Raglan to Hollywood: NCIS star ‘blessed’ by life’s breaks

Rising Kiwi actor Alex Tarrant’s “Hollywood moment” in Los Angeles last month may’ve been an unforgettable experience – but so too, he insists, was his early upbringing in Raglan.

Despite having left town at the tender age of eight, the NCIS: Hawai’i star reckons he still likes to claim Raglan as his own. “I have the best childhood memories,” Alex told the Local Rag, from Auckland, where he’s enjoying a break after 10 months based in Honolulu for filming of the first series, now screening on TVNZ 2.

Alex plays a lead role in the action crime drama as Kai Holman, one of a team of Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents working out of the Pearl Harbour field office.

He got his “Hollywood moment” – as the New Zealand Herald’s Spy reporter coined it – on the black carpet at Tinseltown’s Dolby Theatre last month when the full casts of both the original NCIS: LA and the spinoff NCIS: Hawai’i got together at a week-long festival showcasing small-screen shows and celebs.

To have posed alongside the likes of rapper turned actor LL Cool J at the same venue used for the annual Academy Awards was “absolutely mind-blowing for a boy from Raglan”, says Alex, who still counts jumping off  Kopua bridge into the estuary and playing junior soccer at the domain among his best memories growing up.

The now 30-something remembers living with his family just one or two houses along Te Hutewai Rd from the Wainui Rd intersection, and playing with neighbouring kids whose homes overlooked the back of the estuary. “Was there a house there with lion statues out the front?” he asks, his memory of some details a bit of a blur.

Known back then as Alexander Tarrant-Keepa – the surname a mix of his Maori, Samoan and Niuean roots – Alex began his education at Raglan Area School. But the town gradually became a less affordable place to live and his family moved away to Morrinsville.  

Alex later went to Hamilton’s Fraser High where, fortuitously, he got into drama. It was an “amazing environment”, he recalls of his first taste of theatre and performance.

In year 13 he surprised himself by making it through to the finals of the schools-based Sheilah Winn Shakespeare Festival and subsequently getting a life-changing opportunity to perform the following year – with other aspiring actors – at Shakespeare’s Globe theatre in London.

That three-week experience sealed Alex’s destiny and he graduated a few years later from Wellington’s Toi Whakaari, New Zealand’s foremost national drama school.

Now with a decade’s full-time acting under his belt, Alex has played in the likes of Aussie dramas Sea Change and 800 Words, New Zealand’s prime-time soap Shortland Street – as the despised Dr Lincoln Kimiora – and Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings series.

He’s also starred in the Taika Waititi-produced Canadian-Kiwi film collaboration Night Raiders which recently hit Kiwi cinemas and was a standout from last year’s international film circuit.

Just a day after the filming of Lord of the Rings wrapped up, Alex found himself on the plane to Hawaii for filming of the new NCIS spinoff. It was a “very, very fast process”, he laughs of the quick turnaround. Wife and fellow actor Luci Hare went with him, along with the couple’s now four-year-old son Beaumont.

Next month they will again leave their Grey Lynn home for the shores of Honolulu for another 10-month stint of filming for the second series. “Beau will start school in Hawaii,” says                                                 the proud dad.

Alex is grateful to be part of the show that’s turned him into an autograph-worthy star, and pinches himself that the family was able to move to “paradise” when he landed the plum role last year. He also praises Luci – who is currently working in make-up design on the set of the Kiwi sitcom Educators – for effortlessly handling all the admin his career entails. 

“I’m lucky, I just get to do the fun stuff,” he quips before adding they both work at balancing their careers and sharing the care of their son.

Alex is also grateful for golden opportunities that come his way through his acting career, like the private surf lessons in Honolulu courtesy of the NCIS production team. 

“I picked up surfing as a kid in Raglan,” he explains, “but got caught in a rip and gave it up.”

Now he gets to give the sport another go – even if he’ll never compete with his steely-nerved stunt double, native Hawaiian Eli Olsen. 

“I am absolutely blessed,” he says of his breaks in life.

By Edith Symes