New film Punch pulls in heavyweight talent to NZ silver screen

By Stefan Dimitrof

One of New Zealand’s up-and-coming actors is making waves in his first feature film, which is released in cinemas today.

Punch explores themes of love, loyalty and liberation and received its world premiere at the Whānau Mārama New Zealand International Film Festival 2022 recently.

Conan Hayes (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Tautahi, Ngāti Ueoneone), plays Whetu, a tough gay teen who forces his friend, a small-town boxing hero, to confront the truth about his sexuality.

Hayes says the film is about a boxer named Jim, played by Jordan Oosterhof, working up to a big fight and follows him for the six-week work up to the event.

Jim's trainer and father, played by Tim Roth, is an alcoholic who has a conflicted relationship with his son, who is also growing closer to Whetu Tipene, a takatāpui rangatahi played by Hayes.

Hayes says he felt "starstruck" on first meeting Tim Roth who has starred in huge Hollywood films such as Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, The Hateful Eight and, more recently, Marvel Studios' She-Hulk.

“The second I met him, he was just like a mate, very chill, very banterful, made me feel really comfortable on set, full of jokes. Yeah, it was a great time.”

Hayes has received a lot of positive feedback for his performance from whānau and friends and says the character is resonating with the community. “That’s my main drive being a storyteller and an actor, to make people be seen and heard.”