WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) – Mungau Dain never considered acting before acting in the Oscar nominated film "Tanna". He got the role because his elders decided he was the nicest guy in their traditional village on the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu.
They would then describe it as their response to Brad Pitt.
Dain died Saturday in the capital Port Vila, after contracting a leg infection that was not treated quickly. He was about twenty years old.
Martin Butler, who co-directed "Tanna", said that Dain was not a natural actor but was very enthusiastic, he quickly learned and ended up giving a fabulous performance. The film has won numerous awards, including two at the Venice Film Festival.
Dain is survived by his wife Nancy and two children. His village, Yakel, on the island of Tanna, remains in a traditional two-week mourning period.
Jimmy Joseph, the cultural director of the island of Tanna, said that Dain was quiet, humble and respected in Yakel, where he had chosen to remain alive even after achieving some fame in the film. He said that Dain never drank or smoked.
People in the village generally chose to live as they did for centuries, in simple thatched huts and wearing only grass skirts or a penis shield called Namba. They grow crops and pigs and observe a traditional lifestyle known as kastom.
But the village is not completed isolated from modern life. When villagers trek to the main island town to sell coffee beans that have grown or bought rice, they usually wear clothes. Some have cell phones, which charge with small solar panels.
When Butler and Bentley Dean, based in Australia, decided to make the film, which is loosely based on a true story, Butler said they soon realized that the village elders would be casting. Dean said that Dain seemed too old for the role with his full beard, but 10 minutes later he had shaved off at their request.
She said she remembers with affection how embarrassing Dain was when she tried to act in a scene where she would have to lift co-star Marie Wawa in her arms and carry her along a river bed.
Butler said he and Dean plan to travel to Yakel at the end of the mourning period to join the village in celebrating Dain's life.
"I was totally destroyed, he was so fit, young and gorgeous, his wife is fabulous and the kids are fantastic," said Butler. "It was a great example of how you can live a totally different kind of life, and still be completely happy."
The location producer Janita Suter, who lived in Yakel for seven months while filming with her husband Dean and their children, said that if there was a prize for the best actor, he would have to go to Dain. He said he did not think he'd ever seen a movie before acting in one.
He said that when they traveled to Venice for the film festival, he was in his apartment when the chandelier and ceiling started shaking. It turned out that it was Dain and the other villagers in the upper room, stomping on a traditional dance.
"He was a true ambassador for his people," he said. "It's a real loss."
He said that Dain had stayed in Port Vila for the past two months while trying to get a temporary visa to come to Australia and earn some money by collecting fruit. He said that a doctor had explained that Dain had an untreated leg infection and when he was taken to the hospital he was unconscious and probably in septic shock.
Butler said he hoped there might be a way to get better information on Vanuatu on the risks of infections and that Dain's death could act as a catalyst.