Like its predecessors Being Human, The Fades and In The Flesh, there are supernatural happenings afoot in BBC3’s new drama Tatau. Unlike them, it’s set far, far away from Britain on the tropical beaches of the Cook Islands – the title means “tattoo” in Maori.
Two British backpackers – Joe Layton and Theo Barklem-Biggs – get more than they bargained for when they drink a trippy local tipple. Enter a mysterious woman in a red dress, Aumea, who is played by New Zealand actress Shushila Takao.
Here’s what the stars have to say about it…
Joe Layton (Kyle)
Tatau is only 23 year-old Joe Layton’s second acting job. His first was a small part alongside a certain Jamie Dornan in New Worlds, a drama set on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1680s.
Joe on Kyle:
“He’s a normal guy who’s sacked in his job in sales to travel around the world – which I think a lot of people my age can relate to. The series begins with him and his best mate trying a hallucinogenic local drink in the Cook Islands…”
On filming half of Tatau in the Cook Islands:
“It’s been amazing! Pretty unreal really. They’re such a welcoming people. But every time I get in the sea, I’m like: how the bloody hell did Daniel Craig do it in Casino Royale? There’s spiky coral everywhere and the sun is so bright and there’s sun cream in my eyes!”
…and on filming the other half in a wintry Auckland, New Zealand:
“I foolishly thought: I’m going to the other side of the world and it’s near Australia so it’ll probably be really hot. It was less than 10 degrees! And there are scenes where I had to be completely drenched, so I spent all day in my trunks in the bush trying not to shiver as buckets of water were thrown over me.”
On the stunt that didn’t go quite to plan:
“When the crew found out I’d been cast, the first question was: can he swim? We shot some scenes the other side of the island’s coral reef where the seabed suddenly drops from waist-height to 20 metres.
But the only really scary moment was filming in a diving pool in Auckland. I’d swim down to the bottom where there were oxygen tanks, take a few breaths, and then do all the action. One time I didn’t purge the regulator properly and took a huge gulp of water instead of oxygen.
So I swam back up to the top, expecting to be able to take a nice deep breath, but found I couldn’t breathe when I got there. I was clinging onto a bar in the middle of the pool, coughing my lungs out. When I finally got to the side of the pool, I was sick on the side and had to take the afternoon off.”
But the biggest danger was being hit by a falling coconut:
“Coconuts kill more people in the Cook Islands than sharks do. We had a safety office whose job was to look up, check where the wind was coming from and spray-paint no walking zones – the coconut drop zone.”
Theo Barklem-Biggs (Budgie)
Just like Amy Winehouse, Adele, Inbetweener Blake Harrison and many other famous faces, Theo Barklem-Biggs is a graduate of the Brit school of performing arts. Although only 24, he’s already been in EastEnders, Silent Witness, The Inbetweeners movie, The Fades, Silk and, most recently, in BBC3 prison sitcom Crims and alongside Colin Firth in Kingsman: The Secret Service.
Theo on Budgie:
“He’s a jack the lad, a bit rough round the edges, but he means no harm. Both his older brothers have been in trouble with the police and the debt’s been passed onto him, and so he’s also an opportunist…”
On why Tatau is his first experience of a lads’ holiday:
“When I was 18, I got an audition for The Bill. I had to choose between that and going on a lads’ holiday that my mates and I had booked to Benicassim and Ibiza. I chose the audition and that’s how my acting career started.”
On filming in the Cook Islands:
“Obviously the sun and beach are gorgeous, but what I enjoyed most was getting to know the people: they were just really friendly, calm and patient. There’s a real community there. It’s the opposite of London where no one knows you, no one talks to you, no one wants to say hi.”
On learning to work the Maori way:
“In the read-through, the eldest Maori stood up and started talking in Maori, and I was thinking: what is going on? 10 minutes later he was still at it. I was looking around: is he alright? Eventually he translated it into English and it turned out to be a formal greeting the eldest has to do because you’re on their land, blessing the group and our venture here. So from the get-go we were introduced to this culture that is still very much alive.”
On not being tempted to get a traditional Maori tattoo:
“Joe and I were thinking about getting a small one under our arm. I looked into the history of it all – they do them without tattoo guns and tap it in your skin. It’s a tradition that means more than the tattoo; it’s spiritual. But a very slow and painful process!
Shushila Takao (Aumea)
Like most of the cast, Shushila Takao is a New Zealander. And like Kyle, she’s a relative newcomer to acting but appeared in Polynesian film The Last Saint and Power Rangers Megaforce.
Shushila on Aumea:
“I can’t tell you too much because I don’t want to ruin it! Let’s just say Aumea surprises everyone – her family, Kyle, even herself. She loves her family and wants them to be proud of her. She doesn’t want to disappoint. But she’s also strong-willed and courageous.”
On filming in the Cook Islands:
“It’s my first time in the Cook Islands but I’ve always wanted to come. I’m French-Indian-Maori but I’m closer to the Maori side of my family. They were all very proud when I got the part. Unfortunately, I’m the only one in my family that hasn’t quite learned how to speak Maori and I’ve have had to remedy that! The Maori spoken here is actually quite different to that spoken back home, especially the way it sounds – the syllables are very pronounced.”
On pretending Auckland was the Cook Islands:
“Oh my gosh, it was cold! It was freezing, it was muddy, it rained. The night shoots in our togs were especially… interesting. Between takes the costume ladies come to our rescue with coats lined with heat packs. Now of course we’re on a beautiful island and we’re like “I can’t bear the heat!”, and paddle in the sea between takes to cool down.”
On her British co-stars:
“When I first met Joe, I was in my swimming togs and he was in his. We were like: “hi…” “hi…”. It could have been awkward but he made sure it wasn’t. I met Theo while I was in wardrobe: he just popped his head in – “I just want to introduce myself.” He’s the loveliest guy, like a loyal brother who looks out for everyone when we go on a night out together.”
Tatau begins on Sunday April 13th on BBC3 at 10pm
Read more: behind the scenes of Tatau