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  • Writer's pictureTE RĀKAU

Meet the multi-talented Moriarty

Amy Jackman, The Wellingtonian | 22 August 2013

Actor and psychiatric nurse Jim Moriarty talks about working in Ward 27, turning down Jake the Muss and building a new theatre.


A photo of Jim Moriarty with a winter beach scene behind him
JIM MORIARTY: "Maori culture is becoming our culture. People are hungry for it." AMY JACKMAN / FAIRFAX NZ

How did you get into nursing?

After college I went to Victoria University, but my wife fell pregnant so I wasn't able to do the student life. I went into the psychiatric nursing profession. It was hands-on training run out of the hospital in those days. I still work as a nurse at Wellington Hospital. It's my bread and butter and I really enjoy it.

How has psych nursing changed?

When I started, 95 per cent of our patients were in the big bins. Now the majority of the patients are in the community. It's much better for them. People can be treated in an environment where they feel comfortable and that can make a difference. We also have the beautiful new unit in the old Ward 27 building. The culture there is amazing and the facilities are among the best in the country.

What is psych nursing about?

It's about giving people a place to rest and get some help. It's important to view the patients as part of my family, but within a professional boundary. It could be my mother or brother or uncle. I love the job and being able to help people and be part of their wellness journey. Unlike the physical departments, the progress can often be slow, but is made all the time.

When did you get involved in acting?

I worked in Unity Theatre in the 60s when I was in school. I loved going to the theatre after I finished rugby or cricket training. Unity was where I got my first big break in a play, with Judith Holloway. She then led me into Close to Home, which I started after my nursing training was done. I was really lucky to receive mentoring from people like Dick Johnson, Richard Campion, Bruce Mason, and Pat Evison.

What was it like working on Close to Home?

Fabulous. It was filmed in Avalon Studios, so I was able to stay in Wellington. The best thing about working on a long-term project is that you get to know the people in the cast on and off the set. It also allows you to form relationships that look real to the audience.

Why did you set up the Te Rakau trust?

I've found it a lot more rewarding to use theatre as a way to help people transform their world view. Those people are in all sorts of places - mainstream theatre, prison, CYFS residential homes, marae, schools. If you can change the way someone thinks, you can change the situations they are in. Perhaps they won't find themselves back in prison, or hitting their kids, or they might reunite with family. Theatre should be something that motivates change and makes a difference in as entertaining a way as possible.

You turned down the role of Jake the Muss in Once Were Warriors.

I was travelling around New Zealand with the trust and they called and asked if I wanted to do it. They were a bit shocked when I said no, but I had made a commitment to the programme and it wasn't a five-minute job to replace me. If I had taken the part, I would've let down a lot of people. I've never regretted it.

How is the theatre scene tracking in Wellington?

It's going well and changing. Bats will have two spaces soon, which is exciting. Downstage is still going. Circa has two spaces. We've got the Gryphon, the Opera House, the St James. What we don't have, and haven't had for a while, is a Maori theatre.

Are you hoping to change that?

A group of us, including Hone Kouka, Nancy Brunning, Tanemahuta Gray, Briar Grace-Smith, Tanea Heke, Apirana Taylor and Helen Pearse-Otene, have come together with young Maori artists and said it's time to get a base. It'll be a place where you can see dance, haka, theatre, music, poetry and art all year round. Maori artists have been active in the theatre scene for years and there is a huge backlog of work we could put on, plus new works.

Why now?

It's the right time. We are calling it Te Putahitanga a te Rehia, which means the coming together of the energy to support the present and the future. Creative New Zealand has given us support. The mayor is on board and the new council chief executive helped something similar happen when he was in Cornwall. Hopefully in a year we will have a bit of dirt to build on and in three years it will be open.

Is Maori culture coming back?

Maori culture is becoming our culture. People are hungry for it. They say, "Give us some of that stuff, because it's unique to this place". I help run some kapa haka programmes in schools and maybe 10 per cent of the kids are Maori. At St Anne's in Newtown we teach 50 kids and one is half-Maori. There are Europeans, Africans, Pasifika children, Asians, all hungry for what they see as Kiwi culture. It's something we can call our own. If we view it like that, we can't go wrong. If we get the bi- cultural situation right, we can get the multi-cultural situation right.

This article was originally published in The Wellingtonian. Visit the Stuff website to read more articles.

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