No more Mr Nice Guy

Short­land Street vet­eran Craig Parker talks to Shan­non Huse about a life lived on screen, be­ing paid to sign au­to­graphs and work­ing with Bill Nighy.

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CRAIG PARKER has grown up on television. We’ve made the jour­ney with him from geeky Glen­field Col­lege boy turned ac­tor on Gloss (Justin Greig) to 20some­thing guy about town (Seth on Ci­tylife, Guy Warner on Short­land Street and Alis­tair Kings­ley on Mercy Peak). Now knock­ing on 40, he’s our very own block­buster star with two television shows and a fea­ture film on the go this year.

Thus far he’s been mostly Mr Nice Guy, but this year sees Parker ex­plor­ing the darker side to life.

For the next cou­ple of months, we’ll see him stag­ger­ing through Short­land Street as drug-tak­ing, mar­riage-wreck­ing, car-crash­ing Guy Warner. Then he’ll play a diplo­mat who falls from grace in sexy new po­lit­i­cally in­cor­rect com­edy Diplo­matic Im­mu­nity. And he’ll round off the year play­ing a hairy, scary were­wolf in Un­der­world 3: Rise of the Ly­cans.

Parker is look­ing for­ward to be­ing in an ac­tion movie with Bill Nighy. “He’s such a won­der­ful ac­tor who al­ways has a twin­kle in his eye. And it’s just cool to be in a movie that has vam­pires and were­wolves.”

Un­der­world is cur­rently be­ing filmed at Auck­land’s Pen­rose stu­dios and Parker plays a Ly­can war­rior fight­ing to free the were­wolves from their vam­pire over­lords. It’s a de­cent-sized role and the third movie of the block­buster fran­chise so the com­bi­na­tion of pay and in­ter­na­tional ex­po­sure is likely to give Parker’s ca­reer a sig­nif­i­cant boost.

But back to Guy Warner: “He's just so screwed up he’s fan­tas­tic to play,” Parker en­thuses.” He’s a mul­tidrug user in se­ri­ous de­nial about how his daugh­ter Tues­day has been af­fected and now he’s dam­aged the whole Warner fam­ily in the ac­ci­dent.”

This stark char­ac­ter change from Guy the so­cial worker is what at­tracted Parker back to the role, along with the se­ries’ con­tin­ual in­no­va­tion. “It’s just a re­ally good show that keeps evolv­ing and im­prov­ing.”

Short­land Street’s track record for can­vass­ing big so­ci­etal is­sues with­out moral­is­ing is an­other plus as far as Parker is con­cerned. “I’m re­ally im­pressed they’ve shown the good and bad of Guy tak­ing drugs. With­out moral­is­ing they’re show­ing the ter­ri­ble con­se­quences of P ad­dic­tion.”

Be­fore step­ping back into Guy Warner’s shoes, Parker trav­elled and worked in Europe for five years and re­turn­ing home was shocked by the preva­lence of P here.

His other big project for the year is new 13-episode com­edy se­ries Diplo­matic Im­mu­nity, an­other South Pa­cific Pic­tures pro­duc­tion, which starts film­ing in Auck­land in March. It’s got good blood­lines – spring­ing from the pen of James Grif­fin ( Out­ra­geous For­tune). Parker plays the bright, blue-eyed boy from For­eign Af­fairs who sleeps with a mi­nor royal and for his sins is dis­patched to the fic­tional “Most Royal King­dom of Fe’ausi.”

With his still youth­ful good looks it’s easy to for­get Parker (37) has well and truly proven his act­ing chops in New Zealand. From de­but roles in Hotshots and then Gloss on TVNZ he trekked through 20 television se­ries in­clud­ing the ac­claimed Mercy Peak, 10 theatre pro­duc­tions in­clud­ing last year’s con­tro­ver­sial ATC pro­duc­tion of The Pil­low­man and five fea­ture films in­clud­ing the Lord of the Rings. He’s also paid the bills with television voice-overs and cor­po­rate gigs (“se­cret whor­ing”) all with­out get­ting over-ex­posed and while main­tain­ing a rep­u­ta­tion as a “lovely man”.

“I don’t think you can re­ally de­fine a ca­reer as suc­cess­ful un­til it’s over. I’ve never had any as­pi­ra­tions to play Ham­let or Lear. And one of the rea­sons I love act­ing is, un­like other ca­reers, you don’t have to plan things out. Some of the best and most en­joy­able roles come from out of the blue in a sur­prise phone call.”

He’s al­ways strived to be ver­sa­tile and pro­fes­sional. “There’s a lot of play­ing in the job and it’s im­por­tant not to lose sight of what’s im­por­tant. You have to be a pro­fes­sional, turn up on time and de­liver what they are pay­ing you for.”

He’s no longer fazed by hav­ing his clumsy first act­ing jobs come back to haunt him. “I nor­mally hate watch­ing my own per­for­mances but it’s been such a long time since Gloss it feels like watch­ing some­one else. I call it ter­ri­fied act­ing be­cause my shoul­ders are up around my ears the whole time.”

From Gloss he got an early les­son in treat­ing fans with re­spect. “Ilona Rogers [ Gloss doyenne Max­ine Red­fern] was prob­a­bly the most fa­mous wo­man in New Zealand at the time but she was al­ways so gra­cious with fans and gave them her time no mat­ter what. She told me it was be­cause she could un­der­stand how nerve-wrack­ing it was for them and I’ve al­ways tried to fol­low the same approach.”

In New Zealand most fans just want to ac­knowl­edge “the guy off TV”; in­ter­na­tion­ally it’s most likely fans of the Lord of Rings tril­ogy. He played elf Haldir, who died in Viggo Mortensen’s (Aragon) arms at the Helms Deep bat­tle. He is on sev­eral LOTR fan sites.

He did LOTR fan con­ven­tions for a few years where even mi­nor char­ac­ters are feted like stars, jet­ted around, with lush ap­pear­ance money and fees for each au­to­graph signed.

“The con­ven­tions are not as weird as they sound. Oc­ca­sion­ally, you see some­one dressed as a tree or some­thing strange but re­ally they’re like school camp.”

Parker’s dul­cet tones sug­gest a private ed­u­ca­tion and a priv­i­leged up­bring­ing but in fact he was born in Fiji, the youngest of three chil­dren. Dad Barry was a for­mer air­force man who worked for Air Pa­cific while mum Robin gave up be­ing a kindy teacher to look af­ter Craig, older brother David and sis­ter Wendy.

His fam­ily moved back to New Zealand when he was 10 and very ex­cited about the prospect of liv­ing in a place that had lots of cars and big build­ings. They set­tled in blue col­lar Glen­field, a de­ci­sion he puts down to his par­ents ar­riv­ing late at night and drink­ing too much gin on the plane.

At Glen­field Col­lege his “in­cred­i­bly en­cour­ag­ing” drama teacher fos­tered his act­ing in­ter­est. areer. At the time act­ing was con­sid­ered self in­dul­gent and im­pos­si­ble to make a liv­ing from but Parker per­sisted and has been suc­cess­ful de­spite no univer­sity or drama school ed­u­ca­tion.

He may be well known, but Parker’s not as fa­mous as su­per­model/ac­tress/swimwear de­signer/Rod Ste­wart-wife Rachel Hunter who at­tended Glen­field Col­lege at the same time.

He met his for­mer class-mate re­cently at a Lon­don party and re­minded her of their alma mater. Her re­ac­tion was priceless. “She just said ‘Eww’ and walked off,” he says recre­at­ing her look of hor­ror (like a su­per­model who's just been asked to eat carbs) with the head flick as she turned away.

Part of the rea­son Parker’s not reached sim­i­larly fa­mous sta­tus is his de­ter­mi­na­tion to es­chew the fame game. While in the UK he turned down a role in the pop­u­lar TV se­ries Ca­su­alty and he also guards his pri­vacy jeal­ously.

You won’t see his Pon­sonby home and trop­i­cal gar­den in a wo­man’s mag­a­zine and his love life is an­other no go area. As a gay man Parker says he doesn’t care what peo­ple say about his sex­u­al­ity “it’s just not an is­sue for me.”

“I just don’t get why an ac­tor would want to re­veal their se­crets, hopes and fears to a mag­a­zine or news­pa­per. I know what the mag­a­zine gets out of it but not the per­son. If you are do­ing pub­lic­ity to in­crease your self con­fi­dence then you are re­ally in trou­ble. It’s im­por­tant to keep some pri­vacy. Your friends and fam­ily are the peo­ple who you re­veal your­self to. They are the ones who should have real ac­cess to you.”

He’s not try­ing to be mys­te­ri­ous or aloof and any­one reg­u­larly on Pon­sonby Rd will likely see him out eat­ing and drink­ing with friends at his favourite SPQR.

He will re­veal he speaks “sur­vival French”, has an ad­vanced div­ing qual­i­fi­ca­tion and at one stage toyed with the idea of be­ing a marine bi­ol­o­gist, but trav­el­ling and so­cial­is­ing are his favourite things to do out­side of act­ing.

“My mum told me that I had to get a hobby so I took up gar­den­ing. There’s def­i­nitely some­thing sat­is­fy­ing about plant­ing things and watch­ing them grow. Drink­ing is an­other hobby and drink­ing and gar­den­ing is re­ally the per­fect com­bi­na­tion.”

Not that there’s likely to be much time for quiet beers in the gar­den this year.

STREET-WISE: Craig Parker.

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