The whiz kid
Wednesday, May 13 2009
By Kirsty Johnston | Taranaki Daily News feature
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It’s hard to believe Kyle Wadsworth when he tells you he’s shy. The 17-year-old has already starred alongside top Kiwi comedians, directed a film featuring New Zealand’s infomercial queen and created his own online persona, all before finishing high school.
Kyle is what some people would call a whiz kid.
Born in New Plymouth to mum Lillian and dad Denis, the New Plymouth Boys’ High student has been making movies since the family got a video camera when he was five.
“My first film was about Santa,” he says. “It’s quite embarrassing. I remember we were in the lounge, Dad was dressed up as Santa, giving out presents and it was daytime. Of course it was daytime, because I had to go to bed by 7.30.”
However, although Kyle’s passion lies with a video camera, it was a different kind of technology that gave the Taranaki teen his big break.
Typical of his generation, Kyle knows his way around a computer better than most people know their way around home.
In 2005, this led him to “stumble across” a yet-to-be-released website, then review it online. Fortunately for Kyle, the website he’d hacked into belonged to TVNZ and the review went viral, attracting attention from media across the country.
“The New Zealand Herald rang up first and said, This is incredible – you’ve gotten into it and no one else has seen it before.
“Then TVNZ were going, Crap, this 14-year-old has found out about it – what do we do?”
The television giant obviously decided to take the “if you can’t beat them, join them” approach, because the next thing Kyle knew, he’d been invited to Shortland Street’s 15th birthday party at the TVNZ studios.
“I think they were trying to get me onside. [TVNZ chief executive] Rick Ellis took me into his office and asked what TV shows I liked. I was pretty careful not to say any TV3 ones!”
The visit to the studios turned out to be a foot in the door for the young hopeful. Apart from returning several times to work backstage, including most recently with Rhys Darby on the Jaquie Brown Diaries, it’s meant his online Shortland Street take-off was noticed by top TV producers.
In turn, that gave his next project, a Shortland Street-inspired film, enough credibility to attract stars like Paul Ellis [from New Zealand Idol] and make-up guru Suzanne Paul.
“South Pacific, the production company, wrote to me and said, Kyle, you’ve done an excellent job, and that was quite a buzz because they were watching the work that I was doing and I was only 16 when I did that.
“So I emailed Suzanne Paul and she agreed to be in the film. We went to her house. She’s got a very, very flash house. And she was great. She didn’t say, I don’t want to say that . . . though there were references to Natural Glow and lines like ‘but wait, there’s more’ in it. She just did it. I had a lot of respect for her after that.”
For a kid who’s mum still brings him breakfast in bed each morning, Kyle is extremely business-savvy in terms of the entertainment industry. He uses his online persona Tuikiwi (also the name of his production company) as a tool to make contacts in the true sense of the term “social networking”.
For example, when Kyle met Paul Ellis at the Show of Hands party last year, it was his nickname, not his face, the music guru remembered best.
“He recognised the name and click – he spun around and said, you’re Tuikiwi? Ever since, he’s been willing to do films with me, meet up in Auckland and talk about stuff.”
And on top of his studies at Boys’ High, where he takes Year 12 English, biology, legal studies, home economics and Gateway, Kyle is also working at Countdown supermarket (to save for a new camera) and studying extramurally.
He studies journalism and video through Witt and, in case you still weren’t convinced he really understands the nature of business, Kyle’s also taking a certificate in customer relations through the Open Polytech.
In part, the extra study is to make up for the lack of a drama class at Boys’ High. Kyle pretty much has to teach himself, which he does by watching Shortland Street.
While most people wouldn’t consider the medical soap the pinnacle of dramatic acting talent, Kyle says he watches it because it’s on every night and it’s where most Kiwi actors start out – and doing what they do is the best way to enter the industry.
“I watch it and then go into my own production and work it out. The more you act, the more you learn. Plus I worked there for a week watching how they did it and they’re really fast. And I want to be as fast as they are.”
Kyle makes his films mainly after school and at weekends. They involve family and friends – often his two younger brothers, Jeremy and Jamie, with his dad always on camera while Kyle acts or directs. They can use up a lot of energy.
“I got a bit worried last year because I was so focussed on filming and it came to the end of the year and the teachers were a bit worried. But I’d rather focus on my career than dawdle at school, you know? If I’m being offered auditions, I’d rather do that. I get the rark up from my parents sometimes about school, but they’re really supportive.”
Interestingly, Kyle’s latest foray into the spotlight has had nothing to do with his films. During the recent Telethon, he noticed his school hadn’t given all the money it had raised to the KidsCan charity – keeping some for itself – and kicked up a stink.
The media picked up on the drama and Kyle says things were a bit frosty at school for a few days, although he says most of his peers praised him for standing up to the school.
Talking to Kyle, it’s easy to forget he is only 17 – he’s articulate, polite and extremely determined – but the teenager insists he’s just normal.
“I’ve never even been out of the North Island! I like hanging out with mates, playing sport, going to parties. I’ve got a car. I like all kinds of music. I’m not ashamed to say I listen to Womanizer [by Britney Spears] occasionally.
“I like to be able to yell at adults and not be punished for it. That’s why I like acting. You can act however you like. That’s why I’ve got some teachers in some films I’m doing, so I can get smart.
“But I hardly ever get in trouble at school. I’m not a rebel. I’m actually quite shy.”
But if he’s shy, you have to wonder how he’s got to where he is.
“Persistence. You’ve got to be cheeky to get anywhere. It’s been hard for me, but if you’re not saying, Can I do this, can I come work for you . . . if you don’t do that, you don’t get your name out there.
“That chance doesn’t just fall on you.”
And that cheekiness just might be Kyle’s key to success.
“I had a text from TVNZ’s second-in- charge in Auckland saying, Give me a text when you’ve finished high school and I’ll hook you up with a job,” he says with a grin. “I was 14 then and I’ve still got it. I’m saving that text.”