First, handpicked by Dwayne Johnson to portray the college-football version of himself in NBC’s Young Rock. Next, appearing in Taika Waititi’s Next Goal Wins, opposite Fassbender. And currently, filming Black Site, opposite Michelle Monaghan, Jason Clarke and Jai Courtney.
Besides the now-inevitable rise of his career, Latukefu has another focus on his mind: learning to balance family life and dad life with his own exploding career.
What does this mean in 2021, at a time when gender roles are redefined at every turn? When the Me Too movement has made the world re-evaluate the concept of masculinity, and raising a child in the age of social media has given parents a whole new slew of concerns to grapple with? We spoke to the Aussie actor and girl-dad about what it means to be a family man now.
LEO: Do you consider yourself a throwback kind of family man?
ULI: I’m not sure. I guess if by throwback you mean a family man that feels the responsibility to lead, protect and provide for his family, then yes. I think defining those things has shifted in many ways, but it will always be my responsibility and desire to do those things. What does leadership, protection and provision look like? To me it’s love, service, faith and action.
Are you a very modern, hands-on dad? Do you get into the nuances of parenthood like sleeping schedules and what goes into the diaper bag?
During the first few months of COVID hitting, I was self-isolating with my daughter after returning from Los Angeles. I put a small schedule in place, and after three days, threw it out of the window. It just wasn’t working; so, no I don’t think I’m that sort of dad. I believe strongly in discipline but I also think you’ve got to be flexible. I love spending time with my daughter. My favourite thing is probably just talking with her and hearing her share things with me. I’m not sure how long that transparency with me will last, but I hope it’s for a while [laughs].
In a strongly feminist age, do you feel like the concept of ‘man as the provider’ has changed? Do you find it has taken on a negative connotation?
As the sole provider, yes. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that as long men aren’t made to feel like having that sense of responsibility is out of date. It’s not. Not to me. It’s part of our DNA. Love and provision go hand in hand. I think men should be allowed to express that together with knowing it’s not always all on our shoulders.
What does being the “head of the family” mean to you now vs what it meant for our parents’ generation?
My dad used to call the shots over everything in our family. I grew up very close with my cousins, uncles and aunties because of the emphasis they placed on family. He was very much seen as the head of the family and I’ve always grown up hearing stories of how he’d be both head strong and extremely caring and loving. He passed when I was 5, but I always grew up with that model in my mind and how I wanted to be. That’s evolved over time though where I’ve learnt that my best ally is my wife. I’m very much aware of how much value and wisdom she carries, and sharing in decision making is crucial to our family thriving. She also trusts me, which is a big deal to me. I’ve made plenty of mistakes and wild decisions but its never wavered our ability to move forward.
Kids are made more aware of topical issues now than we ever did. Do you feel it’s more important to just let kids be kids, or do you find it important to raise them with a high awareness of such things? It’s a bit of a tricky balance.
It is a tricky balance. I try to be aware of allowing my daughter to discover life as it comes to her, and to just enjoy the here and now—the joys of life. My wife and I consistently remind our daughter of the strength in her identity and the value that she adds to the world around her. Whatever is going on in the world and whatever state it’s in, she has a firm place and say in it. The rest will be her forming her own perspective.
This is the first generation who didn’t know a world before social media and iPhones. You’re 36. Instagram launched 10 years ago. We played outside, got our hands dirty, read books, played sports. How do you reconcile the way you were raised with the online world kids are raised in now?
To be honest, I think I’m still adjusting. There are things that happen on the internet that just wouldn’t fly in person when I was growing up—at least in the circles I grew up in. You’d get slapped around for saying and doing half the things some of this generation say and do to other people. This isn’t limited to young people either. The online bravery is very interesting.
But what I AM really excited about is how innovative and switched on—no pun intended—this younger generation is. They’re driven, intelligent, creative and really motivated to create and build towards change for the better. I love that. The immediacy of information has put them at a great advantage to make leaps and bounds in life, and I’m here for it.
Are there aspects of your childhood you get nostalgic about or wish were part of your child’s upbringing?
No, not really. I’m really blessed to have family who are always around and who love our daughter as I was, so I’m always grateful for that. I do wish sometimes that my dad was alive to see his granddaughter though. He would’ve spoiled her rotten. I think the absence of my dad from a young age makes me really appreciate being a father and my time with my daughter. I really believe in being deliberate and present for her.
Post Me-Too, it’s an interesting and sometimes challenging territory and time to be a man. How do you raise a daughter to not have a negative connotation towards men, while dealing with such topical things as “toxic masculinity” and such?
I’m my daughter’s first reference of what a man looks like. So that’s on me. How I carry myself, how I care for her and my wife, how I deal with problems and conflict —not always constructively— etc., will all shape her image of what a man looks like. It’s not about trying to be perfect. That doesn’t exist. If I’m out of line, I’ll own it, and it’s good for her to see and share about it. But ultimately, I believe in respect and that it goes both ways. My daughter knows that.
You’re playing a version of The Rock. He is such a family man, what did you learn from him and from that experience playing him?
Getting to know Dwayne has been confirmation of what we know of him as from a public perspective: genuine, hardworking and a man of integrity. It’s really been a humbling experience getting to know him, and watching how he navigates his personal life and responsibilities as a husband and father with being one of the most successful icons of our time. It’s a real honor playing him.
I had a friend whose dad, when his kid acted out, he would say to him—“Don’t talk to my wife that way” as opposed to the ole, “Don’t talk to your mother that way.” I always found that refreshing. So many new parents get lost into parent-land and forget to prioritize the husband-and-wife part. How do you navigate that?
That’s really true and I agree! It can be really easy to slip into, but I think at the very least, children want to be in a home where there’s love. And that starts with mum and dad. Simple checking-in with each other, having each other’s back when disciplining—at least in front of the child [laughs]. Small actions of appreciation for each other is something we try and do.
When you travel for jobs, does your family go with you or is there a home base situation and you just go back and forth?
When I’m away for a long period of time, I make it a priority for my family to travel with me, or that I travel back to spend even a couple days with them. I really believe that when it’s possible, it’s essential to be in each other’s company. Check in, enjoy being together and then carry on with business. I’ve always felt when I’ve prioritised that, I’m of better service—and company— at work and at home.
CHECK OUT ULI
In director Taika Waititi’s Next Goal Wins
In the Australian action film Black Site
As Dwayne Johnson in NBC’s Young Rock
As Byamba in Netflix’s Marco Polo
As Cole in director Ridley Scott’s Alien Covenant