From stalker to front desk:
Tom Sainsbury talks about his return to Shortland Street.
Comedian Tom Sainsbury’s current role on Shortland Street is proof that he is indeed New Zealand’s man of many faces.
In fact, few of the drama’s fans probably realise the actor who played Jason ‘Sexy Eyes’ Fitzpatrick, the stalker of Dr Finn Warner (Lukas Whiting), is actually the same man who became a social media star for his Paula Bennett imitations during last year’s election campaign.
Jason is now back – ostensibly no longer insane and now going by the name of Sebastian – and filling in as the Ferndale hospital’s receptionist while Leanne (Jennifer Ludlam) is off in Bali.
“He’s come back, he’s had his therapy and he’s on medication now so he’s a lot more stable,” says Sainsbury, who is over the moon at being asked to reprise the role.
“It was a dream come true to me originally because I grew up loving all the Shortland Street villains in the 90s. It was like, ‘Those are the best parts’ then lo and behold I got to play one for a few weeks.”
Jason terrorised Finn and almost caused the death of Dr Esther Samuel (Ngahuia Piripi), before being carted off by the men in white coats. Now, as Sebastian, he’s out to make amends.
“He is so complicated and so extreme which I love and there’s so much drama to sink my teeth into.
“He’s obviously unhinged but I do know people who are this dramatic in everyday life. I think there is a seed of truth to who he is,” Sainsbury says of his encore performance.
“This time round he’s a lot more of a comedic character so again I got to fulfil a different kind of archetype which I really like, too. So that was another dream come true.” The 35 year old is an award-winning playwright (50 plays produced), scriptwriter (Super City, Jono And Ben) and, of course, a social media star. However, he says it is performing on stage and screen that he loves most. “If a really good acting job came up, everything else would be put to the side, I reckon. I’d love to do a straight dramatic role and I think I could,” he says, adding he developed his love of performing as a child. “I think it must be something about being the youngest,” he says, admitting his need to be in the spotlight made him an “attention whore”. Therefore, Sainsbury sees it as somewhat ironic that he has finally followed his two older siblings into the health industry, albeit in a fictional way. “I am so squeamish, that sometimes just hearing the other actors talking through their scenes about operations and things, I was getting light-headed. This is definitely the closest I will get to working in a hospital. But such fun.” Previous acting roles include the movie Pork Pie, Filthy Rich, Australia’s True Story With Hamish And Andy and, most recently, Wellington Paranormal, Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s What We Do In The Shadows television spin-off.
Having already found work across the Tasman, Sainsbury is now setting his sights on the US.
He already has an American manager and met with him in Los Angeles in March to discuss options for work there.
Meanwhile, he is making the most of his time in Ferndale by learning as much as he can.
“I was talking to someone who lives in Australia and they were talking about Home And Away and Neighbours and they were like, ‘The difference with Shortland Street is that it’s so funny’,” Sainsbury says.
“There’s so many laughs in it and even the straight characters sometimes get funny lines or funny scenarios, and so I think it’s a real credit to Shortland Street and to the writers and the producers.
“The other really good thing about Shortland Street is because it’s constantly going, people can experiment and train.
“Writers can do a storyline that might not be as good as another storyline.
“But the thing is you’ve just got to keep going and come up with another one and just get better and better. So it’s a perfect training ground too.”
“I am so squeamish, that sometimes just hearing the other actors talking through their scenes about operations and things, I was getting light-headed.”
– Tom Sainsbury
P14. Tom Sainsbury