Friday, December 8, 2023

Kura Forrester on Māori Language Week, Educators… and *That* One Night Stand in Pizza Hut

Tena koe! Nau mai ki Capsule. Kura Forrester on the importance of Māori language week, her new comedy show and using her love life for joke material.

As we celebrate Te Wiki o te Reo Māori (Māori Language Week) actress/comedian/all-round wonder woman Kura Forrester has just a little dream for the week – that all New Zealanders might just give it a bloody go.

Her dream is that no one will be held back by fear of getting it wrong, that they’ll join the movement and unite with all New Zealanders in learning a bit more about Māoridom and have some fun by using te reo when going about their everyday lives.

 “With any language you’re learning, there’s that fear of getting it wrong that holds you back, but honestly, I’m telling you, don’t worry about it, man!” she says. “If you’re giving it a go and someone is trying to shame you for getting it wrong, then they’re not worth it! Just give it a shot!”

Kura says she can always tell the difference between people who are trying to get their pronunciation correct, but not quite getting there, versus those who are just blatantly not trying – and it’s that disrespect, quite rightly, angers her.

“It’s that blatant not trying and complete disregard that bothers me. I don’t mind at all if someone is working on it and not quite getting it right – we’re all learning, and it’s incredible they’re giving a good shot. I have no problem with that – it’s the people who are in denial that te reo Māori is part of our culture and te reo Māori exists. For me, Māori Language Week is all about awareness. It’s about becoming more aware of where we live and how we live and all that stuff.”

For Kura, growing up she started getting used to other children – and adults – pronouncing her name incorrectly.

“To be honest, like a lot of Māori, I was pretty colonised. I just said, ‘oh it’s fine, don’t worry about it’ when people said it wrong, until I just got used to it and didn’t say anything. So I had to go through quite a personal journey with it to discover my own Māori side and become really proud of that and decolonise my own mind. It’s been a cool journey, because I feel like I wasn’t being true to myself allowing people to just shit on my name.”

While she hopes that we’ll continue to make te reo Māori a part of our lives every week of the year, now is a good time to work it into being a part of all of our lives. “It’s about, how do you greet your friends? How do you ask how they are? Just slip it in! But for so many people, I just want them to get used to the vowel sounds: A [as in aloud], E [as in entry], I [as in eat], O [as in ordinary], U [as in to]. Because once you nail those, you can say anything! You just need to go through the basics, and fun with it! Try ordering your coffee! Try reading a kid’s book! Just bloody have some fun with it!”

Kura, who won last year’s coveted Billy T James Award – making her the first Māori to win since 2004 – has had a surprisingly busy time of late.

Next up she returns for a second season of TVNZ’s Educators – an unscripted comedy series that follows the hopelessly and hilariously inept people in charge of educating the next generation. It’s comedy gold and the perfect antidote to miserable old 2020.

Johnny Brugh, Jackie van Beek and Kura Forrester in Educators /TVNZ

She’s also on kiwi favourite, Shortland Street, playing dramatic Desdemona, and recently got some wonderful news. “I feel so lucky to be working on the show – I’ve been there nearly a year and I just signed on for another whole year!”

Kura says she’s been thrilled to still be able to keep working in the last few months during the Covid crisis, thanks to the measures put in place, including actors doing their own make-up.

“It’s absolutely been one of my favourite jobs,” she says. “I think I kind of lucked in with my character – I play Chris Warner’s PA and I play the classic comedic relief kind of character, where I just stir the pot, I’m in everyone’s business, and I’ve got loads of issues I won’t address – it’s been an absolute blast! And I love being on a soap opera – it’s quite big, it’s always like: ‘he’s in a COMA!’ and I love that stuff. I love the drama of it.”

While she’s had plenty on her plate with her acting work, the mayhem of 2020 has meant that like all comedians in NZ, she hasn’t put on a stand-up show this year, but she’s enjoying where she is right now. And how do you top winning a Billy T Award?

“Yep, that was such a huge moment for me – I’ve still got the towel which you win hanging up on my wall – I’m so proud of it!” she says. “It really solidified a lot of effort for me in terms of like, ‘oh, I am a good comedian and I can do stand-up’. I think I’d always secretly known that, but once I won that Billy T, I was like, ‘oh shit! I can do this!’ And I was bloody proud of that show too.”

Her show ‘Kura Woulda Shoulda’ was downright hilarious – covering so much ground including her family and her own dating life. Among her finest moments was talking about failed dates…“I’ve always had men on the horizon, I just can’t keep them on the land,” she said. “It’s like, they come over to me, they have a good time and then they bugger off. I’m like Denarau in Fiji. I just love to see red flags and ignore them.”

She goes on to list a hilarious list of guys she’d dated – check it out here (enjoy ‘nipple tape guy’).

Mining her personal life can be a little challenging at time – but she was thankful she had one of her best friends working on the project as director. “Jess Joy Wood is one of my best friends and it was so good to have someone to bounce things off. She’s often say to me, ‘okay, I think this is a bit mean’ or ‘it sounds like you’re just airing your shit now’. My rule is if you’re having fun on stage and you’re feeling happy and safe then your audience will too.”

And, if enough time has passed, most stories are funny enough to be told. Which is why she decided to talk about her one-night stand many moons ago with Sonny Bill Williams – which took place in a staff room of a closed Pizza Hut.

“It’s a true story and enough time had passed that I should be able to talk about it and it just be a crack up. No harm is being done and man, it’s funny.”

Educators premieres on TVNZ OnDemand on September 30.

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