Everyone's favourite TV mum, Suzy Cato, tears up when she reflects upon the joy-filled experience of being part of Red, White and Brass, a local film blowing into cinemas on March 23.
"The film's crew had already been together for months by the time I arrived on set, but immediately they made me feel like part of the family," recalls Suzy. "The main difficulty for me was not crying because when I'd envisage all my cherubs coming onto the grounds at the end of the film... Ooh, I'm going to cry now – good grief, talk about method acting, but I get so emotional just thinking about it."
This endearing underdog tale is based on a remarkable true story about a community of Tongan rugby fans who form a brass band in the hope of providing the pre-match entertainment ahead of the sold-out 2011 Rugby World Cup Tonga vs France game – in spite of none of the wannabe members having any brass-instrument experience.
From the producers of cinematic classics The Breaker Upperers and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Red White and Brass sees Suzy play Liz, a music teacher who finds herself training this passionate group of super-fans as they strive to become a fully-fledged band, with just weeks to pull it off.
It wasn't just the characters rising to an enormous challenge either. "I've not really done much acting, aside from telling stories as Mrs Wobble in You and Me," Suzy admits. "But lucky for me, the character of Liz is absolutely quintessential Suzy as I am on TV. A wonderful, warm person who's incredibly supportive of her young players."
In spite of Suzy having little acting experience or much formal musical training, the film's producers knew she'd be perfect for the role.
"It all starts when a student wanders into my music room, telling me he and some of his friends want to join the brass band," explains Suzy. "I'm excited because, as I say in the movie, the brass instrument is a bit of a dying art, and I watch in awe as, one by one, these gorgeous teens file in behind him. Then he says, 'Oh, my dad wants to come too,' which I interpret as his father wanting to support his son. But no, the dad wants to learn to play and my jaw drops even further when several adults join the band."
Red, White and Brass beautifully illustrates the enormous enthusiasm – an energy known as māfana – that Tongan people put into all aspects of life, including support for their sports teams, because many take fan fervour to new heights by decorating their houses, cars and faces with the Tongan flag.
This made Suzy the perfect fit for this feel-good film, because Kiwis are as enamoured of her as some Tongans are with sport. It's also handy that Suzy's fanbase spans generations, thanks to her three-decade (and counting) career as a much-loved entertainer and educator, creating programmes for preschoolers like You and Me and Suzy's World. Not to mention that time she cha-cha-ed her way into our hearts on Dancing With the Stars in 2018.
It's astonishing Suzy found time to add film star to her CV because this busy entertainer is also a podcaster and author.
Plus, she just farewelled daughter Morgan, 18, on her OE, which included Suzy zipping to Singapore, leaving husband Steve and her home with son Riley, 15.
"I've also got some new songs coming out, including a collab on Levity Beet's new album, and a disco track called I Am Unicorn with Jenny Joy. When we sung it at Aum Festival last new year, we had a whole marquee doing a conga line to it!"
Suzy's to-do list also sees her curating The NZ Children's Music Awards in May, after which she'll launch a new book through Scholastic in June, as well as making time for her shows, library and school appearances.
"I also do all my own social media and publicity, and I keep my YouTube channel up-to-date, doing things like reading bedtime stories a couple of times a week," she shares. "My monthly Bub's Club at Auckland's Shore City is also growing and growing."
Happily, Suzy thrives on being busy, but you can't help but wonder how she does it. Well, the answer is simple.
"I'm very fortunate to have Steve, my fantastic husband, who does my camera and sound, and he often works with me on gigs too.
"But now that I'm 55, I'm becoming wiser and wary of running myself into the ground, which means I'm looking to build more of a team, so I can not only smell the roses, but I can also watch them grow."
Hopefully, Suzy will also find time to enjoy the inevitable accolades she'll earn for her star turn in Red, White and Brass. Hold there, please caller, I think that's Hollywood on the blower!
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