Film critic Roger Ebert said in a review of the film that in his opinion the acting in Once Were Warriors is so powerful, it puts the Academy Awards into perspective.
Temura Morrison would get challenged to fight all the time by local thugs after seeing him play Jake Heke.
Temuera Morrison has commented that he did not expect the film to be a hit. He couldn't contemplate how anyone would want to watch a film containing such violence.
Actor Cliff Curtis initially refused the role of Uncle Bully as he found the character so repulsive, but his agent and his auntie persuaded him to do it.
There were concerns that Temuera Morrison was too small for the part of Jake the Muss. He spent weeks in the gym training under the supervision of fight coordinator Robert Bruce, and he consumed whole chickens in order to beef up for the role.
Temuera Morrison fought hard to keep the role once it was offered to him, even though he struggled to master it. He knew that the role was a huge challenge and that it would be the making of him as an actor.
Cliff Curtis is still teased about his role as Uncle Bully in the film. He says the part will haunt him for the rest of his life.
Temuera Morrison said he found it hard to go back to his regular television role after doing this movie. He said that after finding all the pain and anger to play Jake the Muss, it was hard to let it go, and he wanted to swear and curse at all the nurses and patients in Shortland Street.
The film was turned down by various potential backers and producers including the New Zealand Film Commission. A key turning point in getting the project off the ground was that Wellington playwright Riwia Brown rewrote Duff's original script and made it as much the story of Beth and her children as it is the story of Jake. Then director Tamahori knew he was onto a winner. Tanahori said "You couldn't have it be a story about a mindlessly violent thug. I was more fascinated by a story of a mother who makes efforts to rise above her circumstances and create a life for her children."
Morrison has spoken of his enormous respect for the acting ability and presence of Rena Owen. He said "It's the inner emotion, it is the energy that makes those hairs on your neck prickle a little bit. It's the heebie-jeebies crossed with a little bit of inner spirituality. Rena had that - in vast amounts."
Once Were Warriors was voted, in a local online poll in 2014, the best New Zealand film of all time, ahead of Boy, Whale Rider and Goodbye Pork Pie.
Morrison took a long time to get into the character of Jake the Muss. He was used to playing calm characters and good guys. A key point in his transformation came when Rena Owen stayed in character and yelled at him until he got angry. Apparently he only got into character on the weekend just before filming started.
In 2014 a '20 years after' documentary was made about the film, narrated by actor Julian Arahanga (who plays Nig in the movie), who is now a film maker based in Wellington NZ.
Temeura Morrison's performance was likened by some film critics to that of Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront.
Producer Robin Scholes, of the Communicado television company who produced the film, said she had been looking for a project that reflected her own experience of violence, and that of other women. She had been badly beaten in the 1980s, by a serial rapist.
Julian Arahanga said that Rena Owen's performance was so powerful, she became the anchor point for all the other actors in the movie.
Rena Owen coveted the role of Beth for three years after she read the novel by Alan Duff. She caught the attention of Duff at a book reading in Wellington, of one of Duff's other novels. Duff initially ignored her, but then was so captivated by her reading that he approached her and told her she would be ideal for the role of Beth.
When filming the party scenes in a house in Auckland, the local neighbors often complained about the noise.
Eventually a local police commander, Rana Waitai, gave an impassioned speech about the importance of the film, and this convinced the New Zealand Film Commission to back the project.
The building used for the interior and exterior courtroom shots is the main office and warehouse in New Zealand for Apple Computer's national distributor. Although the entrance has been remodeled and the reception area totally changed, the small wall tiles seen on the interior walls can still be found in what is now a cupboard under the (now-enclosed) staircase shown.
Living in South Auckland where a lot of the scenes were filmed. The pub was the first supermarket in New Zealand, in Great South Road., Otahuhu. In one shot you can see the block of flats on the other of the Tamaki River. Next door is the pipe Grace walks across, also over the Tamaki river. Near the Heke house several large chimneys are visible which are at the Otahuhu Power Station.