Wars: Myth & Magic — 1. How did you get started as an
Rena Owen — I began as a child
entertaining tourists with traditional Maori singing and dancing,
then went on to perform in our college musical productions. My first
stage role was when I was 16 years old as Bloody Mary in South
Pacific. The following year I received the leading role in
SW:MM — 2. Why acting?
RO — I believe I was born to be
an artist. With a hypersensitivity and an innate sense of drama.
I discovered as a teenager that I had a natural talent towards acting
and thoroughly loved being on the stage and making all the little
SW:MM — 3. You have also written and directed
several stage plays. Is this something you would like to do again?
RO — I have always seen myself
as an artist, and while acting provides one vehicle to creativity,
writing and directing equally satisfy me on an artistic level. I
will continue to do act, and possibly go on to write and direct
for the screen. I’ve also recently journeyed into producing
my first New Zealand feature film, but I don’t necessarily
want to specialize in producing. I prefer the creative side more
than the business side.
SW:MM — 4. Many of your roles have taken you
around the world, from New Zealand to London to Los Angeles. How
do these places differ in terms of your experience?
RO — I have been fortunate to have
travelled around most of the world, and in simplistic terms, the
only thing that really differs country to country is the accent,
diet, architecture and scenery. The human condition remains constant
globally, and a city is a city!
SW:MM — 5. How did you get involved in Star
Wars: Attack of the Clones?
RO — I was asked to audition for
it. The casting director, Robyn Gurland, and I believe George Lucas,
had seen Once Were Warriors and were both keen to get Temuera
and myself into Episode
II. I was very flattered to be asked to return for Episode
III, but as a new character.
SW:MM — 6. Since your role was computer generated,
were you ever actually on set, or did you do your voice work in
a recording studio? What was that process like?
RO — I was more then just the voice.
I spent a week in Sydney doing Episode
II. They shot me doing all the walking and talking for
my scenes. Then they went away and CGI’d the Taun We character,
not unlike the Gollum process for Lord of the Rings trilogy.
A year after shooting, I went to the Skywalker Ranch to clean up
the voice track. I totally enjoyed all aspects of the process and
felt like a big kid in an enormous playground. I particularly enjoyed
working with Ewan McGregor and being reunited with Temuera Morrison
II and also enjoyed being in Sydney with all the cast for
three weeks last year to do Episode III.
SW:MM — 7. Were you familiar with Star Wars
prior to playing a role in it?
RO — Like most of the world, I
had seen the [original trilogy] Star Wars, but it was not
really a saga that I followed, since I'm not really a sci-fi fan.
However, I did watch Episode
I as part of my research for doing Episode
SW:MM — 8. Between the Hercules and
Xena television series, and the Lord of the Rings
trilogy, New Zealand has become very prominate in the entertainment
industry. How has this attention changed or affected your country?
RO — Indeed, my home country has
become a competitive international film location. Tom Cruise shot
The Last Samurai in [New Zealand], and this year, The
Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe will be shot there. There
are also many more shows that have filmed in NZ, including the ones
you mentioned. I believe it will continue to be an attractive location
for both film and television. Overall, this has been good for our
country’s economy and for tourism.
SW:MM — 9. Once Were Warriors brought
the Maori culture to the forefront in a way never seen before. How
did you get involved in that project?
RO — I auditioned for the role
of Beth Heke. Unbeknownst to me, the director, Lee Tamahori, already
had me in mind to play the role. He had seen a lot of my theater
and television work. He knew I had the skill, technique and strength
to carry the role. Though I did not take the role for granted, I
went home and prayed hard that I would get the part, because it
was a role I really wanted!
SW:MM — 10. Did you or any other person in the
cast expect the film to become such a success?
RO — Yes, I had a very strong instinct
that the film had the potential to do really well because it dared
to deal with topics that were longing to jump out of the closet,
and I knew Lee would stylize the film and give it commercial elements
that would help it succeed. We also had a screenplay to die for,
an excellent cast, as well as the best person to direct it. But
nothing is gauranteed. I wasn’t surprised when it topped the
dinosaurs of Jurassic Park to become the top NZ film —
a record it still holds. It also made Time magazine’s Top
10 list of the best films in the world in 1995, along with Peter
Jackson's, Heavenly Creatures.
SW:MM — 11. How important are films like that
in improving awareness of the Maori people and their heritage?
RO — Very important. Once Were
Warriors put the Maori people onto the international map. Not
just as a culture, but also as filmmakers. Most people around the
world didn’t realize that an indigenous race even existed
in [New Zealand] before seeing the film. Once again, we’ve
had another hit with Whale Rider. I’m very proud
of the fact that New Zealand’s most commercially successful
films to date have been Maori stories.
SW:MM — 12. What do you look for in a role?
RO — I firstly look at the project
as a whole, because that is what you ultimately become a part of.
In the script, I look for originality, something new to offer, a
strong story line with interesting characters. It can be comedy,
drama, sci-fi, whatever, as long as the story is worth telling.
At the end of the day, I believe an actor and director are only
as good as their script. At the same time, the people I may get
to work with also influences my choices.
SW:MM — 13. What do you think is the most important
thing a person must understand to be an actor?
RO — What it is to be human —
unless you’re playing an alien! Ultimately, an actor’s
job is to portray aspects of the human condition. With each role,
I ask the same questions, “Who am I?” and “How
did I get to be this way?” Behind the scenes, my job is to
answer those question as thoroughly as possible so when someone
watches the film, they should experience the world of the character,
not the actor. Sensitivity and imagination are also incredibly important
qualities for an actor to have.
SW:MM — 14. How did you get involved in Sundance?
RO — The first time I ever attended
the Sundance Film Festival was in 1995 with Once Were Warriors,
and most recently this year with the Rotuman film, The Land
Has Eyes. Quite a few years ago, I was invited to assess some
scripts for the Sundance Native Program. It is an institution I
will always support.
SW:MM — 15. When on the “selection panel”,
what did you look for when making your decisions?
RO — Well crafted scripts with
strong story lines and interesting characters that you care about.
The screenplays needed to feature originality and be well executed.
SW:MM — 16. What can you tell us about your
upcoming role in Episode III?
RO — I play a new Senator who is
SW:MM — 17. Assuming you have had the opportunity,
do you find it challenging to act against a blue screen?
RO — In Episode
II, all our scenes were done against blue screen, and it
was a lot of fun, but challenging. I also did a short film in Hawaii,
which has not been released yet, that was also against blue/green
screens. I don’t mind working with them at all. If anything,
I think it’s good for actors because you really have to use
SW:MM — 18. Now that you are part of the Star
Wars phenomenon, what are your thoughts on its wide appeal?
RO — When I did Episode
II, I really had no idea of the world I had entered and
become a part of for life. I consider it an honor and a pleasure
to be a part of something that clearly means so much to so many
people around the world. Because of SW, I have been immortalized
in plastic! Oh, to be an action figure!
SW:MM — 19. How would you describe your experience
working on the Star Wars films?
RO — In all ways, memorable! Cherished
memories, a wonderful learning experience, and a whole lot of fun!
SW:MM — 20. If you had Jedi powers, what would
you do with them?
RO — Use them for good. Eliminate
all war and restore peace and respect for the gift of life.