Breaking and entering

Jesse-James Rehu Pickery: “My character is a big mash-up of people I knew”. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Jesse-James Rehu Pickery: “My character is a big mash-up of people I knew”. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

A contemporary tale about a home invasion, Orphans & Kingdoms is also an examination of big themes, actor Jesse-James Rehu Pickery tells Shane Gilchrist.

"In life, sometimes you just don't see things coming. Then ... boom.''

So says Jesse-James Rehu Pickery, one of the young stars of Kiwi film Orphans & Kingdoms, which opened at cinemas throughout New Zealand last week.

Pickery is referring to the key set-up of Orphans & Kingdoms, a chamber-piece in which three siblings on the run from social agencies break into a luxurious Waiheke Island house in the hope they might bide a little more time together before authorities catch up with them.

Hence the ‘‘boom'': the house is owned by Jeremy (played by Colin Moy), whose teenage son has committed suicide.

Bereft, yet painfully aware of the importance of familial relationships, he regards the trio less as intruders and assailants, more as young people suffering the pain of parental abandonment.

‘‘These three kids only have one another. The whole film is about asking how far would someone go to preserve the one thing they have. For them, they transcend laws to always keep that,'' Pickery explains.

‘‘Without Jeremy's son committing suicide, the connection between him and them would never have happened. That tragedy is what prevents him from calling the cops. He is so laden with regret and guilt about his son's death.''

A contemporary tale about a home invasion, Orphans & Kingdoms is also an examination of big themes. Grief and regret are obvious, yet in juxtaposing the bedraggled protagonists against the sleek architecture of an upmarket house in the Hauraki Gulf, writer and director Paolo Rotondo's story also examines issues of disenfranchisement in New Zealand society.

‘‘I left home when I was quite young, so I did find myself surrounded by folk who were very disenfranchised. My character, Jesse, is a big mash-up of people I knew,'' says Pickery, who plays the hedonistic older brother to Kenae (Calae Hignett-Morgan) and half-brother to Tibs (Hanelle Harris), the only female in the film.

‘‘It's kind of strange that my character in Orphans & Kingdoms is also called Jesse. In all honesty, I think it should have been changed for the sake of ‘emotional security', because the film deals with suicide and disenfranchised youth.''

Waiheke Island is also a star of the film. A paradise visible from Auckland, it represents both beauty and inequality, and is thus a place of dreams for the three runaway siblings.

The setting was also ideal in that it allowed the film-makers a stunning backdrop that helps elevate scenes beyond the film's humble scale.

Designed specifically for the New Zealand Film Commission's ‘‘escalator'' initiative, the project was realised on a micro-budget of about $250,000. Doing so required the producers to seek sponsorship from Waiheke Island businesses as well as run a crowd-funding campaign during the first two weeks of the shoot, which raised $30,000.

The film manages to punch above its weight through other factors, too. Significantly, most of the drama is limited to one location and the story over just one night, eliminating expensive relocations. Even costume changes are kept to a minimum.

‘‘Some of the crew used were incredible'' Pickery says, pointing to director of photography Simon Raby, who was second unit director on acclaimed 2009 sci-fi film District 9 and 2013's Elysium.

He also notes that Orphans & Kingdoms might have had its premiere in 2012 but it has subsequently been re-edited, the result being quite a different film: ‘‘It's a lot more tense.''

Growing up in Hokianga, Pickery attended no fewer than 12 schools, including exchanges in China and Chile, the latter helping him gain a role as a young South American in longstanding soap-opera Shortland Street.

Having secured roles in a range of independent films, including 2011 short Meathead, about a young man's first day at a freezing works, Pickery (23) moved from the Waikato to Dunedin about two years ago.

‘‘A friend offered to set me up doing plastering work in Queenstown and Dunedin so I did that for six months before the work dried up. I was wondering what to do, then thought about art school.

‘‘Last year I did a foundation course in design studies to test out a new field, because acting came as a bit of a curve-ball for me.

‘‘Acting is great but it's good to have a medium I can access at any time. I discovered ceramics during a two-week course last year and completely fell for it and have now enrolled in a two-year diploma of ceramics.''

See it

Orphans & Kingdoms is screening at Rialto.

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