Matthias Luafutu: My story told to Elisabeth Easther

Actor Matthias Luafutu in Wellington. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Award-winning actor Matthias Luafutu has starred in the Harry TV series, alongside Sam Neill, the movie Shopping, and most recently Coming Home in the Dark, with Erik Thomson. Luafutu also starred with his father and brother Scribe in The White Guitar, the 2019 play about the life of Faa’moana Luafutu (Matthias’ father) who spent his childhood in state custody. Luafutu can also be seen in his brother’s life documentary – Scribe: Return of the Crusader, TVNZ OnDemand, from November 26.

My mother is Samoan (villages of Safotu and Palisi) Cantonese and American, and my father is pretty much completely Samoan (Poutasi and Malaemalu in Falealili) with glitter of Tongan. When daddy was jailed when I was 3, for eight years it was just me, my mom and my two brothers, Malo [Scribe] and Julian, who suffers from cerebral palsy. As I got older, I realized how difficult it was for her to be a single mother in a state house with her father who was serving a long sentence. Mom became a devout Christian when Dad was inside.

When daddy was locked up somehow we were all locked up, but because I was so young I didn’t consider prison intimidating, even though sadness set in at the end of every visit. I was so excited for the day he came out. I had this fairy tale going through my head, about what it would be. But it wasn’t like that, and there was violence and drug addiction.

Because dad was taken away from his parents and placed in guardianship when he was 9, he was raised by the government and what happened to him in these borstals and foster homes put him on the line. right way. Now, with the Royal Commission of Inquiry, we are hearing about the damage that has been done to these children and how their children are becoming collateral damage. It wasn’t until later, when we were playing The White Guitar, that I understood how he learned about his fatherhood from the masters of the house, so of course he didn’t know how to be a father, and he didn’t know how to be a father. distributed what he was taught. Although he was always good to Julian.

I was really disruptive in elementary school, but one year I had a teacher called Mr Whitley who gave me opportunities. A teacher just sat me in the locker room, where I had to sit behind the bookcase so no one could see me, but Mr. Whitley was totally different. He even appointed me class captain, which I probably didn’t deserve, but it was a very important relationship because he made me feel good about myself and I trusted him. He also didn’t believe in the strap, which the other teachers loved. If I lost my temper, he would calm me down. I had never seen this approach before and we became close.

I loved television and cinema. When I was in elementary school I would sometimes steal money from mom’s purse to watch movies in the city. When Spot On ran their school film competition, Mr. Whitley helped us submit a film. It was called The Story of Pakiki, about a toe bush. My friend wrote it, although he’s dead now, and Mr. Whitley picked me as the lead actor and we won the overall award. We even beat all the high schools. Growing up was one of the best things ever to have that role.

Rugby was where I vented my anger. I would see my counterpart and spend the whole game trying to annihilate him, which is probably what the coaches wanted. I also enjoyed the physique, and I knew that made my dad proud. When I was 18, in 1994, I was selected to play for Manu Samoa Colts. It was the first time I had seen Dad overwhelmed with pride. Although unfortunately I pulled a hamstring during training and was sent home.

As an angry young man, rugby was my savior, it kept me straight, so being sent home was not good for me. I mingled with old friends and made some bad decisions that really messed me up. I had anger and addiction issues from a young age. The substances were a way to escape. I didn’t understand it at the time, but I was angry and hurt and lashed out at whoever started me. It led to a really bad decision under the influence and I ended up in prison for two years and that was the end of my rugby career.

All the time in prison is wasted time. But my friends were there, and dad. But when mom and chick visited me, it really shook me. The first time Mom came to visit her she was so upset that I promised myself it would be the first and last time I would go inside and kept that promise. When my grandmother visited me, she had such nobility, and seeing someone so pure come into the prison parlor and cry, that was also a defining moment, and I knew I had to switch.

Matthias Luafutu performed with his father and brother Scribe in The White Guitar, the 2019 play about the life of Faa'moana Luafutu (Matthias' father) who spent his childhood in state custody.  Photo / File
Matthias Luafutu performed with his father and brother Scribe in The White Guitar, the 2019 play about the life of Faa’moana Luafutu (Matthias’ father) who spent his childhood in state custody. Photo / File

During my incarceration – I entered at 19 and got out just before my 21st birthday – I threw myself into all the classes, partly to prepare for the day, but also to do whatever was necessary to get on parole. . But anger management actually helped. Another part of my parole was rehab at Queen Mary, the same rehab my parents had experienced. Although this first time, I was not ready, because I took back alcohol, and my life returned to what it had always been when I used these things to self-medicate. Then I got to a place where I was so low, I begged them to take me back, because I didn’t want to be that person anymore.

I first met Jim Moriarty at the Queen Mary during Family Week, which is when a family member invites you to be forgiven. My dad called me and Jim and my dad were recovering together. The second time I met Jim I was back at the Queen Mary and he was there with his Te Rakau theater group. They were going to prisons, using the theater as a tool for change and this visit rekindled a spark.

Working with Jim Moriarty for three years, bringing theater to young people at risk, it built my soul and put me on a new path. I knew I wanted to take acting seriously and auditioned for Toi Whakaari The NZ Drama School. After the reminder, every day I was waiting for the postman and when this letter arrived and I saw that it was from You, I spoke intense, to open it. There are few words to describe the joy I felt when I saw that I had been accepted. I hooted and screamed as I walked up the path to tell mom.

I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I liked all the practical things, but for me acting the part was an escape. That’s why I fell in love with it because I didn’t have to be myself. I could be a character. But at You, they want to see you, and what you bring, that is, to go down deep inside yourself which has brought out deep emotional things. Sometimes they wanted the students to remember past experiences and I realized that there were things that I had not dealt with that were locked away. Once I let them out, I didn’t know how to lock them. I regret that I gave up, but I couldn’t do it. I didn’t even want to say goodbye. But before I went I put a copy of my father’s book A Boy Called Broke in one of the teachers’ closet with a note saying I hope this book explains things I couldn’t. . Then I just left.

Some of my classmates tried to keep an eye on me, but I returned home to Christchurch and became a glass transformer. I needed to come to my senses. Then a classmate, Louis Sutherland, called me and asked me what I was doing. I told him I was replacing the windows rather than breaking them. He said he was writing a movie with Albie [Mark Albiston], and they had a role for me. I said I haven’t acted since drama school but that’s how I got the part in Shopping. From there I got the part in Harry and it went from there.

I moved to Auckland – I had been transferred to the Auckland Glass Factory – and I was running into ÅŒtara when Tom McCrory rang. It was the teacher for whom I had left the book. I hadn’t heard from him in years, but he said he had read daddy’s book and we should make a play out of it, with Nina Nawalowalo. I said we can’t tell my father’s or brother’s story without permission, so Tom asked if he could talk to them. He called Malo first, then daddy. And daddy said to me, “Who is this guy who wants to do a play?” And Tom said to him, “I think your son is one of the most talented actors I have ever taught and I want to work with him.” When daddy heard that he said, “I’m in it.”

Daniel Gillies (left) and Matthias Luafutu in the film adaptation of Owen Marshall's short story Coming Home in the Dark.  Photo / File
Daniel Gillies (left) and Matthias Luafutu in the film adaptation of Owen Marshall’s short story Coming Home in the Dark. Photo / File

White Guitar was the start of a great healing process, and you can see daddy’s redemption in his second piece, A Boy Called Piano. He is more at peace than he has ever been. A lot of pain appeared on the surface during its creation, but so much pain also disappeared. Able to speak to the Royal Commission, he was motivated to be a voice for the voiceless. Many of his friends he was with at the borstal, they had horrible lives and passed away before getting an apology or payment. Many of daddy’s friends died guilty and ashamed, but thanks to work my dad came to a place of peace. He smiles more than before. I’m so grateful in the theater world for being able to heal us, and through this industry I’ve learned that I’m better at creating things than destroying them.

My life has been like an asteroid field. I went one way, on a trajectory, and then I collided with something that changed my trajectory. I don’t like a lot of the things I did, or the person I was, which is why I always felt I had a debt to pay, and doing work that gives back feeds my life. soul. I look at the things that have happened in my life, and I know they must have happened in order for me to be where I am now. As hurtful and angry as some of these things are, I appreciate them because overcoming them has shaped me. If I hadn’t had these crashes, I wouldn’t be here. I am proud of who I am today. I don’t know what the future holds for me, but I take it every moment, and I’m always pleasantly surprised.

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