The Feet of Rawiri Paratene
*Continuing my posts from the set of ‘The Insatiable Moon’, Auckland, New Zealand.
Rawiri (Ra) Paratene is one of the most respected New Zealand actors, known to international audiences as the angry grandfather Koro in ‘Whale Rider’; it’s been a privilege to watch him work on the set of ‘The Insatiable Moon’. Ra’s been involved in the production before it was a script – reading the novel almost a decade ago, and approaching Mike Riddell for the rights. Mike, being a clever and strategic fellow, suggested that they could make the film together; and I’m sure that periodically each of them looks at the work being done here and now, and thinks how strange and wonderful it all is that the film is finally happening.
Ra told me yesterday that as he read the novel, he really wanted Arthur to turn out to be what he says he is: the Second Son of God; one of the most attractive elements of Arthur’s character is that ‘he knows who he is. It’s real simple to him.’ One of the most appealing aspects of Ra’s performance is how he slips into the role as if he was born to play it. That’s a cliche, of course; but hopefully I can be forgiven, and the cliche offset by the fact that the story of a homeless Maori man with schizophrenia who believes he’s God’s second son doesn’t exactly fit a literary formula. Ra says that ‘part of me roots for people who don’t fit in’, and that Arthur is ‘a little guy in everyone else’s eyes’ (despite who he knows himself to be).
There are moments in the film when Ra makes Arthur’s eyes sparkle in innocence, or when he rages against social injustice with the attitude of a mad prophet; he embodies this character in a way that I think will move audiences to the place where we become more sensitive to the pain of the world, without falling into unproductive, conscience-clearing sentimentality. Ra’s a gentle bloke, or at least he was when we talked; but the challenge of playing a gentle soul isn’t easy: he put it succinctly, saying that ‘To act the role, you have to find the innocence within. There’s an evil man and an innocent man in all of us; and it’s as hard to play nice as Arthur as it is to be the arsehole grandfather in ‘Whale Rider”
One thing Ra finds easier about this role is the frugal way of working – the low budget has forced everything to be done faster than usual; there’s a community feel on set, and real pleasure to be had in working with colleagues like Ian Mune and Sara Wiseman. The budget is so low that Ra is even walking around without shoes – a decision taken to authenticate the soles of Arthur, and one that Ra wishes he’d made earlier, as it takes a bit of time to harden one’s feet to the streets of Ponsonby (streets, by the way, that Ra declares he’s enjoying getting to know; as am I – Ponsonby’s a fascinating mix of gentrified, aspirational and economically challenged. There is, as Arthur’s dad might say, some potential here…
Ra’s approaching the metaphysical, philosophical and spiritual resonances of ‘The Insatiable Moon’ from the perspective of respect for whatever meaningful tradition gets you through the day. You don’t have to be religious to enjoy this film (in fact, it might help if you’re not): but if you’re thinking about meaning and life and spirituality, you like the idea that love really does transcend everything else, and, like Ra, you root for people who don’t fit in (who Paul Simon would call ‘the sat upon, spat upon, ratted on’), most of all, if the notion that really knowing who you are is both a) impossible and b) something to be strived for, then Arthur may very well be the avatar you’re looking for. (BTW, thanks to the time difference here I’ll see James Cameron’s appropriation of that word tomorrow night – we’ll record our ‘Avatar’ show asap…)
Meantime, we’re at one of our last three locations today; Mick Innes, who I wrote about last week is doing his final scenes with us. And then, three days to go…