Dunedin-born actor Colin Tapley found character parts gave his movie career longevity. Tapley argued that the average time for a leading man in 1930s Hollywood was seven years. He played supporting roles in pre-World War II Hollywood films, and after the war extended his career into the late 60s with performances in British movies and TV. His best remembered film is 1955 classic The Dam Busters.
Ronald Sinclair began his movie career at age 11 as Ra Hould, when he appeared in Down on the Farm (1935), a contender for New Zealand’s first feature-length drama made with sound. The following year he went to Hollywood, where MGM changed his name to Ronald Sinclair for movie Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry. After war service with the US Army he worked for more than two decades as a film editor.
Roger Donaldson is notable for spearheading the New Zealand film renaissance with Sleeping Dogs (1977). He has been busy directing in Hollywood for much of the period since. Donaldson's first Kiwi story since acclaimed drama Smash Palace (1981) was Burt Munro biopic The World’s Fastest Indian (2005) — the most successful New Zealand film on home soil until the arrival of Taika Waititi's Boy in 2010.
From his early days on the stage, Percy Hayes was known for singing and impressions; but it was as actor Rupert Julian that he made his name in Australia, then in the pictures in America. After earning a million dollars as director, producer, writer and star of The Kaiser, his directing career peaked with The Phantom Of The Opera in 1925, starring Lon Chaney. He stayed on in a mansion in LA's Hollywood Hills, until his death in 1943.Image: courtesy of Marc Wanamaker/Bison Archive
Producer Lloyd Phillips won an Academy Award in 1981, for short film The Dollar Bottom. South African-born Phillips was raised in New Zealand, where his first feature, Battletruck, was shot. He went on to establish a globetrotting Hollywood career, working on The Legend of Zorro, 12 Monkeys, Inglourious Basterds and Vertical Limit (also shot in New Zealand). Phillips died of a heart attack on 25 January 2013.
Andrew Niccol is one of the rare Kiwis to have made a career in Hollywood, and to boot he has done so largely with films based on his original ideas. His directing debut was dystopic GE future tale Gattaca, and he wrote one of the most acclaimed films of the 90s, reality TV saga The Truman Show. He has directed A-list actors Al Pacino, Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, Nicolas Cage, and Justin Timberlake.
Peter Jackson has gone from being a shy, unknown fanboy making pastiche versions of his favourite fantasy movies, to a renowned master of his craft; from Pukerua Bay to Wellywood: today he has few peers in the realm of large scale filmmaking.
Niki Caro's near wordless Sure to Rise was nominated for best short film at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival. Four years later her debut feature Memory and Desire was invited to Cannes. Caro followed it with Whale Rider, winner of more than 27 awards, and still one of New Zealand's most successful films abroad. Since then Caro has directed everywhere from vineyards in France to mining towns in Minnesota.
Cliff Curtis alternates a busy diet of acting in the United States (where he's forged a reputation as the actor to call on, for roles of varied ethnicity) with smaller scale New Zealand projects — including co-producing Taika Waititi smash Boy. His CV of Kiwi classics includes playing Pai's father in Whale Rider, Uncle Bully on Once Were Warriors, and bipolar chess champion Genesis Potini in The Dark Horse.
From a turbulent beginning in Auckland, self-styled adventurer and traveller Shayle Gardner was regularly employed on the British stage, and managed NZ troops’ entertainment during World War I. He also played his part in UK silent film history, starring in Comin’ thro' the Rye and The Three Passions. Gardner also had a short, tantalising stay in Hollywood; but in the end he came to rest in the place of his birth.Image credit: Alexander Turnbull Library, Eph-A-DRAMA-1922-01 (Detail)