Lauie Sila – my 26 year old little/big cousin plays one of the lead characters in Shakespeares “The Merchant” which is currently playing at the Mangere Arts Centre. I caught up with him and my cousin Olive Asi (who is also in the theatre production) when they came over to do the shoot for their promo posters.
I like knowing how people are related so in case you guys were wondering too – Lauie’s maternal grandfather and my paternal grandfather are brothers. Pretty sure both of them were 6ft8 – Hence the tall genes lol!
Over the years I’d been to see him perform in his high school production of Joseph & the technicolour dreamcoat & a couple of his first shows when he first started out with the Black Friar Theatre Company. It’s awesome to see that 10 years later he’s still involved in theatre and the arts. You might also recognise him from a dishwashing ad here in NZ lol!
Me: You’ll be performing in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice and playing one of the lead characters – Shylock – the villain of the story. Have you played this character before?
Lauie: No it’s my first time and the first time playing the villain! I usually play the hero in our Black Friars productions but I just thought I’d change it up and test myself playing the villain.
Me: How long have you been with The Black Friars now? Thats the theatre company you’re with right?
Lauie: Yeah, um I think it’ll be going on 8 years now cos we kinda started it when we left school. Well, my friend started it and I just tagged along but yeah, it’s been 8 years. It was Michelle (Black Friars manager/director), Misipeli, Billy Revell & me and we all kind of got together and decided to start a theatre company to make Shakespeare more relevant to kids our age at that time. When we were in school we’d mostly just done excerpts from scenes in like Shakespeare competitions cos like when you join drama there’s no actual competitions in schools in NZ for drama except for that one Shakespeare comp.
We kinda got together and decided to take a scene to one of those comps and yeah, we’ve been going ever since. The comp is just for school kids and they have different zones like South Auckland, East Auckland and it’s all over New Zealand. So they go through the regions and then they all meet up at this one national festival in Wellington and it’s held over Queens Birthday weekend.
The cool thing was that ever since I was at school we won the Shakespeare title and like when I left school I came back and we kept it going and yeah, we’ve been on a streak ever since. Thats the thing with Wesley they look more on the rugby side and they just forget all about the drama class. It’s just another option for kids to look at instead of just rugby. In our drama class there were a lot of 1st fifteen players, they found a way to balance it and so yeah we kind of made it cool (laughs) especially for outsiders who’d be looking at us like ‘those 1st 15 guys are in drama – whaaaaat?’
Me: Is that how you started in theatre? Through the school Shakespeare comp?
Lauie: Yeah, just through school. I’d had a bad year of injuries one year with rugby cos I kinda went to Wesley to play rugby, then I had one bad year of injuries and I just happened to walk into drama class one day and just stayed there. Just …. cos it was fun and I didn’t want to go to Science (laughs) and yeah, just found that I was naturally talented in that area so I’ve just stuck with it ever since. The Black Friars it’s always been a fun group aye and yeah, we just like clowning around with each other and making jokes. It was never anything serious like a serious job or whatever it was just for fun but we just loved doing it.
I was teacher aiding when I left school just to give something back and help out with Michelle and stuff and the drama department there. I mean me and my year were the first drama class at Wesley College so we kind of started it and I wanted to keep it going. So yeah, thats why I pretty much stayed there and helped out and yeah, it was good. I think I was there for like 3 years just helping out with productions and stuff.
Me: Is The Black Friars Theatre Company the only one you act in?
Lauie: Yeah, it is at the moment. I did one year where I toured in a kids show with Duffy Books – the Duffy Theatre Foundation. That was my first gig away outside of the Black Friars. It was theatre in schools. So we took around a one hour show all over New Zealand to Decile 1 and low decile schools – you know schools that can’t afford to provide books for the kids. The low decile schools are in the Duffy programme and we’d just take the show into those schools promoting books and reading. We were split up in to 2 teams. North Island and South Island and yeah for one year we just toured and performed at pretty much every school – it was mean we had so much fun man.
Me: Does it pay well?
Lauie: Yeeeeeeeeeah, nah aye? (laughs) thats why I kind of had to get a day job. You still need your day job aye? Not much money in theatre work. I mean it’s good now and then but it’s not stable. It’s only when you get the gigs and thats hardly ever. I found that as we got older it was harder to keep the group together and thats when our shows started to get more spread out. It was hard to get everyone together cos everyone started having babies and getting married and stuff. Right now we just try to put a show together when we can get everyone available.
We try to put together at least one classic a year, like a classic Greek piece or Shakespeare …. so this would be our one classic/Shakespeare for the year – the Merchant of Venice.
Me: Have the Black Friars taken their shows internationally or have they stayed doing shows here in NZ domestically?
Lauie: Ummmm I did a solo show a couple years ago for Michelles post grad paper at Auckland uni. So I did that show here at Auckland uni and then I was wanted by an English conference in Samoa so thats pretty much the only international show I’ve done. I took my solo piece over to Samoa and performed it at the Samoa Uni. It was mean! It was a bit mixed up with how the Samoan audience would receive the show I took over there cos it addressed heaps of issues within the Pacific Island communities so I was a bit wary of that but it turned out well. Everyone accepted the show, everyone loved it and yeah, it was mean. It was just during a conference. They had a conference there for English and literature in schools and I was kind of like the half time entertainment I guess. It was pretty nerve-wracking and you could tell too – I was just in pools of sweat (laughs)
One year, Billy and I actually got selected out of the whole of New Zealand – it was in our 7th form year – they choose the top 24 in Shakespeareans in schools so me and Billy got selected to go to London and perform at the Globe Theatre as part of the NZ young Shakespeare company but unfortunately due to money terms I couldn’t go cos we had to fund our own trip but Billy went. It was pretty cool cos we were the first Pacific Islanders to have been selected for it.
Me: So is the core group of guys still in the Black Friars?
Lauie: Yup the core group is myself, Billy Revell, Michelle and our other mate Misipeli Tofilau – he’s our musical guy. He’s been my best friend since we were at school. We’re the core group but we’ve got heaps of honourary Black Friars members like Olive, and other girls that I actually taught at Wesley
Me: Of the Shakespeare productions you’ve done, what would be your favourite?
Lauie: My favourite? Ummmm I’d have to say Casio. I played Casio in Othello. Yeah, I just found it fun to play cos he was a ladys man. I like playing characters that are far away from my personality (laughs) so yeah, it was fun playing that.
Me: Whats your process when it comes to the script? Do you all write what you’re going to say or do you have script writers?
Lauie: Oh nah Michelle our director chops the script up for us just to cut it down cos we’ve found that with our Pacific Island audiences you can’t really hold them that long you know? (laughs) especially with like Shakespeare pieces that are like 2 – 3 hours long so we cut down to the main points of the play and stuff thats relative to us.
Me: Do you have a manager for like your acting and stuff?
Lauie: Um nah I don’t, it’s kind of been my old drama teacher which is Michelle. She’s kind of managed us as a group until last year I actually signed up with an agent. I’m under Kathryn Rawlings but that was to get TV work. When I was doing Duffy, the actors I was working with kind of pushed me to get an agent – they were like “Hurry up get an agent man, you need an agent – if you wanna get work you need an agent” so I kind of just went along and did that and yeah,
Me: What TV work has come to you being signed with Kathryn Rawlings.
Lauie: Just 2 ads so far. I got a Cadbury ad and an ad with Finish …. holding a spoon up …. and looking lost (laughs) It’s pretty easy work. I’ve been getting heaps of auditions but just these 2 gigs aye? So the agent will find me work and then email or call me up and tell me to be here at this time.
Me: Other than the Merchant do you have any other projects coming up?
Lauie: Um nah apart from the Merchant I’m just doing little auditions through my agent for like TV stuff, ads and even other theatre productions. I’m trying to find a mini series to be part of but the industrys been pretty quiet lately. We all have the dream of hitting Hollywood one day. One of my goals is to land a big role on TV and be able to make it a living rather than having to have a day job. I just wanna quit my day job and do acting full time. You’ve made it when you can quit your day job (laughs)
Me: What advice would you have for people who want to get into acting?
Lauie: Acting? I guess the old cliche really – stick to what you’re doing and don’t worry about what others say. There’ll always be outsiders looking in and judging you. This is what I used to tell my kids at Wesley – Don’t worry about what anyone else is thinking just get in the zone and if you feel happy on stage and thats where you wanna be then thats where you wanna be. Just stick to it and if you think you’re good at it you’ve got it!
Me: Is there anyone in your family you think you got the creative acting buzz from?
Lauie: Oh man I heard my Grandpa was a clown and all the brothers like our grandfathers. I’ve only heard stories though cos I’ve never met them (this is on my Mums side)
Me: Lastly – Inspirations in the acting world?
Lauie: I guess all the Polys that are in the game at the moment like Jay Laga’aia – I went and saw his musical “Wicked” and it’s real cool seeing a Poly brother – especially a Samoan in a Broadway show, so yeah, those kind of guys inspire us – guys like Nathaniel Lees. Seeing Samoans in the matrix! Dwayne Johnson – yeah, all the Polys, all the Polys in the game I really look up to them. Other than those guys it’d probably be Al Pacino.
Me: Favourite Actor?
Lauie: Denzel! (Denzel Washington)
Me: Favourite Movie?
Lauie: Shawshank Redemption and Blood in/Blood Out (laughs)
Me: Favourite Line?
Lauie: Oh man there’s heaps – I can’t think of one right now …… um I like this one line from Django (Jamie Foxx) where he just shoots this guy and he says “I like the way you die boy” (me laaaaughing) Yup I like that – I don’t know why but that just stuck out to me and I was like YEEYAAA! Thats gangsta!
Thanks for sharing!
And an old TVNZ doco on the Black Friars back in 09 here