Rob Kipa-Williams, who stars in the Aussie soap opera Home and Away, is the first Māori actor to be named a finalist in the UK's Inside Soap Awards.
The Inside Soap Awards is an annual award ceremony run by Inside Soap magazine since 1996 celebrating British and Australian soap operas and their actors.
Kipa-Williams, of Ngāti Maru and Ngāti Raukawa, has been part of Home and Away for just over a year and is a finalist for the Best Daytime Star award for the character he plays, Ariki Parata.
"Our show plays during the day over there hence Daytime Star," he says.
People can vote for Kipa-Williams by clicking 'here'.
Kipa-Williams says it's rare for a new character like Ariki to be embraced by the fans so quickly especially since the show has only been aired in the UK for seven months.
He says the whānau bond created among Ariki and other characters in his family on the show has contributed to his character being well-received overseas.
“We’re bringing a part of our culture to the screen and I think that’s new and it’s refreshing for UK audiences.”
The Parata family are Home and Away’s first Māori whānau, made up of Ariki Parata played by Kipa-Williams, Gemma Parata, played by Bree Peters; Nikau Parata, played by Kawakawa Fox; and Tane Parata, played by Ethan Browne.
“I don’t think [viewers have] ever seen something like this before and they get a sense of family brought to the screen by Bree, Ethan and Kawakawa, and they’re seeing that through the lens of a Māori whānau and how you can bring a sense of whānau and love even at the hardest of times.”
Culture and authenticity on Home and Away
Kipa-Williams says they work with the writers to ensure the sentiment of Māori culture is authentic. They also have the support of Stacey Morrison as their Māori adviser.
“When we first had our first meeting about how we were going to be in the show and Bree actually posed the question ‘How Māori are we?’ because you’ve ordered Māori, not brown people playing Aussies, so I think that’s a really important turning point before we started filming that we opened the door to authentic opportunities.”
Kipa-Williams says all the characters who come into the Parata house take their shoes off.
“People might not know on screen but it’s something important to us to respect our tikanga and they all do it.”
He says the Parata whānau were the first to put down and serve up the first hāngi on the show.
“Our two characters on screen performed the first mihi whakatau. We blessed food via song in te reo and we performed the first Māori haka on Australian TV and probably on UK screens so I guess we felt very privileged to do this and the same time a little bit nervous because we know that home is always watching.”
Kipa-Williams’ first official acting job was on a television show called Korero Mai. It was 40 percent Māori and 60 percent English to help people learn the Māori language.
He has also been on screen in roles on Shortland Street, Nothing Trivial, Consent: The Louise Nicholas Story which led to him being cast for his most well-known role, Zac, on hit series 800 Words. In early 2018 he was contacted about a new role on Home and Away.
He says acting on Home and Away has helped him "hone his craft".
“I can definitely say I can learn lines a lot faster than I used to. Home and Away is super-fast."
He says the turnaround on the show is so fast that it has allowed him to act out every possible human acting scenario that would ever exist.
“From acts of bravery to having no money, to living in a car, out of your car, to being injured, to fighting students, dealing with death in the storyline, dealing with morals and values, love romance. You name it, we act it out on this show.”
As well as acting fulltime, Kipa-Williams is an entrepreneur and has built an emotional awareness app called Feel.
“It operates with three core ideals, connect, share and support. Feel encourages you to connect to your friends, share how you feel with the people you trust, he says.
“It notifies you in real-time how your friends are feeling regardless of where they are in the world and it provides you an opportunity and them an opportunity to reach out and support and for them or you to return the favour.”
He says he was inspired to create the app after experiencing his own challenges related to mental health.
"I’ve been through my own highs and lows and I’ve come out the other side," he says.
“I think the feel app and further versions of it will give people access to these types of methodologies that I’ve learned to help me gain back my personal strength and access to self-love, which is really important, and something that I think Māori men don’t talk about that often.”
Kipa-Williams is also working in collaboration with Le Va, the Polynesian arm of the Pacific suicide prevention in New Zealand to create “something unique” to be released in early-2021, he says.
The winners of the Inside Soap Awards will be announced at a virtual ceremony on Monday, November 16. Some of the current soap operas nominated for awards include Casualty, Coronation Street, Doctors, East Enders, Emmerdale, Holby City, Hollyoaks and Neighbours. Other award categories include Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Soap and Best Drama Star.