Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

A Whale of a Time

Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

A Whale of a Time

Article excerpt

It's a cinematic rarity - a film that took longer to cast than to actually film.

The movie in question is Whale Rider and when you see it you will appreciate why the need to get the casting absolutely right - especially the lead role - was of paramount importance.

The central character is an 11-year-old girl and her part in the film, already an award winner across the world, was always going to make or break it, in terms of its commercial shelf-life.

As casting director Diana Rowan points out: "We had to get the casting, of Pai, absolutely right. And we knew it was going to be difficult.

"To find a young actress who was both inexperienced yet highly talented was, in some ways, like trying to find a needle in a haystack."

Boy, did the makers of Whale Rider look through some haystacks... over a period of several months, Diana Rowan and her team trawled the schools of New Zealand looking for the right actress.

They saw a staggering 10,000 girls before finally plumping for Keisha Castle-Hughes, a stunningly beautiful and highly talented 11-year-old (she's now 13) who dominates the screen during the 101 minutes of the movie.

Her character's story is at the heart of the picture, as Witi Ihimaera, from whose novel of the same name the film has been adapted, explains: "It's about a female hero, in a world where there are so many male heroes.

"I'd taken my daughters to see a number of action movies and they asked me why it was always a boy rather than a girl who was the hero, with the girl left as useless and helpless.

"That was my spark - that was the point at which I decided to write a novel in which the girl is the central, heroic character and I finished Whale Rider in three weeks."

A further inspiration for Ihimaera was an experience he encountered in 1985, while living in a flat overlooking The Hudson River in New York.

A river not known for its examples of outstanding natural expression (disgraced Mafia men in concrete overcoats are more its thing), Ihimaera looked from his home to see a whale spouting as it swam upriver.

"It was an extraordinary sight and made me start thinking about Whangara, my home town in New Zealand, and the whale mythology that exists in that area. …

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