Serling-style by actor Temuera Morrison. This excerpt from the first episode, which screened on TV3, portrays two young sisters (Nora and Naera) who are playing in the forest when events take a tragic turn; mysterious putapaiarehe (fairies) are implicated and haunt a troubled grown-up Nora.

Te Kāuta

2002, Presenter

Questions Two: Killing Tomorrow

2000, As: Blocker - Television

The Life and Times of Te Tutu

2000 - 2001, As: Te Kino Te Kotiro - Television

This comedy series followed the daily life of an 1800s Māori chief (Pio Terei) and his interactions with other Māori and newly-arrived Pākehā settlers. Nothing was sacred as a subject for satire, from disease to English gold lust. Created by Ray Lillis (Pio!), the series features Rachel House (Whale Rider), Jason Hoyte (Late Night Big Breakfast), William Davis (Belief) and Jonathan Brugh (What We Do in the Shadows). Guests included Dalvanius and Charles Mesure. It was produced by Terei’s Pipi Productions for TVNZ over two seasons; Terei had shifted from TV3 after his series Pio! in 1999. 

Journey to the Centre of the Earth

1999, As: Te Mahua

Moko Toa

1999, As: Voices

Tohunga

1999, As: Rai T

Jackson's Wharf

2000, As: Hone Turakina - Television

Created by Gavin Strawhan and Rachel Lang, Jackson’s Wharf was set in a fictional coastal town and revolved around a sibling rivalry between brothers Frank (the town cop) and Ben Jackson (a big smoke lawyer). Returning with his family, golden boy Ben has controversially inherited the local pub from his recently deceased father. Produced by South Pacific Pictures, the one hour popular drama screened for two seasons. Writer James Griffin and director Niki Caro worked on the show, alongside much of the talent who would later create Mercy Peak and Outrageous Fortune.

Te Kākano

1997, As: Voices - Television

Savage Play - Part One

1995, As: Pony - Television

In the first episode of this dramatic mini-series based on the 1888-89 tour of Great Britain by the NZ Natives rugby team, Pony (Peter Kaa from movie Te Rua) must leave his mother (Rena Owen) and grandfather (Wi Kuki Kaa), to join the side. His motivation isn’t just rugby related — he hopes to find his English father who he has never met. The Natives have an early supporter in an Earl (Ian Richardson of House of Cards) who is a rugby fan intrigued by the novelty of these “savages”. Meanwhile, his granddaughter (Liza Walker) discovers an interest of her own — Pony.

Savage Play - Part Three

1995, As: Pony - Television

In the third episode of this drama based on the 1888-89 tour of Great Britain by the NZ Natives rugby team, the romance between Pony and Charlotte is gathering momentum. Charlotte’s grandfather — the Earl — might be alarmed by the tryst, but the Cambridge University rugby team has a far blunter way of expressing their displeasure with a Māori rugby player trying to cross class and racial lines. In the face of such opposition, Charlotte and Pony attempt to follow their hearts, but can they resist the pressures now being exerted by both of their cultures?

Savage Play - Part Two

1995, As: Pony - Television

In the second episode of this drama based on the 1888-89 tour of Great Britain by the NZ Natives rugby team, Pony — one of the side’s stars — is courted by society and invited to shoot with the Prince of Wales; and his Māori blood is also a novelty in the music halls. He’s hoping to renew his acquaintance with Charlotte — the granddaughter of a rugby loving Earl — but there are matches to be played in London. Locating his English father is far from heart warming, but his disappointment is more than compensated for as Charlotte follows him to the city.

Shortland Street

1998,2008, As: Te Mokanui Jones, As: Jimmy Scott - Television

Shortland Street is a fast-paced serial drama set in an inner city Auckland hospital. The long-running South Pacific Pictures production is based around the births, deaths and marriages of the hospital's staff and patients. It screens on TVNZ’s TV2 network five days a week. In 2017 the show was set to celebrate its 25th anniversary, making it New Zealand’s longest running drama by far. Characters and lines from the show have entered the culture — starting with “you’re not in Guatemala now, Dr Ropata!” in the very first episode. Mihi Murray writes about Shortland Street here.

Away Laughing

1991 - 1992, As: Various roles - Television

Debuting on 6 May 1991, this TV3 comedy show saw sketches tested out before a live (unseen) audience — and dropped from the episode if no one laughed. The performers were a mixture of rising standup comics (Jon Bridges) and theatre talents (Danny Mulheron, Carol Smith), plus late actors Kevin Smith and Peta Rutter. Producer Dave Gibson wanted to avoid satire and politics, in favour of the challenge of broad social comedy. Among the regular sketches were a pair of gormless skateboarders and ingratiating priest Phineas O’Diddle. Another season followed in 1992.

Away Laughing - First Episode

1991, As: Various roles - Television

This sketch comedy series screened over two years in the early 90s. Many of the Gibson Group show's skits were tested and filmed in a theatre, in front of a paying audience. This first episode sees laughs come from Watties spaghetti and a roll call of emerging comic talent of the era. Danny Mulheron and Hori Ahipene act up, Tim Balme plays Trivial Pursuit, Kevin Smith gets his vernacular on negotiating NZ customs, Peta Rutter crushes on Steve Parr, and Facial DBX comedians Jon Bridges and David Downs are teenage skaters who talk digital watches while wearing day-glo.

Chunuk Bair

1991, As: Otaki George - Film

This feature dramatises an ill-fated offensive that Kiwi soldiers undertook during World War I’s Gallipoli campaign. On 8 August 1915 the Wellington Battalion briefly seized Chunuk Bair, a pivotal peak overlooking the Dardanelles; they suffered huge losses. The film pitches the attack as a formative New Zealand nationhood moment, with Kiwi guts and resilience countered by inept, careless British generals, as much as their Turkish foes. Filmed on an Avalon set and the Wainuiomata coast, the story was based on Maurice Shadbolt’s classic play Once On Chunuk Bair.

Te Rua

1991, As: Peter Huaka - Film

Variously praised as a major step forward in indigenous cinema, attacked for overambition, and little screened, Te Rua marked Barry Barclay’s impassioned follow-up to Ngati. This story of stolen Māori carvings in a Berlin museum sees Barclay plunging into issues of control of indigenous culture he would return to in book Mana Tuturu. Feisty activist (Peter Kaa) and elder lawyer (screen taonga Wi Kuki Kaa) favour different approaches to getting the carvings back home. Barclay and his longtime producer John O’Shea had their own differences over Te Rua’s final cut.

E Tipu e Rea - Roimata

1989, As: Eddie - Television

A rural raised woman (Dianne Renolds) reconnects with her half sister (Rena Owen) in the city, and learns some hard life lessons. Roimata was the first film directed by then unknown writer Riwia Brown. Brown was initially reluctant to direct the adaptation of her play but, encouraged by producer Larry Parr, she decided that with only one Māori woman director in New Zealand (Merata Mita) there was a need to develop the talent of Māori women in the industry. Brown later wrote the screenplay for Once Were Warriors. Screen legend Ramai Hayward also features.

Open House

1986 - 1987, Actor - Television

This 38 episode series revolved around the ups and downs of a community house run by Tony Van Der Berg (Frank Whitten). The series was devised by Liddy Holloway to meet a network call for an Eastenders-style drama that might tackle social issue storylines. It was the first drama series to put a Māori whānau (the Mitchells) at its centre. Despite being well-reviewed, it was perhaps the last gasp of Avalon-produced uncompromisingly local drama (satirised as the ‘Wellington style’), before TV production largely shifted to Auckland to face up to commercial pressures.

Seekers

1986, As: Tia - Television

This 80s TV series sees real estate agent Selwyn, TV producer Nardia (early turns from Temuera Morrison and Jennifer Ward-Lealand) and art student Ben (Kerry McKay) as a trio of young Wellingtonions drawn together by a mysterious invitation. At an antique shop dinner they discover they share a colourful birth mother, before becoming players in a game for a legacy of $250,000. Conceived by Brian Bell, Seekers was one of a series of teen-orientated dramas made in the mid-80s (along with Heroes and Peppermint Twist). The 16 episodes screened from February 1986.