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Saturday 08 April 2017

Ak Pride: West of Eden premiere

Posted in: Movies
By Jay Bennie - 24th February 2017

On a back-blocks farm two young men are thrown together. Tom is a quiet country pakeha kid, Billy is Maori, from the big city where his life has been going off the rails.

Luke Thompson as Tom

On the farm their paths cross and something starts to click. But this is 1960s New Zealand and while the 'All You Need is Love' generation is starting to change the world, homosexuality is still strictly out of bounds.

Luke Thompson features as Tom. He may be a familiar face. "I've done a little bit on Shortland St, playing a personal trainer for Rachael and had a little bit of a love affair with one of the girls on that. And also I played an all Black, Jimmy Cowan, in The Kick which I really enjoyed, we got to play rugby and I had to abuse some guy at a bar so it was all quite loud and rough kind of stuff. But those kind of roles can be a little bit shallow on the emotional side.

He feels he ended up in those roles because "I'm a bodybuilder so I suppose I've got the physique for it and I've kind of auditioned for those kind of roles. But you can enjoy any role. You don't hear actors say they didn't enjoy a role, because everything's different. I mean, I'm not an All Black and I'm not a drummer in a band or a personal trainer. But it's just finding something in yourself that's similar to the character, that's the part that I enjoy."

His character, Tommy Henshaw, is "a 17 or 18-year old boy who lives on a farm in the 1960s and they're quite strict back then and homosexuality is not accepted. He's quite quiet but he's got a bit of sass to him, quite firey inside. He keeps it all inside but there are a few times when you see it pop out. He doesn't take crap from anyone. It's so bad and so different from now."

Billy, arriving from the city, "has had experience with men before, he knows what he is. He can't live in the city, he's going to get killed if he stays there, the way he is at work. So he makes a gap for it and and gets away from it all and works on a farm in the middle of nowhere

"When he arrives there he meets my character straight away and I'm quite young and naive and don't know if I'm straight or gay or anything like that. But we have a sort of connection together and that's what it grows from. Our relationship starts as a friendship, I think he is interested in me but he wants to keep away from all that because he's trying to suppress it. There's flirtation between us but we try to keep it just a friends. But we both get to the point where I know what I want and we can't suppress it any more and it just flourishes. You can't stay friends if you've got a connection like that."

Does their bond work as a loving relationship? "I guess I'm a bit younger and what we do is actually illegal so it works for us but it doesn't work for everyone else. People start to click on.

"It's a big family on the farm and it's about the secrets that they have, like love affairs going on. No one wants to stir the pot too much and though everyone kind of knows they pretend they don't. Our relationship is the dominant storyline but it's also about the dynamics of this family but the main conflict is around us. It's quite interesting how it develops."

How did Thompson, as a straight actor, as is Kieran Foster who plays Billy, get into the psyche of a gay man and does he feel the audience will accept what he is portraying?

"I think it gives you a chance to show another side of you. As for getting in to the psyche of a gay man I don't think you have to do that as such, at the end of the day you are just a person in love with someone. I don't know if gay men really think any differently. I don't play Tom in any way gay, I play him as a man that is emotional and who falls in love with another man. I think it would be the same if he fell in love with a woman. The point is that it's not allowed and everyone's trying to stop them.

"Of course gay comes into it but I wasn't thinking play gay or anything like that, I was just playing Tom the way he is, the same as if he was in love with a woman and that wasn't allowed. I'm a straight man playing a gay man so all I could do is do my best to portray him as best I could. I've got gay friends and I don't really think of them as gay, I just think of them as friends.

West of Eden premiered Wednesday evening as part of the Auckland Pride Festival 2017. It opens at Auckland's Rialto and select cinemas from March 9th.

Jay Bennie - 24th February 2017

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