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Sunday Star-Times - Sunday Magazine - - THE GRILL - In­ter­view/ Britt Mann Pho­to­graph/ Da­vide Zer­illi screens on TVNZ One on Wed­nes­days at 8.30pm.

Erik Thomson, pic­tured left, who plays lead char­ac­ter Ge­orge Turner in

and Tim Balme, a writer and sto­ry­liner on the show, were in a band to­gether as teenagers in Tau­ranga. Balme lives in Auck­land. Thomson lives in Port Wil­lunga, near Ade­laide. Both men are aged 50. ERIK/ I went and saw a pro­duc­tion he act­ing in – I think it was 1983. It was the first time I ever saw him on stage. The fol­low­ing year I was head boy at Tau­ranga Boys’ Col­lege and he was head boy at Otu­moetai Col­lege. Be­cause of our po­si­tions of power and im­por­tance, we were in­vited to each other’s school func­tions. At the end of the year, me and few mates put a band to­gether, The Gon­ads. We all knew and liked Tim and knew he was a pretty tal­ented guy. We asked him if he’d join. That was the be­gin­ning of The Gon­ads, in the sum­mer of 1984/85.

He was from the other side of the bridge. He didn’t re­ally know us very well but he wanted to play in a band. I was lead singer even though Tim went on to be a lead singer in his own band in Welling­ton a few years later. Our com­mon ground was the fact we’d just fin­ished our seventh form. He was off to Vic­to­ria Univer­sity in a cou­ple of months’ time, I was off over­seas.

It was a clas­sic garage band; we were all white, mid­dle­class boys try­ing to play punk mu­sic so it was a lit­tle bit tragic on one level. We had one lit­tle 25 watt amp and a 12” speaker cone that would sit on a plas­tic chair in the mid­dle of the garage we prac­tised in.

We had nine songs. Our first gig, we had two sets, so we played our nine songs twice. We had a bit of a cult fol­low­ing.

He was a very pop­u­lar head pre­fect and he was one of those guys who was al­ways fun to be around. He had a lot of courage to try dif­fer­ent things in terms of his art and his mu­sic and what­ever he was do­ing. He was one of those guys peo­ple en­joyed be­ing with – I don’t think that’s changed.

All this time I’ve thought he’s got a nat­u­ral tal­ent, nat­u­ral charisma, and it just seemed kinda easy for him. What I’ve re­alised over the years is he’s very fo­cused, he’s an in­cred­i­bly hard worker. To be a writer and meet dead­lines – you can’t just be tal­ented, you’ve ac­tu­ally got to be able to sit down at the com­puter and get things done.

Tim’s al­ways been the kind of guy who con­sid­ers what he says be­fore he speaks, and he says what he means – it’s been put through a cou­ple of fil­ters and thought through. That said, he’s a great con­ver­sa­tion­al­ist. It’s not like he’s an in­tro­vert.

I al­ways felt that my tal­ents – what­ever they may be – weren’t as nat­u­ral as his and I prob­a­bly had to work a lit­tle bit harder at feel­ing con­fi­dent what I was do­ing was of value. Tim may just have been hid­ing it re­ally well, but he seemed to be very con­tent in his abil­ity to ex­press him­self from a very young age. TIM/ We grew up in the same town. We went to dif­fer­ent schools, but we ended up play­ing in a band to­gether.

All the guys in the band were at the same school ex­cept me – and I got re­cruited as a rhythm gui­tar player, prob­a­bly be­cause I had a spare gui­tar. Erik was the lead singer and a rhythm gui­tarist as well.

I re­mem­ber Erik as be­ing very strong and clear about what he wanted. He was also a great surfer. I re­mem­ber once we went surf­ing to­gether – he was re­ally good and I was re­ally shit.

We played th­ese semi-il­le­gal gigs in a hall on the out­skirts of town. We’d print tick­ets and peo­ple would turn up and have a big night. We were play­ing mainly 80s cov­ers – a lot of Fly­ing Nun. Cre­at­ing some­thing to do in Tau­ranga on a Satur­day night in 1984... there weren’t a lot of op­tions. Groups like us kind of had to make things hap­pen.

We went to the same univer­sity, and also drama school. He was the year be­hind me. I went straight to Vic­to­ria Univer­sity and he took a gap year and went to Scot­land, I think.

Erik, af­ter leav­ing drama school and work­ing in the in­dus­try for a cou­ple of years here, had the gump­tion to get up and go and set him­self up in Aus­tralia. That’s not an easy thing to do, and I greatly ad­mire that. He’s got a very ad­mirable de­ter­mi­na­tion. It’s prob­a­bly his Scot­tish her­itage. They’ve had to sur­vive those bru­tal win­ters in a god­for­saken part of the world, and yet, they sur­vive with de­ter­mi­na­tion. And whisky.

Oc­ca­sion­ally Erik will shoot me an email and say he’s read a script that he liked, say­ing thanks. He’s very gen­er­ous like that, ’cos he’s a busy guy, but he takes time out to ac­knowl­edge stuff like that. He knows, hav­ing been in the busi­ness for a long time, that writ­ers are in the back rooms mak­ing the plat­forms for ac­tors to stand on.

He’s a phys­i­cally im­pres­sive guy. But he’s a great thinker, and that’s, I think, what’s made him a great ac­tor. He’s worked re­ally hard at it over the years and said: “This is what I do and this is what I’m go­ing to do re­ally well.” He cares deeply about his craft, and when you watch him on the show – 800 Words – he’s al­most in ev­ery scene. He’s like the At­las hold­ing up that se­ries. He makes it look ef­fort­less, and it’s not. And that’s the key to a good ac­tor. The last thing you want to see is some­one mak­ing hard work of it. 800 Words

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