James Napier Robertson

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James Napier Robertson
James Napier Robertson in 2016
Born James William Napier Robertson
(1982-03-24) 24 March 1982 (age 35)
Auckland, New Zealand
Occupation Director, screenwriter, actor
Years active 1995–present

James William Napier Robertson (born 24 March 1982) is a New Zealand writer, film director and producer, who wrote and directed 2009 film I'm Not Harry Jenson, and 2014 film The Dark Horse, for which he won Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Film at the 2014 New Zealand Film Awards, and which was declared by New Zealand critics "One of the greatest New Zealand films ever made".[1][2] He has also appeared earlier in his career as an actor in Shakespearean theater and several television productions including The Tribe and Being Eve, and has described how acting work "funded him through film school".

Early life[edit]

Born in Wellington, New Zealand, but moving to Auckland at a young age, Napier Robertson attended Takapuna Grammar School, where he first started acting in Shakespeare productions and musicals.

His great grandfather is actor Alan Napier, his uncle is actor Marshall Napier and his cousin is Marshall's daughter, actress Jessica Napier. He is also related to the author Charles Dickens.[3]

Napier Robertson and Ella Yelich-O'Connor, who is known by the stage name Lorde, grew up in the same suburb, Devonport, as well as attending the same high school, Takapuna Grammar School.[4]

Early career[edit]

He joined a local outdoor Shakespeare Theatre Company in his late teens, which he performed with for a number of years, often at the Pumphouse Theatre Amphitheatre.[5] He has described this time with the company as his favorite period of acting.[6]

After this period he was cast in a number of local and international television shows which he acted in for the next few years, both in support and lead roles. He was first cast in Being Eve as Jared Preston, a wayward teenager at the titular Eve's school, then in Shortland Street, and Mercy Peak as Luke Bertram, an arsonist dealing with his mothers death by burning down local buildings until he is caught by the police.

In 2002 he was cast for two seasons in UK show The Tribe, a post apocalyptic series about a virus that has wiped out all adults, leaving only young people to fight amongst each other. In 2004 he was cast for one season as a lead actor on US show Power Rangers Dino Thunder, playing Conner McKnight, a soccer player and the Red Ranger. The show was filmed in New Zealand and featured an almost entirely New Zealand cast, including friend and future film producer Tom Hern.

Throughout this period he said he was less interested in acting,[7] instead using the money from these shows to fund the short films he was writing and directing in his early twenties and purchase film equipment.[8]

Recent work[edit]

In his mid twenties, Napier Robertson wrote and directed his first feature film, I'm Not Harry Jenson, with friends Tom Hern and Edward Sampson both taking roles as producers in the film. The film premiered at the 2009 New Zealand International Film Festival[9][10] and was nominated for Best Picture at the 2009 AFTA Awards (New Zealand Film and TV Awards).[11] It was picked up by Rialto Distribution for a New Zealand wide theatrical release from January to March 2010 to strong reviews, but low box office.[12]

The Dark Horse[edit]

James Napier Robertson speaks on stage with James Cameron

In 2010 he started work on his second feature film, The Dark Horse, based on the life story of Genesis Potini, a Māori chess player who suffered from severe bipolar. Napier Robertson stated he became very close friends with Potini, playing hundreds of games of chess with him while writing the screenplay.[13] Napier Robertson has been an avid chess player since a young age, which he cited as one of the things that inspired him to make The Dark Horse.[14]

Cliff Curtis, James Cameron, James Napier Robertson appear at the U.S. premiere of The Dark Horse

The Dark Horse premiered as the Opening Night film at the NZIFF Film Festival on 17 July 2014,[15] and was released across New Zealand on 31 July. The film was a New Zealand box office hit, grossing $2 million and receiving unanimously rave reviews. The New Zealand Herald rated it 5 stars, calling it "a great, deeply affecting movie", with "brave, assured and layered directing" and praising the "towering performance of Cliff Curtis".[16] A review on Radio New Zealand declared it to be "one of the greatest New Zealand films ever made".[17]

It premiered internationally at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.[18] Variety called it "exceptional...the most deserving cinematic export to emerge from New Zealand in years".[19] The Hollywood Reporter said it was "certain to attract awards attention",[20] and Indiewire graded it an 'A', praising it as "moving and incredibly humanistic".[21]

The European Premiere was held at the 2015 Rotterdam International Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award for Best Film.[22] It also won the Best Actor Award for Cliff Curtis at the 2014 Asia Pacific Awards,[23] and six awards at the 2014 New Zealand Film Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay.[24] 2014 was dubbed the 'golden year' of New Zealand film.[25]

The Dark Horse has been scheduled for a worldwide theatrical release in early 2015.

Personal life[edit]

Napier Robertson has stated in interviews he has been a vegetarian since the age of four due to his love for animals, and has been a member of Greenpeace for most of his life. Animal advocacy group SAFE named him 'Hottest Vegetarian of 2014' alongside Academy Award winner Anna Paquin as a way of raising awareness for reducing animal cruelty.[26]



  • Ishtar (Short, 2002) Writer, Director, Editor
  • By Way of LA (Short, 2004) Writer, Director, Actor
  • Two Cons, One Key (Short, 2005) Writer, Director
  • Foul Play[27] (Short, 2007) Writer, Director, Actor.
  • I'm Not Harry Jenson (2009) Writer, Director
  • Everything We Loved (2014) Co-Producer
  • The Dark Horse (2014) Writer, Director[28]



Awards and Nominations[edit]

  • Best Director - The Dark Horse - New Zealand Film Awards 2014
  • Best Screenplay - The Dark Horse - New Zealand Film Awards 2014
  • Best Director - The Dark Horse - Art Film Festival 2015
  • New Filmmaker of the Year Award - SPADA Awards 2014
  • Best Film Jury Award - The Dark Horse - St Tropez International Film Festival 2015
  • Best Screenplay - The Dark Horse - New Zealand Screen Guild Awards 2014
  • Best Film - The Dark Horse - New Zealand Film Awards 2014
  • Best Film - The Dark Horse - Seattle International Film Festival 2015
  • Best Film - The Dark Horse - San Francisco International Film Festival 2015
  • Best Film Audience Award - The Dark Horse - Rotterdam International Film Festival 2015
  • Best Film MovieZone Award - The Dark Horse - Rotterdam International Film Festival 2015
  • Runner Up Best Film - The Dark Horse - Palm Springs International Film Festival 2015
  • Best Film - Nominated - I'm Not Harry Jenson - NZ Film and TV Awards 2009


  1. ^ Channel Feature. "Seeing the Light Behind The Dark Horse". Archive.channelmag.co.nz. Retrieved 2016-04-18. 
  2. ^ "Film review with Dan Slevin". Radio New Zealand National. 24 July 2014. 
  3. ^ "YouTube". YouTube. Retrieved 2016-04-18. 
  4. ^ "Hey, Lorde, Just Who Are These Maybach-Driving New Zealanders?". Foreign Policy. 2014-01-27. Retrieved 2016-04-18. 
  5. ^ "Auckland Actors". Auckland Actors. Retrieved 2016-04-18. 
  6. ^ "Talk Hard – James Napier Robertson, The Dark Horse, Locke - SIMON MIRAUDO". SIMON MIRAUDO. 
  7. ^ "Cliff Curtis, James Napier Robertson, & James Rolleston talk THE DARK HORSE at TIFF". YouTube. 2014-09-24. Retrieved 2016-04-18. 
  8. ^ "I'm Not Harry Jenson: Director interview 19-1-10 Radio Wammo Show, Kiwi FM". YouTube. 2013-08-10. Retrieved 2016-04-18. 
  9. ^ "Welcome to NZIFF - NZFF2013". Nzff.co.nz. Retrieved 2013-11-05. 
  10. ^ "Welcome". Retrieved 26 January 2010. [dead link]
  11. ^ James Napier Robertson at the Internet Movie Database
  12. ^ [1] Archived 18 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine.
  13. ^ "The Dark Horse: All the right moves". The New Zealand Herald. 
  14. ^ "JAMES NAPIER ROBERTSON The Dark Horse". X-press Magazine - Entertainment in Perth. 
  15. ^ "New Cliff Curtis film Dark Horse at short odds". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 27 July 2014. 
  16. ^ "Movie review: The Dark Horse". The New Zealand Herald. 
  17. ^ "Film review with Dan Slevin". Radio New Zealand. 24 July 2014. 
  18. ^ Toronto International Film Festival. "TIFF.net - The Dark Horse". TIFF. 
  19. ^ "'The Dark Horse' Film Review: Cliff Curtis Transforms True Chess Story - Variety". Variety. 
  20. ^ Michael Rechtshaffen. "'The Dark Horse': Toronto Review". The Hollywood Reporter. 
  21. ^ John Anderson (11 September 2014). "Review: Cliff Curtis in 'The Dark Horse'". Indiewire. 
  22. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 8 February 2015. Retrieved 7 March 2015. 
  23. ^ "Cliff Curtis pips Cannes winner at awards". The New Zealand Herald. 
  24. ^ "News - The New Zealand Film Awards". nzfilmawards.co.nz. 
  25. ^ "A golden year for Kiwi cinema". Stuff. 
  26. ^ "New Zealand's 2014 Hottest Vegetarians Crowned | Scoop News". Scoop.co.nz. 2014-09-30. Retrieved 2016-04-18. 
  27. ^ "film editor in, Auckland,New Zealand, ,Avid and FCP". film editor in, Auckland,New Zealand, ,Avid and FCP. 
  28. ^ "James Napier Robertson". NZ On Screen. NZ On Screen. Retrieved 16 June 2014. 

External links[edit]