Real Life

Child stars’ family shock

These young actors play twins in a new Kiwi film but share a spooky real-life bond.

With lots of uncanny similarities evident from the moment they met, talented young actors Hato Paparoaand Melanie oayall-Nahi slowly but surely developed a bond whenthey were paired up to play twins in new Kiwi movie The Strength of Water.

When Melanie’s nana began digging into family history that Hato (13), who lives in Hokianga, and Melanie (12), who lives in Kaipara, found out they were actually cousins. Until they were brought together by The Strength of Water, a film about 10-year-old twins whose close-knit Maori community is struck by tragedy, they each had no idea the other existed.

For Hato, the fact he is even alive today- able to spend time with his newly discovered cousin while starrring in a movie – is something his family once thought impossible.At just five years old, he was diagnosed with fourth-stage Hodgkin’s disease and was given less than a year to live. His parents dropped everything to move to Auckland, where, at Starship Children’s Hospital, Hato received chemotherapy and blood transplants. Amazingly, after a two-year battle, Hato was told he was in remission and could finally return home. As well as promoting his new movie, he is now also raising awareness of CanTeen, a charity for young cancer sufferers. “I want to give back to CanTeen because they helped me and my family when I was sick,” he says.

Luck seems to have been on both Hato and Melanie’s sides for much of their journey from unknown kids to movie stars. The casting director spotted Hato running along a West Coast beach and director Armagan Ballantyne knew she had the right actor as soon as she met him. “He looked straight into my eyes and I thought, ‘Wow, this guy’s got real presence.’ He did the fi rst acting exercise and he was so brilliant, my heart was pounding. I was like, ‘We’ve found him! We have to find his twin now.'”

The first-time director and her casting crew looked everywhere, eventually spotting Melanie at a Maori festival. “I tapped her on the shoulder and asked her if she’d like to audition for a film. She was totally brave. It was wonderful.”

“I thought she was joking,” says Melanie. Apart from the physical similarities that made them perfect as twins, Hato and Melanie’s shared passions include food and wicked practical jokes. “one day on set we had a big plate of dessert,” says Armagan. “Hato told me to have some of this caramel sauce, so I poured it all over my pudding and I could see him looking at me and laughing. Then Melanie started laughing too and I realised it was gravy.”

The mischievous pair also share some personal qualities with their onscreen characters, Kimi and oelody. “Kimi isn’t that different to me because he loves food,” says Hato. “And he’s also an adventurous person.” Melanie says she is more reserved than her stroppy alter ego, but she still admires her. “oelody is cool because she stands up for herself,” she says. “She doesn’t care what anyone else thinks.”

Since filming the movie, the young actors have shared many experiences, including travelling to Germany when The Strength of Water, written by Briar Grace-Smith, was shown at the Berlin Film Festival. And now with the film about to open in New Zealand cinemas, the two are getting used to seeing themselves on the big screen.

They admit it has been a bit strange. “We had to see it a couple of times because the fi rst time, we were talking and going, ‘ooh, remember that!'” says Melanie with a grin. Hato agrees with his cousin. “And we couldn’t stop laughing!”

Rebecca Barry

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