Josh Thomson is a big man from small beginnings. Big in the fact he’s built like many Tongan men, small in that he’s from the town of Timaru in the South Island. The new movie Gary of the Pacific is his first big break as a lead role. And he couldn’t think of a better place to film it than a small Pacific island, writes INNES LOGAN
John Thomson isn’t sure how he’d handle the role of Gary (from struggling fictional nation of Tusalava) if his real Tongan family was around.
“For the sake of being able to film on tropical South Seas island with less red tape, Gary of the Pacific was shot in the Cooks, which is part of New Zealand (through its Free Association agreement),” says Josh.
“I’ve been to Tonga a number of times to visit family. I enjoy it, but I’d also be expected to do family stuff like deliveries from an aunty on one island to another, so it was probably best to be in Rarotonga.”
Often in the side-kick role, Josh describes his first lead role as full-on.
“Usually I’m just some random guy who pops up every now and again. I end up going through a few books and being pretty relaxed. But being the lead actor is non-stop. They’re constantly putting make-up on you and you have to bring your best … the full noise.”
Josh plays real estate agent Gary, who seems to have it all, except when it comes to women. He’s called back to Tusalava with the opportunity to take his dying father’s crown (played by David Fane) and become chief of his island … even though it’s sinking.
Gary has his sights set on his receptionist Chloe. This is his chance to give the wedding she wants and attain the status he’s always yearned for, even if it’s at the expense of his people.
The journey from Timaru to Tusalava is one of contrasts.
“When Mum and Dad decided to live in Timaru, the town’s Tongan population grew to one,” he remarks.
“But then Mum’s sisters and cousins would come down and end up staying. Then more would arrive because the cost of living was so much cheaper than the main cities.
"Now there are a heap of Tongans living down there, they’ve formed their own Society and they’re still coming, which is great … it’s like we’re funnelling them in through the family farm (he laughs).”
Being big, Josh gravitated towards rugby, the national game, believing his size and strength would be an advantage. And it was … initially.
“Size is one thing, which I have. Skill is another … which I don’t,” he confesses.
What he also had from an early age was a passion for drama, which he performed throughout his school years. At Timaru Boys High School, he became a regular contributor in The Timaruvian – the school magazine.
A move further south to Dunedin saw Josh complete a degree in theatre and film at Otago University.
After graduating, Auckland was the most logical destination, being where the work is. He tried his hand at stand-up comedy, before realising that being paid in beer wouldn’t cover his rent.
He also discovered that while Auckland provided more opportunities, jobs in front of the screen were still few and far between.
“I did a couple of commercials (he’s still remembered for fronting Fresh Up and Cash Converters), which was a struggle because there weren’t a whole lot that suited me,” he recalls.
“But then I had the opportunity to direct a kids’ show called Studio 2. It was an awesome experience and I developed more skills in the business which led on to other projects. Acting is what I love, but unless you’re a regular in Shortland Street, it’s hard to earn a regular income. But being in the industry is great.”
Which is why he’s thrilled to land the lead role as Gary. The movie was filmed in Rarotonga in 2015, with another visit last year to complete a few scenes.
“The aspect of us going back to the islands to find your roots and reconnecting with your relatives again, really resonates with us,” he says.
“There’s some incredible talent in the film. I remember seeing island comedy for the first time on our screens in the 1990s with Skitz, so to be working alongside Dave Fane (who plays his father in Gary of the Pacific) was pretty special. He’s a lovely guy and a real character, too.
“Megan Stevenson (who plays Chloe) is amazingly talented, as you’d expect her to be as a regular on Review, which is hugely popular on Netflix.
"Matt Whelan (Nelson) is a creatively, funny actor who has just done a role on Narcos as Hugh Hefner. Then there’s Taofi Mose-Tuiloma (who plays Lani, Gary’s sister) and Dominic Ona-Ariki (Kitiona) who were great, too. We had a lot of fun … as you would being where we were.
“There’s stuff that’s fun, crazy, ridiculous, a bit rude (don’t expect images of him wearing compression shorts will be made into posters) but overall heartfelt. It’s a rollercoaster ride.”
Josh Thomson as Gary of the Pacific will hit New Zealand theatres from March 16 - check out the trailer befow and details of how you can win a double pass to see the film!
SPASIFIK have a double pass to give away to anyone who wants to see Gary of the Pacific, tell us why you want to see the film on our facebook post, best answer wins.