Ac­tor Dean O’Gor­man is in a new movie but more im­por­tantly, as he tells Greg Bruce, he’s in a good place

Ac­tor Dean O’Gor­man is in a new movie but more im­por­tantly, as he tells Greg Bruce, he’s in a good place

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - CONTENTS - PIC­TURE BY DEAN PUR­CELL

He looks so boy­ish and was ren­dered ba­si­cally im­mor­tal by play­ing a cen­tral role in The Hob­bit films but Dean O’Gor­man mar­ried last year and turned 40 last month and now he has to face up to the re­al­i­ties of mid­dle age. So it’s prob­a­bly ap­pro­pri­ate that in Pork Pie, the up­com­ing re­make of the leg­endary New Zealand film of ba­si­cally the same name from 1981, he plays Jon, a mid­dle-aged dude who re­fuses to age: you’re boy­ish un­til you aren’t.

An ac­tor’s life, maybe more than any other, is about find­ing your­self, and that’s some­thing O’Gor­man has had to do many times, grow­ing up on screen, in real life and, briefly, as a 30-year-old work­ing at Photo Ware­house.

The new Pork Pie is not a great movie but it’s a like­able movie, and the main rea­son for that is O’Gor­man and the ease with which he oc­cu­pies his mis­guided mid­dle-aged id­iot char­ac­ter Jon.

He says he wanted to play a ver­sion of a New Zealand man he un­der­stood — not a black sin­glet-wear­ing, No. 8-wire type of guy, but a cre­ative per­son liv­ing a life of great un­cer­tainty. It is, he says, the sort of artis­tic per­son he’s been sur­rounded by most of his life.

“A lot of these peo­ple get lost and they strug­gle be­cause it can be very in­con­sis­tent and it’s very vul­ner­a­ble be­cause you’re putting projects out there all the time and every­one feels they have an opin­ion on act­ing — peo­ple will tell me what they think about my act­ing and I don’t even f---ing know them.”

HIS FIRST act­ing role came as a 13-year-old, in the ap­pallingly named genre known as “kidult”, with a six-part drama called Raiders of the

South Seas, which also starred a young Martin Hen­der­son.

O’Gor­man worked as an ac­tor con­sis­tently through his teens and early 20s, in­clud­ing sub­stan­tial spells on Short­land Street, Her­cules,

Young Her­cules and Xena. Then, in 2002, he starred in a New Zealand movie called Toy

Love, a highly touted film that was slated by crit­ics.

“I’m not say­ing it was a per­fect film,” he says, “but I re­ally en­joyed it and I just felt a bit hurt by that.”

No longer feel­ing in­spired by what he was do­ing here, he moved to Aus­tralia, got some odd jobs, did a year long spell on McLeod’s

Daugh­ters, then moved to Amer­ica. He spent a few years there, de­ter­mined to

make it, but he didn’t. Just be­fore his 30th birth­day, he was cast in a pi­lot, but says that in­stead of feel­ing ex­cited, he just felt home­sick. He came home for his birth­day and when he went back to Los An­ge­les, he knew he’d had enough.

“I had this idea that I couldn’t go home un­til I’d achieved some­thing over­seas but then I got so home­sick, I thought, ‘F--- that’, and I came home and it was like the great­est de­ci­sion.”

He moved into a place in Pon­sonby and be­came a fre­quenter of Grey Lynn’s pho­to­graphic re­tail spe­cial­ists Photo Ware­house.

“I would go there and buy pho­to­graphic stuff, so I knew the peo­ple and I said, ‘Can I work here?’ They said sure, and I was ter­ri­ble at it.”

“I was al­ways like ‘I don’t think I’ll be here long be­cause I’ll ei­ther get fired or give up’, you know, but I just think it’s good to have that di­ver­sity.”

He left Photo Ware­house af­ter he was cast to play a god on New Zealand tele­vi­sion se­ries The

Almighty John­sons, and then he was in New Zealand tele­movie

Tangi­wai, then he got a ma­jor role in The Hob­bit.

“I just kept think­ing, ‘When this job fin­ishes, I should go back to the Photo Ware­house’,” he says, but he never has.

He has a sort of side ca­reer in pho­tog­ra­phy, hav­ing ex­hib­ited both here and in­ter­na­tion­ally, in­clud­ing at Frank­furt’s B3 Bi­en­nale in 2015 and the first re­sult af­ter his Wikipedia en­try when you google him is his pho­tog­ra­phy web­site, which in­cludes many strik­ing por­traits of his ac­tor friends.

ASKED HOW he’s changed as an ac­tor over the years, O’Gor­man says, “I prob­a­bly give some less f---s.”

It’s a sur­pris­ing com­ment be­cause he has had some in­ter­na­tional suc­cess in the last few years, not just in The Hob­bit but also play­ing Kirk Dou­glas in the crit­i­cally lauded 2015 Hol­ly­wood movie Trumbo, along­side big names like He­len Mir­ren, Bryan Cranston and Louis C.K. It’s pos­si­ble to ar­gue that he should be giv­ing an ex­po­nen­tially in­creas­ing num­ber of f---s.

“I think you need to en­joy your life,” he says, “and I spent prob­a­bly a lot of my mid-20s not re­ally en­joy­ing the projects, or strug­gling hard to do a job and I think I’ve learned to do a job be­cause I want to do it and not nec­es­sar­ily look as much at the pe­riph­eral, ‘What will this do for my ca­reer? Where will it take me?’”

I ask O’Gor­man what a typ­i­cal day now looks like for him. “Oh, God,” he says, “it’s pretty re­laxed in a way. You get au­di­tions and you have to pre­pare for that but it’s a town full of ac­tors so every­one just sits around and drinks cof­fee.”

Re­al­is­ing he thought I was ask­ing about Los An­ge­les, where he no longer lives, but usu­ally spends at least a cou­ple of months a year, I say, “Sorry, I meant here.”

“Same thing!” he says. “A typ­i­cal day is pretty much that, meet­ing up with some friends or, be­cause we live a bit fur­ther out I tend to stay home and work on my own projects a bit more or just re­lax. The great­est time for me is know­ing there’s a job com­ing up and so that is, say two months be­fore that job, I’m not un­em­ployed, I’m on hol­i­day, so I can do what­ever.”

“I guess at some point when does it tip over from be­ing down­time to be­ing un­em­ployed? I guess there’s some bound­ary.”

In Pork Pie, O’Gor­man’s char­ac­ter ends up rid­ing the length of New Zealand in a car stolen by a char­ac­ter played by James Rolle­ston. The pair are an odd cou­ple who be­come bud­dies, and they pick up a young woman along the way, in what is a fairly faith­ful replica of the events of the orig­i­nal.

In many ways, the gang is go­ing nowhere, di­rec­tion­less, but in another way, the di­rec­tion is unim­por­tant. What matters is the jour­ney.

O’GOR­MAN SAYS he wants to be re­mem­bered not for be­ing a good ac­tor but for be­ing a good per­son.

“I re­ally like it when peo­ple en­joy jobs that I’ve also en­joyed mak­ing,” he says, “but I think on your deathbed you want your mates around you, not peo­ple who might have seen a job you did once and liked it.”

He says that a good per­son, as he con­ceives it, is not the same things as be­ing nice, but is more about try­ing “not to spread any more hate, which is quite rife at the mo­ment, isn’t it?”

A cou­ple of min­utes later though, he had se­cond thoughts. “I think what I was try­ing to say was that I don’t feel pres­sure to be a good sa­mar­i­tan; just know­ing what’s im­por­tant. So work is im­por­tant but fam­ily is im­por­tant and find­ing the bal­ance be­tween the two. When I was younger, I didn’t have as much of that bal­ance and it can be quite empty.”

Asked if there was a mo­ment where he came to that re­al­i­sa­tion, he says: “Yeah — when I came back to New Zealand and I didn’t have any work or im­me­di­ate projects I could use to bol­ster my ap­pear­ance of suc­cess. I wasn’t, like, name-drop­ping that I was at the Photo Ware­house.”

Last Jan­uary, he mar­ried his long-term girl­friend, makeup artist Sarah Wil­son: “I felt dif­fer­ent when I pro­posed,” he says. “I just felt dif­fer­ent. I don’t know why. I Just felt very grounded and very, I don’t know, I just felt like a man.“

Pork Pie is, on some level, the story of O’Gor­man’s char­ac­ter bat­tling to grow up, or maybe bat­tling against it, but then what is life but an eter­nal strug­gle to grow up, and to find a place in this ever-chang­ing world?

“I read this in­ter­view, with Alan Rick­man I think,” O’Gor­man says. “He said he spent his whole life try­ing to work out how to act and then when he fig­ured it out, he didn’t want to do it any­more.” I ask O’Gor­man if he iden­ti­fies with that. “I don’t know,” he says. “I’m not at that point.”

Dean O’Gor­man and wife Sarah Wil­son.

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