Auckland-born Jay Laga’aia is the proverbial man of many talents. A busy trans-Tasman career as actor/performer has seen him performing on stage (The Lion King) and screen (Street Legal, Water Rats, Star Wars).
I’ve always tried to aid myself in getting jobs by being multifunctional. If you’re from New Zealand you need many strings to your bow. Most of the Kiwis I know are triple threats – they can act, sing and dance. Jay Laga'aia
The Karate Kid meets South Auckland when Fritz (played by Australian-Tongan actor Uli Latukefu) learns the warrior ways of his old Dad, so he can secure the return of his family's treasured pro-wrestling title belt from local gangsters. The Legend of Baron To'a marks the first feature from director Kiel McNaughton, whose credits include Auckland Daze and Find Me a Māori Bride. McNaughton also produced acclaimed films Waru and Vai with his wife Kerry Warkia. The action/comedy boasts a stellar Pasifika/Māori cast, including Jay Laga'aia and Shavaughn Ruakere.
In The Tem Show Temuera Morrison interviews and hangs with his entertainment whānau. This 'revenge of the bros' episode sees Tem korero with Kiwis involved in the Sydney-shot Star Wars chapters: he hakas with Jay Laga'aia and Bodie Taylor and cooks some eggs for Rena Owen in LA. He also meets George Lucas and gets cloned at Skywalker Ranch. Other guests in the series include uncle Howard Morrison, coaching Rotorua schoolboy rugby with Buck Shelford. This was Prime TV's first publicly funded local programme, and replayed on Māori Television.
Ventriloquist David Strassman has appeared on talk shows and TV specials in Aotearoa, Australia, the United Kingdom and his native United States. Strassman's first TV series debuted in Australia in 1998; the next year Strassman played on British network ITV. The basic formula of a chat show hosted by a man and a shameless puppet was then carried over to New Zealand. Strassman's alter egos include the irascible Chuck Wood and the cuddly Ted E Bare. Among his local guests were Kiwi TV personalities (Mike King, Robyn Malcolm) and the occasional musician and politician.
Running an impressive four series, stylish crime show Street Legal centred around a struggling Auckland law firm, home base for unorthodox lawyer David Silesi (Jay Laga'aia), and sometime girlfriend Joni Collins (Kathleen Kennard). 'Ellis's Restaurant', the first episode made following the pilot, sees Silesi defending an ex-junkie on a possession charge, and facing off for the first time on screen against Sergeant Keens Van Dam (Charlies Mesure). The episode also sees the debut of Silesi's beloved 1944 Ford Jailbar, after his Ute unexpectedly ends up in pieces.
Every year around Christmas time, the Auckland Domain is lit up for a star-filled night of free Christmas celebrations. Hosted by Jay Laga’aia, this 2000 edition of the concert has “more than 300,000 people” gathered for an evening of songs, carols and fireworks. Kicking off with a Christmas rap from Anthony Ray Parker and kids, the celebrations go long into the night. Stepping up to the mic are everyone from Tina Cross, Frankie Stevens and Ainslie Allen, to the cast of Shortland Street and Mai Time. The evening is capped off with a fireworks display and the arrival of Santa Claus.
This TV2 promo is a cover of Sonny and Cher classic ‘I Got You Babe’. A roll call of turn of the century Kiwi celebrities take turns performing, starting with late actor Kevin Smith and actor/sometime Strawpeople singer Stephanie Tauevihi. Other stars include Jay Laga’aia, Havoc and Newsboy, Erika Takacs from band True Bliss, What Now? hosts, Shortland Street's Katrina Devine, and Spike the penguin from Squirt. Also popping by are Bart and Lisa from The Simpsons, and Aussie Portia de Rossi (then appearing on American show Ally McBeal). The promo was made by Saatchi & Saatchi.
Over four seasons, Street Legal’s slick Kiwi take on urban crime and law genres racked up a stack of award nominations - including a 2003 NZ TV Award for best drama series. Although initially wary that the Auckland setting might alienate viewers, writer Greg McGee chose a Samoan lawyer (Jay Laga’aia) as his main character, to exploit the show’s inner-city Ponsonby setting (where cafe society bumps into Pacific Island immigrant culture). Other key characters included Silesi’s lawyer ex-girlfriend Joni, and her new partner Kees, an overstressed sergeant.
One of a trio of late 90s Kiwi crime-based pilots, Street Legal was the only one that would successfully spawn a series - four series, in fact (though Kevin Smith vehicle Lawless saw two further tele-movies). The Street Legal pilot provides a stylish big city template for the show to come, as Auckland criminal lawyer David Silesi (Jay Laga-aia) enlists the help of an over- enthusiastic journalist (Sara Wiseman) in the hope of winning an out-of-court settlement over a hit and run case. Meanwhile Silesi's lawyer girlfriend smells something fishy - with good reason.
Tala Pasifika was a Pasifika drama series which grew from workshops aimed at upskilling Pasifika screen talents. The first six teleplays debuted on TV One in 1996 as part of magazine show Tagata Pasifika. Two more screened in their own slots in 1999. Instigated by Stephen Stehlin and Pomau Papali'i, Tala Pasifika was the first drama series to showcase Samoan culture. Don Selwyn and Ruth Kaupua were brought on to produce. Among those supporting the workshops or the resulting series were NZ On Air, the NZ Film Commission, Creative NZ and Justine Simei-Barton's Pacific Theatre.
This ten minute drama features actor Jay Laga'aia (Street Legal). Malama (Saili Williams) is a young girl who lost her eyesight in the car crash that also killed her mother. Although she can't see in the physical world, Malama has gained a window to the spirit world. Her father Ta'a (Laga'aia) still grieves and can't cope with raising the kids. His frustrations manifest as anger. When Malama and her brother attend their baptism, the family crisis hits boiling point. Malama screened as part of pioneering Pacific Island drama series Tala Pasifika.
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.
The video for this Red Nose Day chart-topper makes the most of a powerhouse combination: celebrities and cute babies. Although lead singer Hammond Gamble gets his share of screen time, the video is mostly devoted to close-ups of perhaps the biggest pile-up of famous Kiwis ever to cram into one music video. The faces include appearances early on by actors Simone Kessell, Ilona Rodgers, and Mark Raffety — plus The Wizard, sports legends Grant Fox, John Kirwan and Jeremy Coney, newsreaders Judy Bailey and Anita McNaught, and singers Tina Cross and Suzanne Lynch.
The "kids stumble on crims" premise of this kidult thriller series was practically an NZ TV staple in the 80s (Terry and the Gunrunners, The Fire-Raiser); here it's realised with a script by author Margaret Mahy and the director/producer team of Peter Sharp and Chris Bailey (vying with a schedule disrupted by Cyclone Bola). Mahy creates a world of masks, disguises and intrigue for a young cast including Martin Henderson (his screen debut), Hamish McFarlane (fresh from Vincent Ward’s The Navigator), Joel Tobeck (an early role) and deaf seven-year-old Sonia Pivac.
Set in a Rogernomics-era 'New Auckland' world of property deals and horse racing, the second part of this 1989 mini-series sees the brassy odd couple Tammy (Annie Whittle) and Joanna (Miranda Harcourt) in deep water. The working class battler and the art consultant have done up their inherited greasy spoon, but they're the "only fly in the ointment" of the 'Vision 2000' scheme of a nefarious developer (Brit import James Faulkner). Girl power meets utopian unitary planning as the duo find bones in the basement, and get too close to the secrets of Huntercorp HQ.
This kidult thriller features Martin Henderson (in his screen debut) and Hamish McFarlane (fresh from The Navigator) with a script by Margaret Mahy. Brothers and sisters Emma and Zane, and Kelsey and Morgan are friends, with their own clubhouse and secret society. Their lives change when Zane and Emma witness a jeweller’s shop robbery, and Morgan and Kelsey see two men escape their crashed car after a police chase. The friends find themselves plunged into a world of intrigue, questionable Special Branch agents and a mysterious fire eater and magician.
After their house explodes and they bump into a gunman, journalist Alf (Temuera Morrision) and his American girlfriend (Beverly Hills Cop’s Lisa Eilbacher) head to the West Coast, on the run from the cops and mysterious forces. The conspiracy plot is mostly an excuse for chases, capers and crashes galore, all imbued with plenty of pell-mell shenanigans (this time heading north in a red Falcon) by Goodbye Pork Pie director Geoff Murphy. The movie marked Temuera Morrison's first big screen starring role. This excerpt sees John Clarke cameo as a used car salesman.
A young boy is afflicted by apocalyptic visions in medieval Cumbria. Believing he is divinely inspired to save his village from the Black Death, he persuades a group of men to follow him into a tunnel. They dig deep into the earth and emerge ... in Auckland, New Zealand, 1987. Following portents, the time travelers must negotiate the terrors of a strange new world, (motorways, nuclear submarines) — while seeking to save their own. Nominated for the Palme d'Or at Cannes, it scooped the gongs at the 1988 AFI and 1989 NZ Film & TV Awards.
Gloss was a popular Kiwi television drama series made by TVNZ that screened in the late 80s; it combined a wealthy family, the Redferns, with a lucrative high-fashion magazine business. Yuppies, shoulder-pads and méthode champenoise abound in this cult "glamour soap". New Zealanders wanted to see themselves as less bottom of the world and more "here we come and we are sailing" (as the infamous Cup campaign song warbled), and Gloss was just what the era demanded.
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.
Heroes followed a band trying to make it in the mid-80s music biz. Teen-orientated, the show marked a first major role for Jay Laga’aia (Star Wars), and an early gig for Michael Hurst (with blonde Billy Idol spikes). Band keyboardist John Gibson co-wrote the series music; he later became an award-winning film composer. Margaret Umbers (Shortland Street, Bridge to Nowhere) was a non-musician in the cast (with Hurst), but since has sung regularly in a jazz band. A second series follow in 1986.
Long before the comedy of Flight of the Conchords, Heroes followed the triumphs and pitfalls of a band trying to make it in the mid-80s New Zealand music biz. It marked the first major role for Jay Laga’aia, and early leading parts for Michael Hurst and Margaret Umbers. In this first episode the band gets together as Dave (Hurst) ditches his covers band, flunks a TV audition, and hooks up opportunist flatmate Ron (Laga’aia), synth player Peter (John Gibson, who co-wrote the series music) and bass player Maxine (Umbers). Synth and leopard skin abound.