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Profile image for Jim Moriarty

Jim Moriarty

[Ngāti Toa, Ngāti Koata, Ngāti Kanungunu]

Jim Moriarty has appeared on TV screens in Pukemanu and Close to Home, plus Mark IIInside Straight, and City Life. On the big screen, he has starred in Costa Botes drama Saving Grace and 2006 comedy The Waimate Conspiracy

Jim Moriarty grew up in Porirua in the 50s, as part of a big whanau (eight brothers and sisters). At high school he debated and played rugby. Studies at Victoria University were curtailed by his then-partner’s pregnancy; he then trained and took up work as a psychiatric nurse at Wellington Hospital.

As a schoolboy, he'd begun acting at Wellington's Unity Theatre; Moriarty credits as mentors theatre icons Richard Campion (father of Jane), Bruce Mason, Dick Johnson and Pat Evison. It was theatre that led to one of his earliest screen roles, school teacher Riki Winiata, in 1970s soap Close to Home.  

After finishing nursing training, a part in a play with Judith Holloway opened the door to becoming a mainstay of the Wellington-set drama. In this 2011 video interview, Moriarty says that in its heyday the show was an “exciting on-the-button reflection of what was going on in society”. As a Māori and an actor, he enjoyed contributing to Close to Home 's script and addressing political themes, including having his character attend the land march, and speak on a marae (filmed on Moriarty's own marae). The show's long run meant cast and crew got to know each other well — allowing "you to form relationships that look real to the audience".

Moriarty was also exploring Māori and bicultural themes on stage. In 1976 he was one of the founders of Te Ika a Māui, the first Māori theatre group. The group did extensive tours of Rowley Habib's land rights play The Death of the Land. Moriarty would go on to appear in a trio of groundbreaking teledramas written by Habib: Habib's 1978 adaptation of Death of the Land, The Gathering and The Protesters.

In 1985 feature The Lie of the Land, Moriarty played an unbalanced uncle alongside his real-life son Dean. After the pair were bucked off a horse in a key scene, Moriarty told his son: “you just gotta get back on the horse”. Moriarty feels this is an apt metaphor for working in film, TV and theatre. 

In 1997 he co-starred as a carpenter who claims to be Christ in Costa Botes’ debut feature Saving Grace. To “find the love” in the character, he channelled the wairua (spirit) of his ancestors. Hanging on a cross in Breaker Bay, Wellington, also made him reflect on a time when crucifixion was used as criminal punishment.  

Moriarty also had lead turns in a pair of no-budget digital features made by Stefen Harris. Both South Canterbury-set films used satire to take shots at corporate greed, small town Kiwi life, and the challenges of biculturalism. When making The Waimate Conspiracy (2006), Moriarty applied practical aesthetics, a New York-derived acting theory based around improvisation. On follow-up No Petrol, No Diesel, he enjoyed the whānau-driven process, bringing young offenders to the set and playing cricket in the Temuka sun, savouring the experience as much as the result.   

Other film roles included playing the father of twin girls in The Strength of Water (2009), Armagan Ballantyne's exploration of children under pressure. As a father of twins in real life, he was especially affected by Briar Grace-Smith’s script. He worked with fellow actor Nancy Brunning to help the film's newbie child actors. Moriarty played another memorable father, an overbearing fisherman, in Peter Salmon’s Cannes-selected coming of age short Fog (2007).  

Off-screen, Moriarty has been a lauded theatre actor, playing everyone from Stanley Kowalski to Othello, to Michael James Manaia. In 1989 he founded touring Māori theatre company Te Rākau Hua O Te Wao Tapu, which aims to use theatre to help at-risk communities transform their view of the world. Having battled drug and alcohol addiction himself, Moriarty’s goal was that people “won’t find themselves back in prison, or hitting their kids, or they might reunite with family.” Inside New Zealand documentary Make or Break (2003) chronicled a South Auckland version of the programme. Two years earlier Moriarty was made a Member of the NZ Order of Merit, partly for Te Rākau's work.

In a 1991 Evening Post interview, Moriarty argued for Māori theatre work that wasn’t “preachy”, but reflected the complexities of growing up in two worlds. Moriarty-directed epic The Undertow (written by his partner Helen Pearse-Otene) won acclaim in 2017. It consists of four plays following multiple generations of a Kiwi family.

In interviews, Moriarty has recalled his tough upbringing in Porirua. Asked to play Jake the Muss in the movie version of Once Were Warriors, he was too busy touring with Te Rākau Hua O Te Wao Tapu. “If I had taken the part I would’ve let down a lot of people. I’ve never regretted it.” In 2004 he directed and acted in a stage musical version of Warriors.


Sources include
'Jim Moriarty: On getting back on the horse...' (Video Interview) NZ On Screen website. Director Andrew Whiteside. Loaded October 2011. Accessed 31 January 2017
Te Rākau Theatre website. Accessed 31 January 2017
Alexander Bisley, ‘Scars on the Heart: Jim Moriarty’ (Interview) The Lumière Reader (broken link) Loaded 21 November 2006. Accessed 31 February 2007 
Alexander Bisley, 'The Warrior' (Interview) - The Lumière Reader. Loaded 25 February 2014. Accessed 31 January 2017
Cate Brett, ’Moriarty: Pied Piper of the prisons’ (Interview) - The Evening Post, 30 November 1999, page 27
Mark Derby and Briar Grace-Smith, 'Māori theatre: tu whare tapere hõu' Te Ara website. Loaded 22 October 2014. Accessed 2 April 2023
Amy Jackman, ‘The multi-talented Moriarty’ (Interview) - The Wellingtonian, 15 August 2013, page 12
Vernon Wright, ‘Home Truths From Avalon’ - The Listener, 12 March 1977, page 16 
Unknown writer, ‘Downstage: Michael James Manaia’ -  The Evening Post, 13 February 1991, page 41
Unknown writer, ‘Taking action to change’ - The Dominion Post (TV Week liftout) 27 May 2003, page 11