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Robbie Magasiva's acting bromance

There’s nothing staged about the friendship between actor Robbie Magasiva and playwright Victor Rodger.

By Laura Weaser
When actor Robbie Magasiva met playwright Victor Rodger, the moment can only be described as professional love at first sight. Now, nearly 20 years later, it’s personal as well.
“We’re lovers!” Victor jokes, sending his good friend into a fit of high-pitched chuckles.
While there’s no doubt the Christchurch-born playwright and Wentworth star Robbie bicker and tease each other like an old married couple, their relationship is more of a “bromance” – as well as being a long-standing professional union that’s spanned nearly two decades and three acclaimed theatre productions.
Ironically, however, when the pair first met, Robbie believed Victor was trying to make a play for him. It was in 1998 at Wellington’s Circa Theatre, where Robbie was starring as a “piece of meat” in Heretic, alongside Shortland Street’s Jennifer Ludlam.
“I came on in the second half, took my top off, had sex with Jennifer and that was it. Victor saw the play and left me a note saying, ‘I’m a writer. Here’s my number; give me a call.’ I thought he was trying to pick me up!” laughs Robbie (42).
“I thought, ‘Should I call this guy?’ Lucky he didn’t say ‘director’ or I’d have said, ‘Nah.’”
“I don’t want to give him a big head,” says Victor (45), “but I do remember thinking he had something. In that little role, he was charismatic and I knew he’d be good for a part in the play I was writing.”
Actor Robbie Magasiva with playwright Victor Rodger.
That play was Sons, Victor’s debut; a semi-autobiographical tale of a half-Samoan man visiting his dying father, in which Robbie ended up in the role of Victor’s half-brother. The play was an award-winning hit.
It was lucky that Robbie took a punt on this then-relatively unknown Toi Whakaari: New Zealand Drama School graduate, as they’ve since gone on to work together three more times, to critical acclaim, with Ranterstantrum in 2002, My Name is Gary Cooper in 2007 and now At the Wake.
Between his on-screen roles and ongoing commitment to Australian TV series Wentworth for the past three years, Robbie has barely had time to catch his breath, let alone return to the stage, but he always makes an exception for Victor.
“I love his writing,” Robbie explains. “I tell him he’s like my songwriter, because everything he writes I’m in tune with.”
Describing Robbie as his “man muse”, Victor admits the former Shortland Street star is the first person he’s thought he could write for, “because I know he will deliver – as long as he turns up and learns his lines!”
When Robbie and playwright Victor team up, magic – and critical acclaim – are bound to ensue.
It’s this kind of good-natured ribbing that defines their relationship and is evident during our Weekly photoshoot. Although both are unable to sit still or be serious for more than five minutes, there are also moments of candid affection and sincerity that is telling of their friendship.
“Professionally, Victor has helped me go to places I’ve never been to before with my acting,” Robbie reflects. “He knows me, and if he doesn’t agree with something I’m doing, he’ll tell me. He’s my brother when it comes to things like that and I’d do anything for that guy. We’re family.”
“I have always admired the talent and liked the man,” Victor adds. “I’m sure there are whispers of, ‘Oh, Victor is gay and loves Robbie,’ but that reduces our relationship.
“I’ve always responded to his talents – and anyway, he’s not that good-looking,” Victor adds, throwing a look Robbie’s way.
But it’s no secret Robbie’s good looks and charm have been front and centre of some of his major screen roles, such as stripper Adam in Kiwi series The Strip and womaniser Michael in Sione’s Wedding. However, Robbie is more than happy to leave the beefcake image to his younger brother Pua, who plays Vinnie Kruse in Shortland Street.
“I’m passing the torch – that’s his role now,” he laughs.
Robbie and Victor having a laugh.
With only wisps of grey coming through Robbie’s beard, there are few signs of ageing.
It’s not that he couldn’t play the heart-throb any more – it’s that he’s relishing the opportunity of taking on acting challenges beyond showing his six-pack.
“When I hit 40, the roles changed for me – in a good way,” Robbie admits.
“That’s the great thing about being a male actor, you know? For women in this crazy industry, they get a rough deal as they age. I prefer to be the old guy now. Me and Kirk Torrance [Wayne Judd from Outrageous Fortune], man, we’re taking over the world!”
Robbie’s first challenge came with Wentworth, when he took on the complex character of corrections officer Will Jackson – something he calls a “dream come true”. Once again, his acting skills are being put to the test with At the Wake, in which Robbie plays Tofi, the lead character’s estranged Samoan father.
Despite raising two teens, Austin (17) and Sophie (14) in real life, Robbie admits this screen foray into fatherhood has been a new experience for him, as his laid-back, young-at-heart parenting style differs greatly from Tofi’s more traditional approach.
“It’s unknown territory for me. To be honest, I may be 42 but I am so immature,” laughs Robbie. “Hey, I’ve got two kids; I’m allowed!”

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