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Saturday, 28 December, 2002, 02:04 GMT
Kiwis take over Hollywood
The march of New Zealanders on Hollywood is much like this
Lord Of The Rings armies on the march in New Zealand

It is not just Lord Of The Rings that is ushering in a golden age of Kiwi cinema. Everywhere you look, New Zealanders are taking over Tinseltown.

Cast your mind back to March 2001.

Russell Crowe, his current flowing locks still only the dreams of a madman, took to the Oscar winner's stage to claim his best actor award for Gladiator.

And his acceptance speech mentioned what it meant to kids in the more far-flung places of the world that someone like him could win an Oscar.

Russell Crowe receives his best actor Oscar for Gladiator
Russell Crowe started his career on the stage in New Zealand
Places like Auckland, New Zealand, for instance.

Why should Russell Crowe care? Well, though this may shock those who think that Mr Crowe is the archetypal embodiment of all things Australian, he is actually a Kiwi.

And Crowe has only been the first - thanks to his statuette-stealing turn in Ridley Scott's Gladiator - to signal a changing wind in Hollywood.

Lush valleys

Quite simply, the Kiwis are taking over.

Look at the evidence. The biggest film project in history - Peter Jackson's back-to-back JRR Tolkien's Lord Of The Rings - has been undertaken by a Kiwi, in New Zealand.

Jackson brought proper movie stars like Liv Tyler, Christopher Lee and Sir Ian McKellen out to little old NZ for 18 months of filming on mountaintops and in lush valleys.

He also created some of the most mind-bending special effects ever devised in a purpose-built studio near Wellington's little airport.

Jackson is not the only Kiwi director to take on the big boys and win at their game.

Peter Jackson's Lord Of The Rings films have been international hits
Lord Of The Rings director Peter Jackson: Home-grown, self-taught
Lee Tamahori, the former advertising director who was responsible for the gritty 1993 Maori domestic violence drama Once Were Warriors, has climbed all the way up Hollywood's greasy pole to helm the latest Bond flick, Die Another Day.

It is fair to say that when you're telling Pierce Brosnan just how he is going to dodge that hail of bullets, you have arrived.

Tamahori is not the only Kiwi cropping up in Die Another Day - the brooding, tuxedoed man mountain Mr Kil is another Maori star, Lawrence Makoare.

Snowboarding lunk

You might also remember him from Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring as the blood-curdling Orc chieftain at the end, though he was somewhat difficult to spot under all that make-up.

And without the dinner suit.

And what about the new Bond, Vin Diesel's snow-boarding lunk Xander Cage from XXX?

Well, his nemesis may have been a Russian anarchist megalomaniac, but he was played by a Kiwi former soap actor and music show host, Marton Csokas. Which might explain the accent.

The streets are quite literally paved with potential. Just take the town of Lower Hutt, the other side of Wellington Harbour (or Port Nicholson if we are being prosaic) from the capital.

Anna Paquin
Anna Paquin won an Oscar for The Piano and is in the upcoming X Men 2
It is a town of 80,000, wedged in between two gorse and scrub fleck hill ranges, that somehow has come up with two Oscar winners.

They are Anna Paquin (The Piano, recently wowing them on stage in the West End) and Jane Campion (also for The Piano), the director behind Kate Winslet and Harvey Keitel's Holy Smoke.

And talking of Kiwi directors, Roger Donaldson is another who has found his niche in Hollywood, with this year's Cuban Missile Crisis drama 13 Days.

Two-way traffic

Donaldson's Hollywood tenure is by no means a new thing as he was the man in charge of Tom Cruise's ahem, spirited performance in 1987's Cocktail.

And yes, Donaldson was actually born in Australia, but as Australians have made it a national sport in appropriating New Zealanders - everyone from 1930s racehorse Phar Lap to Russell Crowe and Crowded House - it is only fair there is a little two-way traffic for once.

(Actually, we need to come clean on Sam Neill too. We might claim he is from NZ but he's actually from Northern Ireland.)

New Zealand screenwriters have long made their mark too. The first draft of Alien 3 was written by director/writer Vincent Ward (it was spiked for being too dark, which is saying something).

Lower Hutt: The streets are paved with Oscar stars
Lower Hutt: The streets are paved with Oscar stars
Fellow Kiwi Andrew Niccol wrote The Truman Show and Gattaca (he also directed) and this year is making waves with S1m0ne, the Al Pacino film about a director who creates a virtual leading lady.

Even a galaxy far, far away is not safe from the spreading reach from just above the South Pole.

Temuera Morrison, the man who played Jake The Muss in Once Were Warriors, stole the show from Ewan MacGregor in the only great acting scene in Star Wars 2: Attack Of The Clones.

And, since the Clone Army was copied from the Maori Morrison, that means the stormtroopers from the Star Wars trilogy are Maori as well.

If that's not taking over Hollywood, I don't know what is.

  • Stephen Dowling saw his first film, Swiss Family Robinson, at the Lower Hutt Odeon in 1976. He thinks Russell Crowe was born in the Lower Hutt hospital. Which would in fact make that three Oscar winners from Lower Hutt.

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    24 Feb 02 | Entertainment
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