Surviving the Game12 Aug 2014, Posted by in ARTICLES & INTERVIEWS
Rena Owen fights her way from ex-con to icon
by Holly Millea
Premiere Magazine, February 1, 1995
If Rena Owen had never been a junkie, never slipped into the night needing a fix, and had never gone to prison, she would never have become the star of New Zealand’s highest grossing homegrown film. In Manhattan’s Four Seasons restaurant, the actress raises her glass to toast the tenth anniversary of her freedom – all the sweeter because of the acclaim she’s receiving for her portrayal of a battered Maori wife in Once Were Warriors.
How Owen got here is a movie plot in itself. At the time of her arrest on drug charges, the New Zealander was living in London, spending her days as a nurse and her nights as a party girl with the likes of Nick Cave and Boy George. (The other day I actually said, ‘Nick Cave – is he still alive?’ Because I was doing drugs with him quite a lot.”) It was only while serving eight months in prison and going through therapy that Owen realized the real fix her life needed. The day she was released, she answered an ad for Maori actresses to audition for a play. Owen recalls, “The woman said, ‘What kind of experience do you have?’ And I said, ‘Some plays in high school.’ But then I said, ‘What is it about?’ She said, ‘It’s about women in prison.’ My mouth just dropped and I said, ‘I’ve just come out of prison!’ I had what none of the other actresses had – the truth.”
Owen worked her way back to New Zealand, where she found steady employment writing scripts and starring on television. After a bit part in Rapa Nui (she rolls her eyes at the mention of the film), she was cast in Warriors. “I had to take myself to the edge,” she says. “But I knew I’d be okay.” She smiles. “Prison forces you to develop an internal life – you’re not afraid to go into the deep, dark, ugly roles, because you’ve been there.”