TV Zone #116 July 1999
The children will inherit the Earth…
Imagine a future world where adults have been wiped out and the Earth has been inherited by children. This is the post-apocalyptic scenario of The Tribe , set in the urban wastelands of New Zealand where gangs of youngsters wearing war paint rule the streets. "I suppose there are times in every child’s life when they just wish the adults would go away and they could do their own thing, reflects Caleb Ross, the 17-year-old actor who plays Lex. “But it’s portrayed in the series how hard it would actually be without adults around. We don’t have any electricity, we don’t have anybody to get us from A to B, to give us rules or to say what’s right and wrong, so we have to create our own laws, our own ways of living and I think we handle it pretty well.”
For a series aimed at youngsters, The Tribe reflects some of the harsh realities of a world where civilisation has collapsed. Children still play, but they know they are living off a dwindling supply of canned food and water. “All the responsibilities that the adults have are dropped on the children’s shoulders,” Caleb continues. “The programme’s about how we cope with those situations. It’s how kids would actually handle the situations that arise in everyday life that we never even had to worry about because it’s always been taken care of by older people and adults.”
On The Level
Caleb, a native New Zealander, has flown over to Britain to promote The Tribe with two of his co-stars, Meryl Cassie who plays Ebony, and Dwayne Cameron who plays Bray. “The scriptwriters, who are all adults, have managed to come up with solutions that kids would actually think of,” says Dwayne.
"They’ve managed to think on a teenager’s level which is really good. Sometimes you read a script and you imagine these 40 or 50-year-old guys - I don’t know how old they are - sitting with a laptop typing away, but they do get on the same tune as a teenager."
Bray is the teenager who arrives in the city with Trudy, a pregnant girl looking for somewhere to have her baby. Amber, who has brought together the youngsters who live in an abandoned shopping mall, reluctantly allows him to stay.
At first he seems to have a caring nature, but it transpires that he has little regard for the makeshift rules of the tribe and he is harbouring a secret. “My character is really quiet,” he says. “He’s totally the biggest enemy to Caleb who plays Lex. I want to help, but I’m one of those guys who sits back and is the quiet observer, the strong silent type. I kind of like Amber, but I never act on it and I screw things up because I’m all reserved. I go off and collect food for everyone and be the Daddy figure,” he laughs. “I’m wanted by other gangs, thy don’t really trust me because I’m a kind of one-man army that runs around and takes on everyone.”
Lex takes an immediate dislike to Bray, wanting to throw him, Trudy and her ‘brat’ out on the streets. The boys are the eldest, both 17, and Lex sees Bray as a rival for control of the tribe, even though the others look up to 14-year-old Amber. “He’s the good baddie,” say Caleb of his character. “He’s with the main focus tribe who are the good guys, as such, but he’s mean and arrogant and evil and a bully and he will help people as long as it’s for his own cause. It’s all to do with him, he’s very manipulative and he’ll try his hardest to get his own way. He pushes Xandra, his girlfriend, around and uses her. All he wants is sex. He’s very sexually driven, actually, you’ll see throughout the series. But he’s great, he’s such a good character to play. Although he’s really mean all the time, he hides it by trying to be nice, so you get to play all these different emotions.”
Internal squabbles aside, their biggest enemies are the other tribes. Meryl’s character, Ebony, is one of the villainous Locos who ride around in a police car with its siren blazing, and shouting their war cry ‘power and chaos!’. “My character wants to be the boss and really overwhelming,” she says. “She’s a dominant character, likes to stand out and gets everything her way and ruins things for people - like weddings! She’s quite sleazy at times as well. She’s great fun to play.”
Slap It On
Her make-up is striking with long braided hair and war paint that makes the amiable 14-year-old actress look pretty intimidating. “I had heaps of make-up at the beginning,” she says. “As it went on it got less, but it was still enough to be quite annoying. The hairstyles were bad, all the pulling and pins getting stuck.”
The striking look of the series is enhanced with its setting in trashed, graffiti-filled streets where children’s tribes rule. “They film it in the city, they just block off streets and things,” says Caleb. “Near the beginning we were doing six-day weeks so we’d film on the weekends, and we’d use maybe a Sunday to go to the town when there wouldn’t be so many people, so it was easier to block off streets and use the area.”
“They’d throw rubbish, tip a car upside down and set it on fire,” adds Dwayne. “They’d have wind machines so we’d hear these people (the public) standing around going ‘what the hell is going on?’ Then we’d be roller blading and fighting.”
There is quite a lot of stunt work in The Tribe . Although it is a long-running serial (the first series is 52 episodes) and is partly about developing relationships, people who had expected more of a near-future Soap Opera are likely to be surprised. “At the start they told us there would be no fighting, no kissing, just a bland easy going couple of kids,” says Dwayne. “Then it evolved, it got really deep.”
The Tribe certainly pulls no punches. When Trudy has her baby, it is no cosy tv-land delivery. Trudy’s screaming leaves the viewer in no doubt how much pain she’s in, and then, because of a lack of hygiene during the birth, she gets an infection and almost dies.
The series was filmed in Wellington with the young actors staying there for up to two months at a times before returning home to their families. They naturally became a very close cast and there were even rumours of romance breaking out o the set. “You could say that,” says Meryl intriguingly, refusing to elaborate.
“It’s something that’s going to happen in any situation where there’s a pile of people working together 24 hours a day,” adds Caleb, trying to play the rumours down. “It’s a professional environment and that’s something you’ve got to get used to, just try and push those feelings aside and work round them.”
“It’s kind of hard because they select all the really good looking people in one place and everybody’s quite talented with great personalities,” says Dwayne. “But it’s work.”