Brutal Lives drama empowers Pacific communities
(Picture caption: Albert Rounds Heimuli plays the Tala Fekau in Brutal Lives, a Tongan-English bilingual drama web series.)
As a small child growing up in Tonga, web series Brutal Lives star Albert Rounds Heimuli always imagined starring on the big screen.
While fascinated by drama from a young age, it was not until later in life he first became involved in acting.
Although born in Tonga, Albert moved to New Zealand aged 13, and began secondary school at St Paul’s College in Grey Lynn.
“When I was at St Paul’s College there was a drama group and I always wanted to participate but most of my mates were playing rugby, so I played rugby instead,” Albert says.
“In the late 80’s enrolled in various drama groups - one of them was the Auckland Youth Theatre where the Basement Theatre is now.”
Albert eventually stumbled across the Pacific Theatre, where he met Niuean Writer and Director Vela Manusaute.
“We both performed in Auckland University Summer Shakespeare.
“It was possibly the first ever Polynesian version of Romeo and Juliet – I played Montague and Vela, Capulet,” he adds.
With a background in martial arts, Albert became a stuntman working on TV series Hercules and Xena: Warrior Princess and a few other big budget movies filmed in New Zealand.
Several years ago, Vela asked Albert if he would like to be involved in his short film The Messiah.
“Of course, I could not say no, it was his film directorial debut and it was produced by Sandra Kailahi.
“And that was the beginning of a wonderful educational rewarding collaboration.”
Fast forward to 2020, and the collaboration is still going strong, with Albert starring in the six-part web series Brutal Lives – Mo’ui Faingata’a - the first Tongan-English bilingual drama funded by New Zealand On Air as part of its Pasifika and Asian Storytellers initiative.
Directed by Vela and produced by Kingston Productions, which is owned by Sandra, Brutal Lives is a special project for everyone involved.
The series follows former prize-fighter, Soane “The Shark” Valu, who had the world at his feet until he lost it all.
After Soane’s father dies, he reluctantly returns to South Auckland from America to face his estranged sister, the three kids he left behind and break the curse of his ancestor’s shame.
The series features an all-Tongan core cast including Joe Folau (Filthy Rich, Other side of Heaven 2) as Soane Valu alongside Albert as the Tala Fekau; Saane Green (The Commons, Wild Dogs under my Skirt); Sesilia Pusiaki Tatuila (Jonah, Manurewa); Haanz Fa’avae Jackson (Savage, Hibiscus & Ruthless, The Messiah); ‘Aisea Latu (Hearts of Men, Take Home Pay); and Jason Manumu’a (Sons of Blackbird, Enmity).
Being part of Brutal Lives has been the ultimate experience, Albert says.
“It’s the first ever Tongan-English bilingual web series.
“Tongans are a very patriotic lot, as we witnessed not too long ago with rugby and rugby league matches.
“I’m sure we’ll gain a similar following - we need the support so we can get more funding for more series.”
In the background, but never far away is Albert’s greatest fan, his wife Ma’ata, who has been a huge support during this time, he says.
With growing demand for diverse dramas such as Brutal Lives, Albert says he potentially has more work in the pipeline, alongside Tongan actors and creators.
Meanwhile, Sandra says hearing the Tongan language and showing aspects of the Tongan culture in a drama has been empowering and a real joy to create for Pacific communities.
“Having a Tongan core cast was a dream to work with and we are incredibly grateful for the crew and all Polynesian stunt team who helped to bring this story to life.
“We couldn’t have done this without the support from NZ on Air and TikiLounge Productions who have been supportive throughout the entire process.”