Wonderful Auckland-born actress Rachel House first made an impact on the big screen in timeless New Zealand film Whale Rider (2002). This was followed by an array of variable roles up to the recently revered Hunt of the Wilderpeople (2016). Somewhere in between, Walt Disney called and saw Rachel sing to perfection while giving a hilarious edge to Gramma Tala in Oscar-nominated Moana. Now available on Disney Home DVD/Blu-ray, I had a fun chat to her about her experience.
Being a proud Kiwi, are you a Rugby Union or Rugby League fan? Do you follow the Warriors in the NRL?
RH – In hope of not letting down an entire nation here, I don’t follow any sporting team but really admire and respect people who do.
Sometimes it is a little hard to mix art with sport.
RH – Yes, however there are so many cross overs.
How fantastic is it – you’re part of an Oscar nominated film!
RH – Couldn’t be more pleased, it’s thrilling as it’s been such a long process for everyone involved and proud our culture is celebrated like that.
Are voice casting auditions different to acting call-ups and how did you get the role?
RH – Yes they are different as I did all sorts of crazy difficult things as I was voice recording it in order to feel the character. I did audition although people thought because (celebrated director Taika Waititi) was involved, I got straight in but that is absolutely not true. We had Disney auditions twice with a whole lot of other people, so exciting.
I couldn’t imagine anyone else in the role but did your singing voice get you over the line?
RH – It’s a beautiful soundtrack, I don’t see myself as a singer though did train to be an opera singer in my early teens. My mother wanted me to be the next soprano and after studying opera for a 18 months, it wasn’t going to happen. My late teens, I hung out with a band doing back-up vocals but that’s really about it (laughs). So when we were recording the Moana songs, I was secretly a bit of a nervous-wreck but loved every second of it too.
What do you like best about playing Gramma Tala?
RH – Her comedy wryness sense of humour. It relates and captures the tone of our elderly population. Also a very well drawn character.
Did you bring much of your own personality to her?
RH – Totally. Years of being around elderly women is liberating so I brought that experience and the fact she could say what she thinks.
It’s great to see the Polynesian story is told so well, it must have been important to you in the process?
RH – Absolutely important. Knowing Taika was on board very early made me feel secure the story would be told well but had no idea how extensive the research was. The filmmakers were travelling around the globe talking to people listening to stories and traditional tales. It made perfect sense, it was so extensive when reading the material before recording. They captured how we used to be to perfection. Many of us are looking to nature to guide us and central to how we used to be and making a comeback, I hope.
Moana is such a strong female role-model, I love that part of the film. You’re an established actress and strong-willed woman – you seem a lovely person. It must mean a lot that Disney have another great female protagonist as the centre role?
RH – Wow, what a question Shane, it means everything to me. I do think still, generally speaking, women aren’t taught not to be brave or not to fear failure that young girls often don’t get that message in quite the same way. Look at Rugby or Rugby League dominating this country – guys are falling down getting back up. It’s instinct to the game, with that goes the culture of not fearing failure, wanting to win but not fearing it. I do believe there is a bit of different conditioning between boys and girls and I love that Moana goes out with every chance she will fail but perseveres anyway, it’s wonderful.
You’re part of the Disney family now. Tell me what kind of a person is John Lasseter?
RH – So cool, he’s fun. Because I live in New Zealand not knowing lots about the big studios just seeing the final product, I actually watched a documentary about him and his family so when we met, I asked his wife has their son got all the toys and things. She laughed but the son is now 19 so it was obviously an old doco. See how behind I am (laughs). He is just a warm fun guy, immediately makes you feel relaxed. At the LA premiere, I said to him, isn’t this nuts. He looked at me, exclaimed with a big smile, yes but isn’t it a wonderful kind of nuts. He was the one that told our Moana directors you have to go deep with this story to tell it right making connections.
Are you signed up for a sequel (is there a sequel)?
RH – Gosh I don’t know, even though I read there was a sequel. Gramma may not be around anyway (laughs), you never know, she may make a comeback.
Were you given any memento or Disney item from your time on set?
RH – (gushing) Oh i was given a framed pencil drawing of one of the early artists, it’s so beautiful now hanging in my room. Also given a very loud John Lasseter style Hawaiian shirt with all the characters of the film.
Well thank you Rachel, you’re lovely. Finally, because Taika is doing ‘Thor Rangarook’, will we see you in a cameo?
RH – Yes I can announce that now but not allowed to tell you my role. I know that sucks cause I would trust you with it, but can’t (laughs).
MOANA (Rated PG – 107 min): Available now DVD & Blu-ray on Disney Home Entertainment.
Shane A. BassettSydney Unleashed is one of Australia’s premier entertainment publications exploring the latest in lifestyle trends. From Sydney’s finest restaurants, cafes and bars to the hottest in gadgets, products, and home entertainment, Sydney Unleashed is your one-stop lifestyle platform.