Riveting and fascinating, Rena Owen is an instinctive performer with the strikingly captivating essence to keep us desiring more. Her visually stimulating performance as Beth Heke in “Once Were Warriors”, a box office hit in New Zealand got the world’s attention and she went on to win numerous accolades! Her triumphs as an actress also included winning Best Supporting actress in the recurring role of Hine Ryan in the New Zealand soap opera “Shortland Street”. I’m blessed to be able to do this interview with Rena who is a bonafide star and she’s about to dazzle this year’s LA Film Fest, appearing in the “The Well”.
Here’s Rena revealing more about her work on “The Well”, how she’s humbled by the successes of her accomplished career and much more:
1. Hi Rena. Can you tell us more about your role in “The Well”?
I play a cameo role in The Well. It is a small but very pivotal role called; Claire. She is a vagabond who travels with two friends in search of food & water. So no make up in this role! Far from glamorous, we were intentionally dirtied up and our ill-fitting costumes were ripped up! A real homeless look that was suitable for the role and the film entire.
2. “The Well” is a post-apocalyptic thriller with elements of horror but what is the genre that you adore working on most?
As an actor I am known for my dramatic and emotional depth, but I can’t say I have one favorite. I like to be versatile and do Drama, SciFi, Horror & Comedies in Theater, Television & Film. Though yes, I continue to mostly be cast in dramatic roles!
3. Being a Kiwi, how is filming on a US production different as compared to one in New Zealand?
When I first came to the USA, the biggest difference was in the budget. But since the economic crash and our union’s approval of low budgets & modified low-budget contracts, there is not much difference in the filmmaking process. It is also the reason why you are now seeing a lot of Oscars winners and nominees doing TV series as it is one of the few mediums that remains lucrative.
4. Your stirring performance in “Once Were Warriors” gained international acclaim. At that time, how did you deal with the fame?
Initially, I did not cope very well with it at all as nothing in my life to that date had prepared me to be thrust into the public lime light. I remember saying to my mother at the end of the first year that I either needed to learn new skills to cope with being in the public eye, or I had to get out of the industry. You can’t blame people for wanting to talk to you, etc, and given I love what I do, I learnt new public life skills!
5. Tell us a little about your life in New Zealand before your move to the bright lights of Hollywood.
On the personal front, I come from a very close-knit large family and have had the same life-long friends. Career wise, I mostly worked in the theater before Once Were Warriors came out. Then I travelled the world with the film for about 2 years to film festivals and on international press junkets. Following that I returned to the theater, I also did a couple of other NZ films, then went to Australia to do a TV series called Medivac and a film called, Dance Me To My Song. During the late 1990s, I was also privileged to be invited to be on the Jury of multiple international film festivals. After I finished shooting Star Wars Ep. 11 in Sydney, Australia in August 2000, I came back to settle in LA.
6. You have been compared to fine talents such as Bette Davis and Jeanne Moreau. What goes through your mind knowing you are held in such high regard?
I grew up being a big fan of both of these actresses, and the other amazing actress I was compared to in Italy, was Anna Magnani!
Tremendously humbled and honored by such amazing accolades!
7. Film Festivals are essentially now highly anticipated events around the world. What has been your best experience so far?
I had so many amazing international film festival moments, but 1994 will always remain a highlight as along with Once Were Warriors, some of the other hit films that year were Quentin Taratino’s Pulp Fiction, Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen, Stephan Elliott’s Priscilla Queen of the Desert & Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures, and we all got to hang out at various film festivals around the world! Another highlight was being in Rolf De Heer’s Dance Me To My Song. In 1998, the film was in competition at the Cannes Film Festival. That is an amazing red carpet to walk down and the film got a standing ovation. I also had the privilege of walking that red carpet with Sam Neil for the Cannes closing night & Awards ceremony in 1995.
8. Having had an accomplished career, do you have any interesting and/or funny stories to share?
Way, way, way too many! You’ll have to wait until I write da book!
9. Can you give us a tease of your future projects?
I’m attached to a few films in the USA & New Zealand but I never like to get too specific until they become a definite reality! I’m also hoping to do more theater work in LA.
10. Lastly, what do you think best represents being an entertainer? Is it distinctive beauty, the talent to stir hearts or the ability to connect with audiences?
In my humble opinion, I think it is a combination of all of the above. Bottom line for me; to entertain is to give of yourself to your audience, be that to one person or to a million, and to do it to the very best of your ability!
Thank you Rena!