|Mabel Wharekawa-Burt Actor
Mabel received the New Zealand Order of Merit in the 2009 New Year Honours for services to the performing arts and the community
View Mabel in Whale Rider
For many years Mabel has been quietly travelling outside the district to work on a range of well known New Zealand films made here and overseas.
Fifteen year-old Katikati College student Jacqueline Tran Van chose Mabel as her subject for her 2000 Year 11 English Research Assignment. Jacqueline's interview with Mabel is presented below, followed by her completed Research Analysis.
Special thanks to both Jacqueline and Mabel for allowing us to feature this material.
1. How long have you been making films? How did you get into them?
2. How easy was it to make the switch from Director of Performing Arts at the Bay of Plenty Polytech?
3. Did you have any specialist training?
4. How many films have you been in?
5. What kind of characters have you played in these films?
6. Do you feel you have been typecast?
7. Does this worry you?
|8. What did your family think of your career change?
Initially they were just pleased to see me not killing myself in education as all my associates and friends still do. They think it is exciting to be part of the Hollywood hype lifestyle which they are able to share with me while I'm filming.
9. What do you think of it?
10. It's been a positive change then?
11. Are you recognised? How often?
12. How do you cope with national stardom?
13. Do you feel you are a role model for others in small towns that want to act?
14. What advise to you have for students hoping to enter the film industry?
15. Is there confidence in the New Zealand film industry and in particular for Maori?
|16. Do you work for a certain person or company, or just for yourself?
I work from a Consultancy in Arts Education firm where I am a director. As well as training and professional development, we offer entertainment personnel. I am fortunate in that over the last year, I have not had to pursue audition opportunities. Instead I have had casting agents phone me asking for my interest or if I might read a script for my possible interest. I happen to be in an area where there is no-one else at the moment.
17. When do you start your next film?
18. Is it a New Zealand film?
19. Have you filmed Eye of the Storm yet?
20. What is it about?
21. Did you enjoy filming Jubilee?
22. What were the cast like?
23. Are the majority of the roles you are offered New Zealand or overseas scripts?
24. Would you say you've built a large amount of contacts?
25. Do you have many actor/actress friends?
26. Do you ever want to pursue other areas of film, such as director or producer?
27. Any other positions?
You can find more information about New Zealand films by clicking here: www.nzfilm.co.nz
To go to the Jubilee website click here: www.jubilee.co.nz
|How Does National Stardom Affect a Local Smalltowner?
As part of a Year 11 English assignment I was required to do a research topic. I chose to find out about local personality Mabel Wharekawa-Burt and put to her questions relating to my topic study, 'How does national stardom affect a local smalltowner'. My findings establish that Mabel Wharekawa-Burt is an excellent asset to have associated with Katikati. She has worked hard to achieve a great career for herself in the industry of theatre and movies and in my opinion has gained national stardom.
Seeing that she had a job as the Director of Performing Arts at Tauranga Polytech led me to wondering why she didn't keep her job there as it was a stable income for herself and supporting her family. When looking through the newspaper article, 'A move into movies,' I read '...disillusioned with the education system ...' and realised that though she had a well paying reliable job it wasn't what she wanted for herself. When I interviewed her I asked if it was hard in her opinion to make the switch. She did overall find it easy. The hard part was however, changing from being in charge of the performance to being part of it. She also found it was hard going to film when she was used to stage. As Mabel was already on the road to being an actress, having been involved in stage and also cabaret and singing she found the switch of careers not as hard as she initially imagined.
Mabel has had her foot in the door of film making since living in the Cook Islands and making the film The Silent One. She made this film in 1986, then in 1987 had a part in a film starring David Bowie called Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence. So with credentials like this Mabel was obviously on her way to stardom. After leaving the job at the Polytech Mabel recommenced her film career with Jubilee, which starred Cliff Curtis and in 2000 made Crooked Earth with Temuera Morrison. In July 2000 Mabel made a film called Turia, which was done in Te Reo Maori. There have also been several TV documentaries. She had been offered a part in an American film called The Eye of the Storm about the first Mormon missionary to the Tongan Islands, but had to turn it down after Crooked Earth ran two weeks over the time scheduled. Mabel did not feel disheartened by this however as she got to do her first ever completely Maori speaking role in Turia instead. She is now in pre-production to do a series of Shakespeare, where a scholar has translated four of William Shakespeare's scripts into Te Reo Maori. The first one is The Merchant of Venice. This is what Mabel is really passionate about film for, 'I consider this to be a pinnacle - Shakespeare in the traditional Reo of Aotearoa. Choice!'
Mabel is probably most well known for her role in the recent film Jubilee. In the film she plays '...the sharp witted battle-axe of a mother...' to Cliff Curtis' character. She took the role through the encouragement of Cliff, whom she had known for years before Jubilee. The offer came less than a year after Mabel suffered a stroke of which she was still recovering during filming. It wasn't until halfway through production that the producers realised that Mabel did indeed need the walking stick and it wasn't just a movie prop!
The way Mabel put the experience she had while filming put the whole 'behind the scenes' region of film making into perspective for me . It wasn't 'the director treat people badly', or 'the leads lock themselves in their trailers and talk to no-one'. Maybe that only happens in the movies or in overseas movies.
Mabel made cast and crew like her family away from home. 'Jubilee gave me the opportunity to see all the virtues I admire being put into practice, virtues like courtesy and respect. The producer and director treated even those with the most menial of tasks the same as the big stars.' She also felt that everyone was learning from each other all the time.
|When I asked Mabel if she was recognised often now that she's involved in New Zealand films she told me that she was already working in activities of National and International recognition. Mabel also said that the acknowledgement of her work comes often, yet only as an extension of her other involvements, many of which are voluntary.
In my interview with Mabel I asked if she felt she was being typecast and if it worried her. She answered, 'I have after the last move Crooked Earth, had the feeling that I might forever be add-ons as someone's mum, aunt or grandmother.' For me, I don't think for a second that playing someone's mum, aunt or grandmother is such a bad thing for Mabel or the people who cast her, as she has had life experiences in these characters. She is someone's wife, someone's mum AND someone's grandmother. And she still manages to have a progressive film career on top of that. Mabel's family think that her involvement in film is 'exciting' as they are able to share and be part of her 'Hollywood' lifestyle when she is filming.
Mabel seems to be a very down to earth person considering her jump into the limelight of New Zealand films. She does the 'normal' things a grandmother and mother would do, like taking kids to and from sports practises'. However, she also does things a normal person wouldn't do. Like introduce her adopted children to celebrities at her film premieres, inviting the family to the cast wrap up parties and also having other well known national and international celebrities and family friends over for dinner occasionally. When talking to Mabel I realised that she has a very close relationship with her family. She has two adopted Cook Island children, one of whom attends the college here. She also has many grandchildren, some of whom I am associated with through sports.
In the interview with Mabel I asked if she had many actor/actress friends. She presented me with a poster to prove she has some if not more. She then proceeded to tell me what her granddaughter Danielle once said to her, 'Nana, are you famous?' 'Well yes I suppose so', Mabel replied. At which Danielle said, 'But you're not really famous are you because you've never been on Shortland Street!'
That made me giggle, until one night I was watching Shred on television and Oliver Driver was being interviewed. He was asked how the fans affected him and he answered that they think he's exactly like the make believe character that he portrayed on TV. That they will always compare him to 'Mike' on Shortland Street. He then went on to say, 'You're not really famous until you've been on Shortland Street.' An opinion exactly like Mabel's granddaughter.
So to the public outside of Katikati. They probably haven't been exposed to Mabel's acting abilities seeing as she hasn't yet been honoured with a role in Shortland Street. So I guess her fame isn't as widespread as I thought.
I'm probably one of a biased opinion though. I know Mabel personally, know her family members and also know and am part of her community. I had actually heard of her and some of her films before I decided to research her and her fame. So for me to decide if Mabel Wharekawa-Burt is worthy of the 'national stardom' label wouldn't be fair, but from my research I will comfortably say that if she hasn't achieved national stardom yet, she definitely isn't far away from it.
Her attitude is so positive that if she wasn't to succeed then I would be very saddened. Mabel puts so much effort into her performance, her family and her own life that it would be a real shame for her not to get recognition for it.
Jacqueline Tran Van