Wairoa actor takes Maori culture to Home and Away
Home for summer, Wairoa's latest acting sensation Ethan Browne talks to Wairoa Star reporter Ira Heyder about his role on the popular Australian TV soap Home and Away.
“They are introducing a Maori family to the show,” says Browne.
“We're bringing a lot of our culture into the story lines, and moments of Kiwi humour people back home will connect with.
“It's my first gig, and I couldn't think of a better way to start — to play a character in a Maori whanau, on a platform like Home and Away.”
Browne's interest in acting started in Wairoa, but he took a leap of faith, and a leap across the Tasman to make it happen.
“I was introverted as a kid so I spent a lot of time watching movies — especially martial arts movies. That is what sparked my interest in film, but growing up in a small town, I never saw it as a possible career — it was just a vague dream.”
Browne was born and raised in Wairoa, a student of St Joseph's School and Wairoa College. During his college years, he was involved with the music department, drumming for bands and playing gigs.
“I've always been quietly ambitious, and becoming a father at a young age made me more determined to achieve anything I put my mind to. I've always wanted to be a positive role model for my daughter.”
Browne moved to Brisbane, Australia in 2015, and soon took the first steps in realising his childhood dream.
“I had been in Brisbane for a year when I found a weekly night class in acting. I was hooked after the first class and decided to keep going. After six months, my acting coach encouraged me to audition for drama school, to get some experience at auditioning.
“He suggested NIDA (National Institute of Dramatic Art) in Sydney.”
NIDA is Australia's leading performing arts school. NIDA graduates include Mel Gibson, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving and director Baz Luhrmann.
For the audition, Browne had to do two Shakespeare monologues, and a contemporary theatre monologue.
“I did a piece from Shakespeare's Henry V where he gives his soldiers a rev up before going into battle. It was essentially a haka so I decided to infuse elements of haka into the piece. The panel loved it — they'd never seen it performed like that before.
The audition process was gruelling. After the initial audition and two successive call backs, Browne was the only Brisbane applicant still in the running.
Off to NIDA
“Two weeks later I got a phone call from NIDA saying I had a spot. There are only 24 places. About 3000 people around Australia auditioned. At the time, my partner and I were considering moving back to New Zealand. After many discussions with family and friends, we decided it was an opportunity I couldn't pass up.”
Browne was offered a place in the three-year bachelor of acting course. The course fees total $42,000 — $7000 per semester for six semesters.
“That was the next hurdle — paying for it,” says Browne.
“As a New Zealander living in Australia, I wasn't eligible for a student loan. I applied for many scholarships back home, but most of them wouldn't fund study outside of New Zealand.
“I'm just extremely grateful my Uncle Richard Puanaki offered to cover my first semester — that got the ball rolling.”
Browne made the move to Sydney with his partner Shayne Edwards in 2017 and started the course.
Juggling a Monday to Friday 9am-6pm class schedule, Browne had to earn money to pay for the remaining semesters.
“I applied for a security licence and started working as a bouncer, four nights a week. Sometimes I'd get two to three hours sleep and then go to school. It was a tough couple of years. I also had responsibilities to keep as a father, so it was a massive juggling act.
“It's a blur looking back at NIDA now. We did everything performance related from acting to singing, dancing to clowning, script to screen, yoga and martial arts. It broke you down and re-built you. It was the most uncomfortable, but most liberating three years of my life.”
Six months out from graduating, Browne got a call from his agent. Home and Away were introducing a Maori whanau into the storyline.
They were casting for a Maori, mid-to-late 20s. His agent sent him the audition piece.
The call up
“Like my NIDA audition, I went in with the mind-set that I was doing it for the experience. Two weeks later I got a callback audition. I was in New Zealand at the time visiting my daughter. They flew me back for the day to do the callback. “
With all the callback actors there, including some ex-Shortland Street actors, he felt a bit intimidated, says Browne.
“They were swapping actors in and out, trying different combinations and running through the same scenes to see who had good chemistry and physically looked like a family.”
Two days later Browne got a call from his agent — he had got the part and signed a three-year contract. Filming began mid-October last year, a month before he was due to graduate from NIDA.
“NIDA were happy to release me early. I finished a few assignments and returned for the final showcase, performance and graduated.
“Home and Away is a Monday to Friday shooting schedule at the studios in Redfern, Sydney. The exterior shoots happen at Palm Beach, an hour north of Sydney — that's Summer Bay.”
Browne plays Tane Parata — “one of the Parata boys”.
“My character appears a couple of weeks after the Parata whanau has arrived at Summer Bay. Tane is the outcast of the whanau. He doesn't have the most legitimate ways of earning money.
“His older brother Ari — played by Rob Kipa-Williams — doesn't want any part of it. But nephew Nikau — played by Kawakawa Fox-Reo, who also has Wairoa and Nuhaka ties — reaches out to my character and asks me to come to Summer Bay and look after him. So that's how I end up there.”
The glue that holds the family together is Nikau's mother Gemma — played by Bree Peters — who is mourning the loss of her husband Mikaere, the eldest Parata brother.
“I can't give away too much of the storyline, but you can expect to see a lot of Maori culture. Te reo Maori experts Scotty and Stacey Morrison have been employed as Maori language and tikanga advisers for the show.”
Browne has advice for youngsters in Wairoa.
“Work away at your goals quietly. Surround yourself with people who will back you, and do the hard work that needs to be done.”
Ethan Browne's Home and Away episodes begin screening in New Zealand on February 17.