“Australian Idol” singer and “X Factor” judge Stan Walker makes his feature debut in the terrific new film “Mount Zion”, the story of a talented singer who dreams of his band playing the support act for Bob Marley’s 1979 tour. Moviehole caught up with Walker to see how his first film gig came to be and how he enjoyed the experience.
Q: What is Mt Zion about?
It’s about a young man called Turei who has a dream and is very passionate about that and willing to anything for it. He’s got a strained relationship with his father, with his brother, and he’s got his bros – his band mates – and his mum. It’s about the Māori community, it’s about the gardens in Pukekohe – spud picking – that kind of hard life. And it’s all about Turei trying to reach his goal to get a better life, not just for him but for his whole whanau. He wants to show his whanau that there’s a better life outside of spud picking, powhiris, and just Pukekohe. And Bob Marley, it’s got to do with Bob Marley, reggae, singing, music – it’s a whole lot of things all in one.
Q: Your character, Turei: who is he and what is he like?
Turei is full of hope and vision. He’s a young Maori boy who loves singing. He loves his whanau. He’s a spud picker, but he’s more than that. He sees outside the box, he sees outside of Pukekohe. He wants to become something. He wants to sing. He’s very ambitious and determined to get to where he wants to be, and he’ll do anything. He has a good heart, he’s got good intentions, but his actions are a bit different. He acts up a little bit, and he’s willing to – I know this sounds bad – but in a way, he’s willing to sell out his whanau for the bigger picture so that they can all have a better life. But he’s a good fella, though. Turei is very similar to who I was about six years ago, in that he’s very ambitious and very passionate about his dream and what he wants to achieve.
Q: Was that similarity to you helpful when you were playing Turei?
Oh yeah, definitely, the similarities are helpful and it was good to tap back into who I was – it was good to be able to bring that to the table. The character of Turei was very familiar to me, so I was really just altering a little bit of myself to become him.
Q: How do you describe the relationship with Turei and his father, who was played by Temuera Morrison?
Turei loves his dad, except he doesn’t understand why his dad has to work so hard all the time. The way Turei sees things, there’s an easier way and a better way, but his dad’s very old school and very set in his ways. It’s hard for his dad to break that cycle of how it’s always been done. Turei’s the new school and he brings in a fresh outlook. He sees his dad as kind of stuck and he’s just trying to show him there’s a better way. His dad loves him, he loves his dad, but it takes a while for them to actually come to the place where they have a real conversation, because it’s always about work. It’s an awkward, tense relationship, but they love each other. I think they’re a lot the same, that’s why his dad tries to protect him by trying to shut down his dream of wanting to be a singer, and wanting to meet Bob Marley.
Q: What was Turei’s feeling about Bob Marley?
Bob Marley is his hero. He’s his idol and his inspiration and the reason for the dream. Bob Marley is the dream – ultimately Turei wants to have a better life for his whanau and Bob is the inspiration for that.
Q: What does his band Small Axe mean to Turei?
The band is his escape, it’s his refuge. He has a couple of outlets – the band and singing with his boys, his mates. That’s what he wants to do, so the band is very important to him. Turei , Pou and Reg are tight as. They’re best mates and they’re whanau, cousins, so they’ve known each other all their lives. That relationship for me is really special and it’s so good that we can portray this in this film. To show the tightness between brothers and between mates, the bond that they have, and the stupid stories that they share. It’s funny, in a bro way to show how much they love each other but it’s really important.
Q: What was it about this film that made you want to be involved?
I love the story, I love the actors, I love the music. The thing that really drew me to this film was the music aspect and the challenge of becoming somebody else, becoming a character. Even though it might be hard for me, I just love being challenged into doing something bigger than myself. This particular story is one that needed to be told and I think it’s the right time. I didn’t know much about Pukekohe – I’m from Tauranga, but it’s the same sort of story just in a different place. And it’s a story that’s similar to my own.
Q: I heard you had had some acting training before you started. What were some of the important things that the coach told you?
I had about three or four acting classes before I did the film. My biggest challenge was just being still. I’m quite fidgety, quite energetic, so my challenge was just being still and just staying in the moment.
Q: What was it like working with Temuera Morrison and what advice did he give you?
Tem. He is the man! He showed me a lot. He can go into the zone straight away and he can go really deep. One thing he told me is ‘just don’t act, just be it, feel it.’ It’s good to hear from someone that I’ve always looked up to and it was a privilege to be able to work with him.
Q: How do you describe the style of music in this film?
It’s all Bob Marley-inspired, it’s the 70s and it’s kind of old-school reggae. But being a soul RnB pop singer, I’m bringing my flavour into this, so it’s not your typical reggae, because I can’t really sing like that. I think you have to be fully immersed into reggae, know it and breathe it and live it, to be able to have that realness, but I do my best and I just bring my experience, my feel, and my style into it as well. I love it – these songs are so awesome, the style is so awesome to sing.
Q: Did you grow up listening to Bob Marley?
Yeah, well. All my life I thought Bob Marley was Maori! Ha ha. I didn’t know he was from anywhere else. I remember – only five or six years ago – someone told me that he was Jamaican. I was young and naïve, and I didn’t know, because he’s the biggest musical influence in New Zealand.
Q: What was it like working with director Tearepa Kahi?
Tearepa is the man! He’s such a visionary. This film has been in the making for the last five or six years and it’s a privilege to be able to be a part of it and to see his vision come to pass. It’s an honour. He’s got an awesome eye for detail and he really knows what he wants and he’s good at working with us. He’s really a deep fella and it’s just awesome to be a part of this production and see his vision come to pass.
Q: I believe he even organised some training for you in how to pick potatoes?
Potato picking! Oh I tell you what – I honour and I give it up to the people who did that all their lives. I couldn’t even last one day. We were all koretake, all of us, useless. Honestly I couldn’t do that – sore back, out on the hot sun – that’s a hard job.
Q: What’s it like for you to be in a film set in a time way before you were born?
One thing that we had to be aware of is our today’s slang wasn’t the 70s slang and our today’s actions are a bit different . Also obviously the dress style and the hairstyles and stuff like that are different. We had some hideous clothes because we were playing old-school Maoris who didn’t have much.
Q: And your tattoos – they didn’t have styles like that back then so what do you have to go through to hide them?
I have tattoos all over my body but back in the day they didn’t have flash ta moko like that. They had home job tattoos – crosses and numbers and teardrops and FTWs. So the make-up people had to cover all my ta moko on my neck, hands, chest, and my side. So it was really different looking at myself in the mirror without them, which was good because it helped me get into character – to be Turei rather than being Stan Walker. The ultimate for me is that people will see Turei and not see myself.
“Mount Zion” is now on DVD