Maori actress a Hollywood star after facing fears

Siena Yates,
Spy News,
Publish Date
Saturday, 23 December 2017, 11:08AM

Keala Settle is the breakout star of the upcoming musical hit The Greatest Showman - and she didn't even want the part.

The singer and actress has Maori heritage, with family still living here in New Zealand. But she was raised in Hawaii, also has Pacific Island, British and American heritage, went to school in Utah and has been performing on Broadway since 2011.

All this is to say - as she hilariously puts it: "I have a lot of cultures within me - I'm basically chop suey".

But Settle's mixed background made her unable to "fit in" as a child which led to a host of insecurities – insecurities which nearly saw her lose out on the Greatest Showman role.

She heard the film's main number This Is Me and "it was so incredible that I just was like, 'I really am not going to sing this'…but they said, 'nah, you're singing it' and I was like, 'Crap,'" she laughs.

The song and the film are about embracing your differences and standing up to the world to carve your own path, a message which "hit too close to home" for Settle.

"You've got your family, your cousins...other Polynesians going, 'you're not full, you're half so you can't fit in here'. I couldn't fit in anywhere," she says.

"There is a struggle when you do represent so many countries within you, but that makes you who you are.

"You hope that the people that you were raised with and your whanau...remain with you and I'm a very lucky girl in saying they'll never leave my side. Even if I tried to run away from them, they'll find me and probably give me a hiding and then we'll cry and have a good hug and some lovely kai," she laughs.

But it took Settle some time to come to terms with that and overcome her insecurities and need for perfection.

A major source of inspiration was Harnaam Kaur, a woman Settle found online who suffers from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. As a result of the syndrome, Kaur has a beard just like Settle's character Lettie Lutz "the bearded lady".

"She inspired me through her story, and it was that story I wanted to tell through the film. The light that she has found through her struggle is so eminent and so bright that it just became my goal and continues to be my goal whether I'm part of the film or not."

A post shared by Harnaam Kaur (@harnaamkaur) on

Since then, Settle's life has changed - she found the strength to shoot the Greatest Showman alongside the likes of Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams and Zac Efron, and through that, she's reached out to a massive fanbase who she is helping to accept themselves in turn.

"I gave myself some grace and sort of quieted [voices] of people saying, 'oh you can't do it, you're not going to make it,'" she says.

"Here I am singing this song like; 'not only can you make it, you will and you're going to tell others how to do the same through this song'. That became a turning point for me; releasing that fear and finding that freedom within me."

Keala Settle stars in The Greatest Showman, in cinemas on Boxing Day.