Thirteen-year-old Auckland native Keisha Castle-Hughes has been winning rave reviews for her performance in the New Zealand hit "Whale Rider". She plays Pai, a wilful young girl who proves herself a worthy successor to the male line of chiefs in her small village. This is her first movie.
Are you very much like Pai, the character you play in "Whale Rider"?
I think we're both strong willed and independent, and Pai has a great unique quality about her. She's an 11-year-old girl who's confident about who she is and knows exactly who she is. Not many 11-year-old girls are like that. She's a great role model for young girls. I think I'm like that too.
How did you react when you got the role?
I was really excited, and kept jumping up and down. I thought I was going to have a heart attack! I rang all my family and all my friends, I had to keep it from my friends during the audition process because it was totally confidential. But it was really exciting, because there were 10,000 girls up for the role.
How did you find the period of rehearsal and improvisation that took place before filming began?
It was fantastic. In those four weeks I knew that I could trust the other people I was working with, including Rawiri [Paretene, who plays Pai's grandfather, Koro]. He has to be quite mean to me in the film, and I knew that even though that happened, I would be safe and I wouldn't be hurt. That helped me to build my character, and I realised that I could be her and I wouldn't have to worry or anything.
Did you always want to be an actress when you were younger?
I'd always wanted to act but it wasn't just that, it was because all the ladies wore pretty dresses. I really like Julia Roberts, I'm not sure why and I don't have a particular movie of hers in mind, but she comes across as very nice and I enjoy watching her. And Halle Berry too.
Have you got to meet any big stars on your publicity tour so far?
I met Dustin Hoffman at Sundance, which was fantastic. He loved the film and said he cried when he watched it. I also met Anna Paquin for a very short time, and that was nice because I'm often compared to her, which is a great compliment.
Does this success mean that you're going to become an actress?
Probably not, it's a really hard job. I want to be a science teacher. My friends asked me why, but I'm intrigued by it and I'm quite good at science at school.