An Interview with Rickylee Russell-Waipuka
Riding the Te Rehia surf of 80’s nostalgia into Auckland comes the brilliant Rickylee Russell-Waipuka…
Hello Rickylee, so where are you from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
Kia Ora, ko Ngati Kahungunu me Ngati Raukawa ōku iwi. I’m from the Wairarapa, but I’ve lived in the North Shore of Auckland for the majority of my life.
When did you first realise you were, well, theatrical?
I don’t think I realised I was ‘theatrical’ until I was in College. But as early as 3 years old, I would get my family and friends to sit down and watch me perform in the lounge, at parks, at kohanga and school, anywhere I could make a stage! It mellowed out when I got a bit older because it wasn’t as accepted or cool to do that. However that’s when I 100% realised it was an actual thing, to be a performer and I was pretty good at it, naturally.
What for you makes a good piece of theatre?
Personally, pieces that make me laugh and/or something that I can connect to on a personal level with a powerful message. If a show doesn’t make feel something I won’t remember it.
You’ve been on TV quite a bit in recent years – Waka Warriors & This Is Piki spring to mind. How did you find the experiences?
Waka Warriors was honestly a life changing experience for me. I was completely pulled into a whole other world that I didn’t even know existed! The highly valuable knowledge and skills I learnt doing Waka Warriors I hold very close to my heart. I’m so honoured and feel privileged to have met everyone on that show, many I consider whānau (family) now. This Is Piki came about through the connections I had made during Waka Warriors. Again the cast from that show I consider my brothers and sisters now too. This Is Piki was so much fun making. The last minute changes to the scripts (in terms of languages) kept us on our toes, that’s for sure! We always made it work though, that’s how pro we all were hahaha! We were all very disappointed when we didn’t get a second season we would been back in a heart beat.
Can you tell us about I Am Paradise?
I Am Paradise follows a struggling, young, Māori mother of two with one on the way and her journey having to raise two kids on her own, pregnant, while her partner is incarcerated. This is the first main role that I have landed, it was also very different from the characters I have played in the past. Playing this character made me dig a lot deeper as this character had a lot more weight to her it and her story. I also wanted to represent her well for all of the women who do live the life of a Paradise.
You’ve just been on a massive tour of Canada – what were you doing there & how do you find the Canadians, & how did they find you?
I was on tour with a musician, performing at music festivals all over Canada. Some minor back up vocals but mainly dance, Māori movements fused with contemporary dance. As well as running haka workshops for women. I mainly spent time with First Nations people, LOVED them! I have a friend that I made over there visiting New Zealand right now actually.
You’ve got three famous people from history coming round for dinner. Who would they be & what would you cook; starters, mains & dessert?
Beyoncé, Jessica Alba & Bob Marley – Curry puffs, Stir fry(because I know I’m good at it) and banoffee pie because it’s a favourite.
You are part of a play that will be performed at this year’s Auckland Arts Festival. Can you tell us about it?
Astroman is set in the 80s, the play follows a Māori whanau (family) settling into a new town. The main character is a kid genius who gets bored easily because he’s not challenged enough and gets into trouble, everyone in his life only ever notices how naughty he is. He finally meets a Mr Miyagi type figure at local arcade who helps to set him on the right path.
How are you finding playing the role of Natalie?
Natalie’s relationship with her mother is actually very similar to my own relationship with my mum. Especially with being the eldest and taking responsibility of the younger siblings. So that has been very helpful when beginning to find Natalie. She also has a similar relationship with her brothers that the younger me had with my younger brother. So naturally I have drawn on a few of my own experiences to help shape Natalie. Natalie is quite hard work, she can be very light and playful but also holds a lot of depth to her at the same time.
You’ve got 20 seconds to sell the show to somebody in the street, what would you say?
For some of you, come and relive one of the best eras of all time and for others come check out what your parents/grandparents got up to in…. the 80s! Break dancing, bopping, Donkey Kong, Pac Man, Defender, awesome music and lots of LOLs, what more could you want! Come be a part of it.
What will you be doing for the rest of 2019?
Doing what I can to make this world a nicer place to be alive in and whatever else that makes me happy.