Home and Away star Ethan Browne was introduced to Summer Bay in 2020 as Tane Parata and has quickly become a fan favourite.
The Kiwi actor and his onscreen Māori whānau were the first regular indigenous family to appear on the soap, something that Ethan hasn't taken lightly.
He opened up to Yahoo Lifestyle about the ‘pressure’ of portraying Māori culture respectfully, his personal connection to the show, and why his daughter doesn't watch the soap.
Earlier this year, the character Ari Parata (Rob Kipa-Williams) passed away on the show — leaving his younger brother, played by Ethan, and nephew Nikau Parata (Kawakawa Fox-Reo) behind.
Australia was stunned by Ari’s emotional departure, with script executive and writer Louise Bowes receiving a nomination from the Australian Writers Guild Awards for his last episode.
‘There’s a lot of pressure’
The producers wanted to approach the tangihanga or tangi (Māori funeral) with respect, so a cultural advisor was brought on board.
The writers were guided by the cultural advisor, as well as drawing from Ethan and Kawakawa’s personal experience with tangi.
“It was very important [to portray it correctly]. Right down to the sort of clothing we’d wear, or having water at the door for the hand washing — all the details we wanted to get right,” Ethan remembers. “It was a hard time because there’s a lot of pressure to try and do it right.”
The star also revealed a personal connection to one of the songs sung by the family at Ari’s onscreen tangi.
“I was fortunate enough to offer up one of my uncle’s songs, [and he] had just passed away. It’s a beautiful Māori song…it was quite fitting.
“It felt so real as well, and tangi is important in Māori culture, so it hit home...quite a lot,” he tells us.
Leading up to Ari’s departure from the soap, Ethan and Kawakawa had another emotional scene to film.
As Ethan’s character stepped up to take over as the head of the family, he taught his onscreen nephew the art of the Taiaha.
The Taiaha is a traditional Māori weapon, and Ethan tells us that the pair practised for hours before the scene was filmed.
“We started working with Kawa’s cousin who teaches Taiaha,” he says. “We started doing stuff with our cultural advisor via Zoom because [of] the [Covid] lockdowns. I was watching YouTube videos because I never really learned Taiaha growing up."
Fans were enamoured by the powerful scene, with many praising the pair’s emotional performance.
“That was great, to showcase the warrior side of the Māori culture. [It was] very special to portray,” he tells us.
‘Didn’t want those stereotypes’
When the family were first introduced to Summer Bay, they were considered ‘[party] boys’, but Ethan says the actors didn’t want to be reduced to a stereotype.
“It is alive and well, that stereotype of the brown person who’s the criminal and we wanted to play away from that,” he admits.
“The writers agreed that was never their intention. It was all about changing our trajectory, and our journey changing from the [party] guy to the good guy.”
He tells us that it was ‘important’ that the characters have more depth, and that the actors are lucky to have a dialogue with the writers.
The star also applauds the cast and crew for the small details that help keep everything feeling authentic.
In the Parata house, you will never see the family wearing shoes inside.
“That’s just how we grew up. We’re not allowed shoes in the house, it’s a respect thing,” Ethan explains.
“I remember if I wore shoes in my grandmother’s house, you get a bit of a smack on the hand,” he laughs.
‘Opened doors for diversity’
Ethan hopes that with the introduction of a Māori family on Home and Away, more diverse stories will continue to be told onscreen.
With the success of Australian shows like Netflix's Heartbreak High reboot, there’s clearly an appetite for these types of stories.
“I think Australia is quite a diverse place, there’s a lot of cultures here…it was just a matter of time until they brought in a Māori family. I think it’s a natural step that’s been taken,” he says.
“Hopefully it [has] opened doors for diversity. I hope so anyway, I think it has.”
His friends and family back in Wairoa have been supportive, which isn’t surprising as Home and Away has always had a large fanbase in New Zealand.
“It’s something different. They can relate to it a bit more because they can see their culture on screen, so I think it’s a positive thing,” he says.
The only exception is his 14-year-old daughter, Aaylah.
“My daughter doesn’t really watch it anymore. I think she prefers to watch other shows [like] Stranger Things or something like that,” he laughs.
“Which is fine. Probably too much kissing, it might be weird for her.”
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