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 received a call from Nida confirming my entry. It was an opportunity of a lifetime, and I would have been foolish to turn it down. However, when I called my acting teacher, he informed me that I had truly been accepted. I said, “Nah, I actually got in,” but he didn’t believe me. ‘You’ve got to do this,’ he said. You must take action. I returned to my desk at work, sat down, and as I was looking at all the papers, I thought, “No more.” I’m leaving.
It was a tremendous confidence booster, but it also raised some new issues. The main need for that would be leaving a consistent paycheck, and as he was a Kiwi, he was not eligible for Australian student loans. During the three years of full-time school, he fretted about maintaining his financial situation while still being a good dad and husband.
“I had to come up with a means to pay for this. For years, things were difficult. I was taking classes during the day and working as a bouncer at night. I was struggling to stay awake since I would get home at 4am and then have to get up at 7am to go to school. Without my partner, I would not have been able to grind it out. For years, she supported us. But you just need to figure it out and do what needs to be done.
Several times, he was on the verge of giving up, but his teachers always persuaded him to continue. He had a chance to try out for Home and Away during his last semester. He appeared in the scenario heading for the Ari character.
“Tane didn’t exist,” he chuckles. “We want you to read for a new character named Tane, he’s the younger brother of Ari,” the callback stated.
He entered and was immediately terrified by all of the well-known people there.
“I’m way out of my league here,” I thought after growing up watching these people.
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.