Nathaniel Lees (born in New Zealand) is a Producer, Director, Senior Acting tutor at Toi Whakaari: NZ Drama School and Actor. Lees has been acting on-stage since 1975 and on-screen since 1984.
Lees is a well respected veteran actor. His most popular roles are known to be Captain Mifune in The Matrix trilogy and Uglúk in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. In New Zealand and P.I communities, he is very well known for his appearances in two highly successful New Zealand films: No. 2 and Sione’s Wedding.
Lees got his first paid acting job in 1975 at Auckland’s Mercury Theatre for a production of The Naval Officer. He was in his 20′s and had no theatre experience at the time.
After many acting roles, he directed his first Samoan play titled Think of a Garden (1993), which was produced by Cath Cardiff. The play was staged in Auckland and Taki Rua Theatre, Wellington in 1995. At the 1995 Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards in Wellington, ‘Think of a Garden’ won Production of the Year, Director of the Year, Taki Rua Production of the Year and the Female in a Supporting Role award went to Sima Urale, who played the role of Luisa.
Lee has also worked extensively with Oscar Kightley, playing a big hand in the development of Kightley’s breakthrough play Fresh off the Boat (co-written with Simon Small) which played in Australia and Samoa, and fa’fafine tale A Frigate Bird Sings, which Lees directed for the 1996 International Festival of the Arts. Lees also helmed Albert Wendt’s Samoans in NZ play The Songmaker’s Chair, another double award-winner, and acclaimed Māori play Awhi Tapu (2003).
On-screen, Lees made his debut in 1984 with small roles in Death Warmed Up and cross-cultural romance Other Halves. He was part of the comedy team on Billy T James’ self-titled show (memorably in the Turangi Vice sketches), and followed a part as a reporter in TV’s Gloss, by joining the core cast of Shark in the Park. The successful drama revolved around the everyday working lives of frontline New Zealand police officers. Lees played Sergeant Barker over the show’s three seasons.
By the 90s, Lees was balancing his theatre work with a host of screen projects, including both local shows, and American shows shooting down under. He played a lawyer in City Life, and took bit parts in multiple episodes of Hercules: the Legendary Journeys, after impressing as a villainous priest in early tele-movie Hercules and the Lost Kingdom.
In 1994, he was one of many Maori and Pacific Island actors in big-budget movie Rapa Nui, which retold the Easter Island story for an international audience.
Probably Lee’s most high profile movie role to date has been in the two Matrix sequels. Lees spent time in Sydney and San Francisco for his role as Captain Mifune, perhaps best remembered for his impassioned bouts fighting off hordes of Machines. He had a less recognizable role in the second Lord of the Rings film, playing Ugluk, an Urak-Hai leader who faces off against many of the lead actors in the film’s climactic nighttime battle scene.
In 2005, Lees had a cameo as a Church Minister in hit Pacific Island comedy – Sione’s Wedding, acted in period TV adventure – The Lost Children, and starred in Nancy Brunning’s debut short – Journey to Ihipa. He also cast the film and helped with producing for the movie – The Orator: O Le Tulafale.
He is senior drama school tutor at Toi Whakaari since 2008, and continues to take on acting roles.
Highlights & Awards
- 1997 Chapman Tripp Theatre Award for Best Director, Best Design, Best Supporting Actor, Best Production of the Year, Nominated Best Actor and Best Lighting Design
- 1986 Te Wako Toi Award – New Zealand Arts Council
- 1985 Theatre Awards Wellington – Best Actor, Best Director, Best Production for ‘Think of a Garden’
Source – NZ Onscreen,Toi Whakaari: NZ Drama School