The NZFC and the New Zealand screen industry sadly bid farewell to actor Anzac Wallace.
Best known for his role as Te Wheke in Geoff Murphy’s Utu, Wallace’s first on-screen appearance was in The Bridge, a documentary by Merata Mita and Gerd Pohlmann about the long-running industrial dispute during the building of Auckland’s Mangere Bridge. Wallace was chairman of the Bridge job committee and at the center of the dispute, supporting the workers and their families as the industrial action dragged on for well over two years.
In 1982 he joined Mita for his acting debut in the televison play The Protestors.
It was Mita who brought Wallace, still active as a trade union delegate, to Geoff Murphy’s attention when she was helping with casting Utu. Wallace’s portrayal of the heavily tattooed Te Wheke, a scout who picks up a gun and starts a revolution, was striking and garnered glowing reviews from overseas film critics, including Pauline Kael who called him “a commanding figure – a Māori Che Guevara”.
Still politically active as a branch officer for the Labourer’s Union, Wallace continued to work as an actor as well. A year after Utu’s release he appeared in The Silent One with Pat Evison and George Henare, and in sci-fi television series, Children of the Dog Star.
Small roles in Dangerous Orphans and The Quiet Earth followed, before his next large role, in Merata Mita’s Mauri. The first film to be written and directed by a Māori woman, Mauri was shot by a largely Māori crew and featured a cast of Māori actors, many of whom were non-professional. Wallace’s performance as the troubled Rewi Rapana won him an acting award at the Rimini Film Festival in Italy.
In 1989 Wallace played a central character in Rawiri Paratene’s directorial debut, Te Moemoeā, part of the seminal E Tipu E Rea television series shot in both English and Māori.
Apart from small roles in 1994’s Rapa Nui, Australian anthology series Naked: Stories of Men and adventure series Tales of the South Seas, Wallace largely left acting. He settled in Australia, returning to New Zealand to attend the premiere of Utu Redux at the New Zealand International Film Festival in July 2013.
Our thoughts are with his family and friends.