Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tongan actor puts law degree aside to pursue the ‘creative arts’

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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John Pulu | Presenter/ Reporter/Director

Many will recognise him as Maka in the feature film Red, White & Brass but this time John-Paul or JP Foliaki is playing himself visiting schools in the Auckland region.

“I am here at Wesley Intermediate to celebrate Tongan language week, just wanted to meet some of the kids in the community, say hi and just remind them to be proud to be Tongan really,” he says.

The New Zealand-born Tongan creative has travelled around the country and overseas promoting Red, White and Brass which has already earned more than a million dollars at the New Zealand box office since it was released earlier this year.

JP Foliaki with the cast of Red, White and Brass. Photo: Provided.

Now, he’s been elevated to stardom he admits he’s still getting used to it, especially meeting young fans who surround him. 

“It’s good I feel special and there’s a part of me that, I’m like, why are you guys buzzing out? Because I feel like I’m legit like an older brother or an older cousin, just someone in their community.” 

The boy from Papatoetoe, South Auckland has already made a splash producing and funding his own music. But before he entered the scene, he was pursuing a law degree, graduating from Auckland University in 2019.

JP Foliaki graduated in 2019 with a law degree. Photo: Provided.

“I am still passionate about social issues, legal justice but I think in terms of what makes me happy and for, like a career, creative arts is something that I’ve always been passionate about,” he says.

“I just didn’t know that’s what it was, that it was creative art. But I guess when you say you want to be able to wake up in the morning and do something that you love it’s definitely that.” 

It’s been a journey of self discovery and one that’s had its highs and lows. JP says it’s important to stay focused.  

“You have to be willing to tell yourself that you’re worthy and that other people should believe in you as well,” Foliaki says.

JP speaks to students about his journey in the acting industry. Photo: Provided.

“That’s been a massive one and of course, like your mental health, is always like this because you’re stressed out whether you’re going to get the role, whether you’re going to write that song, you have to have your own time frames and meet your own deadlines. 

“But it’s definitely been a personal journey that’s been the most difficult one but it makes it worth it, you know, when you finally get those opportunities.” 

And the opportunities have kept coming; he’s taken up more roles in films like Inky Pinky  Ponky and the TV series Far North

“I don’t do it for money and I don’t do it to get posted on tiktok or instagram or anything like that,” Foliaki says.

“I do it because I want to share and inspire and hopefully empower the ones that are coming in after me like the ones before me that empowered me and allowed me to believe in myself and yeah that’s what I get.” 



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