You will either be driven by or plagued by big dreams. Whether you decide to chase them or let them go will all rely on your decision.
A cheerful publicist has just left the set of the venerable Australian soap drama Home and Away to locate Kiwi star Ethan Browne for me. As he climbs the career ladder as a civil engineer in a parallel universe, Browne is seated at his desk sketching blueprints for roads, bridges, and sewers while living a life tormented by what might have been.
He smiles and adds, “I’m very well,” when he answers the phone. “I’ll be here for my fourth year soon. It passed quickly. It has evolved into a second home for me.
Since relocating to Brisbane in 2015 to be nearer to his daughter Aaylah, Browne has lived outside of Aotearoa. He currently plays Tane Parata, a member of the first Mori family to appear in Home and Away. But having long since given up on his childhood ideal, he was checking into work as a draughtsman when he crossed the Ditch all those years ago.
He had always dreamed of becoming an actor while growing up in Wairoa, Hawke’s Bay, and seeing his favourite films over and over again, including the Academy Award–winning dramedy Forrest Gump starring Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt’s epic Western Legends of the Fall, and the martial arts B-movie No Retreat, No Surrender 2: Raging Thunder from the middle of the 1980s.
“I was obsessed with that one,” he chuckles. “We had very little as children. The financial socio-demographic is very low in Wairoa. Video games and films were available, and I used them as an escape. I watched films the vast majority of the time. Damn, someday I’d want to do that, I’d say to myself.
At age 16, Browne had a child. He had little time for aspirations because of the duties of motherhood. He did pursue his passion in martial arts by enrolling in taekwondo, but he put his fantastical dreams of being a movie star on hold in favour of studying civil engineering after high school.
He discovered his 9–5 engineering career was leaving him incredibly unfulfilled several years later in Brisbane. His boyhood acting dream rapidly came back into his mind, and it swiftly turned into an addiction. But this time, he made the decision to take action.
“I discovered a nighttime acting class where no one knew me. I could be free and no one had to know I was doing it,” he says, adding that he was scared about being laughed at or made fun of because he was now in his mid-20s. “When I first started acting on my dream, I wanted to keep it private. I have to defend it because they had that belief that nothing will ever turn out right.
After his first year of weekly theatre sessions, his drama teacher recognised his talent right away and pushed him to take a moonshot and apply for a coveted spot at Nida, Australia’s National Institute of Dramatic Arts.
According to Browne, less than 1% of people join Nida. They require 24 applicants out of the few thousand that apply each year throughout Australia.
The audition method sounds dreadful, requiring candidates to deliver a monologue in front of both the selection panel and their fellow competitors, who are all waiting in the audience for their time on stage. According to Browne, he was at ease about it. He had a carefree attitude about it because the odds were so stacked against him. But that doesn’t imply that he wasn’t going to put everything into it.
Shakespeare’s notoriously stirring speech from Henry V was the inspiration for his monologue, which he gave a multicultural spin. He said, “Once more unto the breach, dear friends,” building in intensity until breaking into a haka.
Shakespeare and Mori culture coming together in such a way was probably something they had never seen before. It was brand-new, distinct, and tactile. I believe it made me stand out, he claims. “But the audition process was extremely difficult. People were abruptly terminated, saying, “Nah, move on!”
He had made it through two auditions and was planning his next move when he received the call that would radically alter his life.
“I got the call from Nida saying I got in. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I’d have been dumb to say no. But I called my acting teacher and he said, ‘You didn’t get in, eh?’ and I was like, ‘Nah, I actually got in,’ and he didn’t believe it. He was like, ‘You’ve got to do this. You can’t not do it.’ I went back to my work desk, sat down and looked at all the paperwork and was like, ‘No more. I’m gone.’”
It was a massive confidence boost but one that brought with it new concerns. Chiefly, that’d be leaving a steady pay cheque and, being a Kiwi, he did not have access to Australian student loans. He worried about making ends meet during the three years of full-time study while also remaining a supportive parent and partner.
“I had to find ways to pay for this thing. It was a tough time for years. I was working at night as a bouncer while doing classes during the day and trying not to fall asleep because I’d get home at 4am and then I’d get up at 7am to go to school. I really had to grind it and I couldn’t have done it without my partner. She carried us for years. But you’ve just got to do what you’ve got to do and figure it out.”
He came close to quitting several times but each time his tutors would convince him to stay. It was during his final semester that he landed an audition for Home and Away. He was sent a scene and turned up going for the character of Ari.
“Tane didn’t exist,” he laughs. “I got a callback saying, ‘We want you to read for a new character called Tane, he’s the younger brother of Ari.”
He went in and was instantly intimidated by the number of famous faces around him.
“I’d grown up watching these people, I thought, ‘I’m way out of my league here’.”
Naturally, he wasn’t. He learned that he had been selected for the part a few days later. At age 26, the enormous dream of the Wairoa youngster had at last materialised.
“It’s still strange to me. It never occurred to me that it would. When I was younger, I had several aspirations, but the one I always desired the most was to be in a movie. Coming from an area like Wairoa, I never imagined it would be feasible,” he claims. “Even though it’s my favourite place in the entire world, it feels impossibly far due of its location. You can return to your childhood dreams in adulthood even though you may have drifted away from them.
The Paratas are many Australians’ first significant introduction to Mori culture. Browne takes this obligation very seriously. He is Maori but does not speak Te Reo well. He is not too proud to speak with the culture adviser of the show if he has any questions.
It’s odd, he thinks, but I’ve probably discovered more about my culture through Home and Away because I had to. “I have picked up a few korero and prayers. This platform has taught me a lot about my culture.
His decision to stake everything on his dream was brave. However, he wanted to demonstrate to his daughter that anything was possible if you believed in yourself.
“I’ve always been ambitious and aspired to provide a positive example for my kid. That helps me to keep going on. I’ve always been driven to succeed and have an obsessive temperament, so I don’t take anything half-heartedly. When I make a decision, I commit fully and have faith in my abilities.
Of course, he still frequently thinks about his early desire of appearing in films. To that purpose, he has already appeared in two recent Sydney-shot martial arts films.
“I’ve got other aspirations, bigger aspirations,” he declares. “This is just a stepping stone, the beginning. The rule of cause and effect applies here. As cliché as it may sound, you receive what you put into something. If you work hard, something will always come of it.
Although he may have delayed acting, he claims he has no remorse about doing so since he believes that everything happens when it needs to.
Before realising that acting was what he needed to do, he adds, “I had to go through all of that.” “I honestly believed that I would pursue a career in civil engineering and be content. After seven or eight months of employment, I realised, “Nah, I can’t.” I simply can’t. That’s what truly convinced me to pursue acting, which is what I really wanted to do, at last.
Then Browne replies, “You only live once,” sounding very much like a man whose dreams have come true. Strive for pleasure.
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