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The Untold Truth Of Temuera Morrison

If you didn't know better, especially if you're a member of the American filmgoing public, you might think that Temuera Morrison didn't appear on the scene until he played the role of Jango Fett in the 2002 blockbuster "Attack of the Clones." Morrison, though, is a longtime fixture on the silver screen and TV in New Zealand and beyond, playing heavies decades before he entered the Stars Wars universe.

But there is no denying that his portrayals of one of the toughest bounty hunters in the galaxy far far away and, most recently, his son, the feared and legendary Boba Fett in "The Mandalorian," are the roles that have defined Morrison's career. Now that "The Book of Boba Fett" is on its way to Disney+, every Star Wars fan will finally get to geek out on a series centered around the captivating mercenary and hopefully get some questions answered. In preparation for getting more familiar with Boba, it makes sense to get to know the man who will be bringing him to life.

From his fascinating family history — which includes a sports legend, a famed musician, and even a knight— to his own celebrated acting career as a bounty hunter and beyond, this is the untold truth of Temuera Morrison. 

His uncle was famous musician Sir Howard Morrison

Temuera Morrison's artistic lineage can be traced to his uncle Howard Morrison, a legendary Kiwi musician whose success and voice was so wide-reaching that he was knighted. Sir Howard was so revered in New Zealand that he was given the nickname "Ol' Brown Eyes," a nod to Ol' Blue Eyes himself, the legendary show business titan Frank Sinatra (via NZ on Screen). Beyond his music, which was popular across the South Pacific and Asia, Sir Howard dedicated his time and effort to fighting for civil rights. In particular, he rallied for equal education and access for New Zealand's native Māori people (Sir Howard was of part Te Arawa descent).

Per NZ on Screen, Morrison recalled of his uncle, "I remember as a young boy, growing up — we were always told to stand up and make a speech, stand up and sing a song, do this and do that, and when I look back, he was grooming us, training us for our journey."

However, according to a biography of Sir Howard written by his son Howie Jr., the relationship between uncle and nephew might not have always been smooth. As the Rotorua Daily Post explained, the book "reveals how Sir Howard was never keen to share the limelight, including with his namesake, and how he criticised his nephew, Temuera Morrison, for his role in 'Once Were Warriors.'"

He is another successful actor of Polynesian descent

During an interview with Stuff, Temuera Morrison recounted that after being tapped to play famed New Zealand rugby coach Eddie Jones in the 2019 "The Brighton Miracle," he told director Max Mannix, "Are you sure? I am a Māori from Rotorua, New Zealand." 

As a Māori, he is part of a collection of successful Polynesian actors blowing open doors in Hollywood. This list includes several A-listers working today. From action stars Jason Momoa and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson to comedy icons Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, and "Masked Singer" judge Nicole Scherzinger, the rise of entertainers of Polynesian descent has been a great stride for inclusiveness. 

The Māori are thought to have arrived in New Zealand about a thousand years ago as members of the Polynesian peoples whose ocean-going exploits are epic. And considering that Polynesian tribes sailed big outrigger canoes between places as widespread as Hawaii and New Zealand, a 4500-mile span through the South Pacific, they were obviously amazing travelers and explorers. Morrison's career destiny makes perfect sense when you consider who the Fetts were as well.

His grandfather played for legendary rugby team All Blacks

Temuera Morrison may have taken on the role of rugby coach Eddie Jones, but his ties to the sport run much deeper than that single portrayal. The actor is named after his grandfather, who was a professional rugby player. "My cousin Terry Tapsell was born a week after me, whichever one was born first was going to be called Temuera after our Morrison grandfather," Morrison told Rotorua Post Daily. "Mum beat Aunty Judy [Tapsell nee Morrison] to it."

Grandpa Morrison was a member of the New Zealand rugby squad All Blacks, one of the most impressive sports organizations of all time, and certainly the perennial kings of the rugby pitch. But the team isn't without its controversies. Sir Howard, with his group the Howard Morrison Quartet, memorialized one such incident involving his dad. Their hit 1960 protest song, "My Old Man's an All Black" is about how the team wasn't allowed to play its Māori members for a tournament in apartheid-era South Africa. Plenty has changed since then, especially considering the All Blacks more recently gained global fame for performing a pregame haka, a traditional Māori dance focused on intimidating the opponent. 

He was an award-winning actor in New Zealand before Star Wars

The average American filmgoer likely didn't have any idea who Temuera Morrison was before he appeared as Jango Fett and then all of Jango's clones. However, by the time he joined the Star Wars universe, he had already been nominated for several awards and even won a few trophies for acting work in his native New Zealand. His portrayal of Jake "The Muss" Heke in the 1994 Kiwi hit "Once Were Warriors" made him a household name back home. But during an interview with Stuff, Morrison revealed that the fame he earned through that project wasn't everything it was cracked up to be, describing the role as a "millstone" around his neck, and expressing displeasure with the making of the film. "It was a lot of hard work and emotional mayhem," he said. "People go nutty doing movies like that. It was full-on and [we] never knew how it was going to turn out."

The hard work paid off, however, as Morrison won a New Zealand Film and TV Award for "Best Performance in a Dramatic Role" for "Once Were Warriors" and would later earn a "Best Actor" win for his reprisal of Jake in the film's sequel, 1999's "What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?" Plus, the performance likely led to his role as Jango Fett, so perhaps playing the toxically masculine The Muss wasn't too bad after all.

He re-recorded Boba's original lines

The original "Star Wars" movies had a few instances where one actor filled the suit while another voiced it. David Prowse played Darth Vader's body while James Earl Jones gave him a voice. Boba Fett was similar, with Jeremy Bulloch wearing the armor (for all but one scene) and Jason Wingreen voicing his four lines in "Empire Strikes Back." Bulloch and Wingreen join a long list of actors who played Boba Fett, yet Wingreen's work will likely be lost to posterity.

Since Temuera Morrison played Jango Fett in body and voice in 2002's "Attack of the Clones," it makes sense that he was tapped to play Boba Fett in his newest iteration, considering he's Jango's first unaltered clone. Yet, he also went back to finish the job on the originals. The one loose thread in the "Star Wars" universe's Jango Fett clone story was the few lines Boba Fett has in "The Empire Strikes Back." So Morrison went back and re-recorded Boba's lines in the 2004 DVD re-release of the original trilogy.

He wore makeup and altered his voice for Boba Fett's return

Temuera Morrison had long wanted to return to the Star Wars universe, even saying in 2017 (via Screen Rant) that he'd want to play an older Captain Rex (arguably Jango's most famous clone after Boba). That article specifically floats the prospect of him coming back for a Boba Fett return but of course that was more wishful thinking at the time.

Well, that dream came true and Morrison brought the bounty hunter back to life, albeit as an older Boba Fett, one who survived escaping from the giant stomach of a massive, ancient monster. After that ordeal and the ravages of time, it was inevitable that the actor would have to shed his rugged good looks and smooth voice in order to portray a scarred, battle-worn, older Boba.

Discussing his role in "The Mandalorian," Morrison told StarWars.com, "I did rely a lot on the makeup. ... I spent a lot of the time sitting in the makeup chair, watching what was being applied, and then things just started to happen organically." Regarding his vocal changes, Morrison said, "I thought, every now and then he hit some tonal qualities where, hey, he has been scarred. He has been affected internally, as well. So without sounding too false I wanted to bring a little gravel in there to give it a bit of timbre."

He is a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit

The United Kingdom and its commonwealth nations sure love their royalty. New Zealand still views Queen Elizabeth II as their queen despite political independence. Along those lines, titles and nobility are bestowed on their citizens like in England. In New Zealand, the nation's Royal Honours system gives titles and names people to various orders and honours

As his bio explains, Temuera Morrison was named to the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to drama in a 1996 Queen's Birthday Honours. While he was named as a Member, there are further levels to achieve. At the top are the titles of Dame and Knight, the level attained by his uncle Howard Morrison, therefore also known as Sir Howard. Perhaps Knighthood is destined for Morrison if he continues to captivate audiences with his acting chops. Plus, considering Boba Fett's signature helmet looks like something worn by a medieval knight, it appears to be his destiny.  

He's done a lot of voice-over work

Temuera Morrison is an imposing guy. He earned accolades for playing the violent Jake "The Muss" Heke and went on to play two of the most savage bounty hunters in the history of the galaxy. Yet that physical toughness seems to have bled over to his vocal talents and helped him build a strong career as a voice actor.

Of course, he voiced Jango and Boba Fett, not only in the films, but also in video games like the "Star Wars: Battlefront" series. He also voiced Chief Tui in "Moana," the Disney sensation with a cast list that features an all-star ensemble of the world's biggest Polynesian actors and actresses. Morrison is joined by Dwayne Johnson, Jemaine Clement, Auli'i Cravalho, and Nicole Scherzinger among others in the hit movie.

Given his distinctively tough voice, we can only hope he continues to talk behind the scenes.

He wrote an autobiography

In 2009, Temuera Morrison penned his autobiography, which had the working title of "How the Haka Got Me to Hollywood" though it was changed to "From Haka to Hollywood." (The haka is a traditional Māori dance known for its strong physical movements and expressions.) Morrison told the New Zealand Sunday News that he hoped that his book "will inspire others to reach for the stars." 

Like many celebrity autobiographies, it was ghost-written, in this case by Paul Little. "I'm just going to talk a lot and Paul is going to try and make something out of it," Temuera told the New Zealand Sunday News about their process. "Before moving to Auckland I used to perform professionally in my Māori culture groups ... I believe there's a formula to getting to the top and by talking in this book I might reveal how the haka (heck) I got to Hollywood."

He recorded his own album

Temuera Morrison is a man of many talents. Acting and voice acting are just the tip of the iceberg. While his uncle Sir Howard is one of New Zealand's most popular musicians of all time, Morrison's father, Laurie, was a musician as well. So it's no surprise that in 2014 Morrison released his own album, "Tem," which features covers of classic songs his dad and uncle liked and used to perform. In an interview with Radio New Zealand, Morrison explained how he used to listen to his father's records. He also mentioned that when his dad came home from work, he'd shine the old man's shoes before his father went to perform at a venue in Auckland. It's fun to imagine the elder Morrisons jamming out to American classics, and it's impressive how good Temuera covers songs ranging from "Midnight Special" to "It's Not Unusual" on the album.

Morrison also had another entertainment gig, hosting his own TV shows, one of which he believes might have inspired his record deal. "I think Sony must have seen my [TV variety show] 'Happy Hour' at 9:30 p.m. on TV One," Morrison told Stuff. "They said: 'Why not do an album?'" His hosting career may not have lasted long but he did get George Lucas to appear on his talk show, "The Tem Show." Not bad for a simple man trying to make his way in the galaxy.

He was a child actor

It's a common adage that being a child actor does not necessarily lead to a successful adult career. Luckily Temuera Morrison, whose first onscreen appearance was at the tender age of 11, bucked the trend. According to NZ On Screen, he was cast as main character Rangi in 1973's "Rangi's Catch" after director Michael Forlong spotted him performing for tourists in Rotorua." In the movie, he plays a kid who, along with three others, pursues two escaped convicts. Catherine de la Roche, who reviewed the film for "Dominion" said it was "one of the best children's films ever made."

His next credit wasn't until 11 years later, at the age of 22, playing a Rasta street kid on the New Zealand TV series "Mortimer's Patch." Two years later he would get recurring roles on two other New Zealand TV series, "Seekers" and "Adventurer." From there, Morrison began that long journey to playing Jango Fett and blasting onto movie screens all over the world.

Roger Ebert compared him to Marlon Brando

While Temuera Morrison's first character to reach a global audience was, of course, Jango Fett, his award-winning performance in "Once Were Warriors" impressed no less than legendary American film critic Roger Ebert. In his review of the film, Ebert wrote, "In Temuera Morrison, as Jake, the movie finds a leading actor as elemental, charismatic and brutal as the young Marlon Brando; he has instinctive star power, and it's his likability that makes the violence of his character so shocking."

Morrison mentioned in a 2014 interview with Screen-Space that to prepare for the film he was instructed to watch Brando's performance as Stanley Kowalski in "A Streetcar Named Desire," so Ebert's comparison certainly makes sense. Just imagine him yelling "Bobaaaa" instead of "Stellaaaa." What was unexpected, though, is that Morrison would end up co-starring with the legendary Brando.

"The Island of Dr. Moreau" starred Brando as the eponymous mad scientist in a film that got quite a few negative reviews. Morrison, who played man-dog hybrid Azazello, told Screen-Space that he left the shoot because it was dragging on, before a lawyer forced him back. Still, Morrison fondly recalls sharing the screen with one of his idols, telling Rotten Tomatoes, "it was great to see him work, see a master work."

No doubt, some day an up-and-comer will say that same thing in an interview about the time they got to work alongside Morrison himself.