THAT FANE GUY
Shaun Bamber basks in the warmth of an afternoon with a comedy ‘god’.
“Dave or David, I’m easy – either or, you know? As long as you’re not calling me c..., then I don’t care.” Whoa. Didn’t take Dave/david Fane long to drop the c-bomb. All I did was ask him what he prefers to be called, an earlier Google search suggesting that both versions of his name are applied in roughly equal proportions.
We’d only just sat down to enjoy a couple of beers and talk about his new movie Gary of the Pacific, in which he stars with man of the moment, The Project co-host Josh Thomson.
Wearing snazzy red spectacles that contrast snappily with his black zip-up hoodie and shorts ensemble, Fane is more soft-spoken in person than you might expect – apart from his laugh.
That good old hearty guffaw is almost as well known as he is – and makes regularly loud and long appearances throughout our conversation.
So what to call this 50-year-old “six-foot-two Samoan” then? Star of Sione’s Wedding, Bro’town, Outrageous Fortune and more recently 800 Words, among many other things. His mother prefers David, unsurprisingly. Best friend Oscar Kightley, fellow Naked Samoan and longtime collaborator in stage, screen and life, calls him “a bit of an unsung genius”.
“He’s very fearless as well,” adds Kightley. “He’s also more sensitive than he lets on – he feels things, and that’s reflected in the kind of work that he does.”
Thomson says he’s “like a god”, in Rarotonga at least, which is where the two of them spent a month making Gary of the Pacific.
“I don’t know what he’s like here in New Zealand,” explains Thomson, “but in Raro he’s like a god. He would walk around the island and people would just come out of nowhere.
“I was doing a scene with him one morning, and then later he sends us this photo from the ocean of our film set. We were like, ‘What are you doing?’ and he was like, ‘Oh, I just ran into some soccer team and now I’m hanging out with them on their boat, having a party.’”
Thomson is full of stories like this about Fane. Once Fane texted the production crew while flying overhead in a plane – “I ran into some dudes and now they’re flying me around the island.”
Or the time a bus drove by just after they’d finished shooting. It went past, stopped, reversed, picked Fane up – and that was the last anyone saw of him for the rest of the day.
“It was incredible,” marvels Thomson. “He was like an enigma.”
And there really is more than a touch of the enigmatic about Fane.
Raised in a pre-gentrification Ponsonby villa, Fane attended Auckland’s St Paul’s College, eventually becoming head boy.
An undisclosed incident – he doesn’t want his kids to know – later saw him expelled, but Fane still has fond memories of his time there.
“You don’t spend time somewhere like that and not still have an appreciation for the place,” he says of the school that made him the good Catholic he is today. “There are things I learnt there and friends I made there that are still my friends today.
“There was just that one time. I suppose it was like – I don’t know, like Icarus flying too close to the sun? You get your wings burnt, you know? But I’m not worried about it, really. I laugh about it.”
Metaphors come easily to Fane, who describes several colleagues as “ducks”. (“Everything’s quiet up top, quite breezy and cool, but underneath the water they’re paddling like buggery”.) This includes Auckland writing/producing/directing trio Ryan Hutchings, Jarrod Holt and Nigel Mcculloch – otherwise known as The Downlow Concept – the writers/producers/directors of Gary of the Pacific, as well as a few Kiwi TV shows you may have heard of, like 7 Days and Hounds.
“It’s like I met the palagi version of the Naked Samoans, and they’re just as funny,” says Fane.
“What I really liked about them was they’ve got a sense of humour, and they can just laugh at themselves as well. It takes the seriousness out of the process, keeps people at ease.”
Even before he knew who The Downlow Concept were, turns out Fane was a fan.
“I just learned about who these guys were when I got a callback,” he explains, recounting his audition to play ‘Dad’, father of Gary of the Pacific’s titular star – a character whose actual name is never revealed, much to Fane’s undisguised delight.
“I went, ‘Aw wow, you guys make Hounds? Hounds was funny as.’”
And keeping the love rolling, Fane also now seems quite smitten with his on-screen son, Thomson.
“He’s got a real sense of kindness about him,” he says. “That’s the thing, you can’t teach anyone to be kind – they either have it within their personality, or they don’t.
“And that’s part of the reason why whenever you’re in Josh’s presence there’s a lovely warmth to him and you gravitate towards that. You go, ‘Aw yeah, I’ll just sit in this bubble for a while and just enjoy myself.’
“And with The Downlow Concept guys, I’ll gravitate towards that because that’s a nice bubble too. There’s a warmth to them as well.
“And Oscar and all the other Nakeds – the only reason we stay together is because we found there’s a warmth that we really appreciate. I don’t want to sit with f...ing winter – I just want to sit with warmth, you know?”
We’ve chatted for an hour, Fane and I, sipping our beers in the midday sun. The conversation has ranged far and wide. From money lenders targeting Pacific Islanders with their ads: “Course they are! It’s a profile. If you know where the rainbow ends in the pot of gold, and it’s these people, well, you sell the rainbow to them! That’s just life, you know?”
To playing president’s grade for the Ponsonby Rugby Club: “I love playing for the Ponies. I don’t know if they like me playing for them.
“I start at prop, then I go to number eight, then somewhere in the centres, then fullback – and then I’m right off the field. I get to the showers early.”
To show business: “It’s a rough business. A lot of people, all you’ve got to show is your bruises. Bruises, bloodied egos... and fond memories.”
There’s one question I still haven’t asked him, however – mainly because I just don’t want to.
There was an incident a few years back. Fane said a few things he probably shouldn’t have at a 2010 ‘Radio Roast’ hosted by The Radio Bureau. It was a private, untelevised gig, but his remarks made it into the public arena all the same.
The resulting s...storm well and truly enveloped Fane for some time after, and I wanted to know if he ever felt like it hurt his career?
Momentarily speechless, Fane lets out a long sigh, a pained expression crossing his face.
He doesn’t look angry at the fact I’ve brought the topic up, more just disappointed, like a father whose child has crossed a certain line for the first time.
“It’s hard, because you can’t escape it,” he says. “Did it have a negative effect [on my career]? I don’t know about that. But I do know that I learnt a hell of a lot about myself.”
And that was that. We talk a bit more, but the magic of the afternoon is gone.
Soon, Fane drains his beer, shakes my hand and walks off up the street.
I can’t help but feel a bit forlorn as I watch him go, battered maroon shoulder bag slung across his back, stopping to chat to passersby along the way.
“As long as you’re not calling me c..., then I don’t care,” he said at the start of our interview.
No danger of that here. I just hope he doesn’t feel like calling me one.