Tim Balme has driven straight from school camp to The Crown and Badger, but there isn't a Swanndri or bumbag in sight.

Nursing a pint of Guinness - a nod to his "Irish roots" - the actor and screenwriter has come from chilly Mangatepopo with son, Nikau, 11, and is wearing shirt and blazer, chunky rings and boho bracelets.

Heads turn, but he modestly reckons he's lost his heartthrob status. "Let's just say there's a younger generation taking care of that now." Being recognised can be dependent on whether he's had a shave or not.

Seventeen years on from playing his most indelible role, bad-boy Greg Feeney on Shortland Street, he can't escape the days he wore snug leather and rode a badass motorbike.

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"I was at school camp and apparently someone Snapchatted a picture that I was in the back of. Their friend went: 'Oh, there's the guy from Shortland Street!' It shows how powerful and pervasive that show has been to our culture, so that's not a bad thing."

Outside of the pub, light drizzle is starting to form, and the music from the outdoor speakers is as diverse as Balme's award-winning career. From leading man in Peter Jackson's 1991 film Braindead; to head of development for South Pacific Pictures; writer on Outrageous Fortune; to actor in The Almighty Johnsons.

He's now head writer for Prime's telefeature series The Brokenwood Mysteries - series four of which debuts tomorrow night.

It is Prime's "big and only" local drama, and the biggest selling Kiwi show overseas, ever. In France alone, 3.5 million people watch it free-to-air.

The criteria for which he was asked to write Brokenwood, was no sex, violence or swearing. So everything Almighty Johnsons and Outrageous Fortune wasn't.

The Brokenwood Mysteries, of which each episode is 90 minutes, follows Detective Inspector Mike Shepherd, an old-school, big-city cop who moves out to the wop-wops where rather frequent murders keep him and sidekick Detective Kristin Sims busy.

This is one show his parents, Pam, 88, and Brian, 91, residents of Radius Matua rest home, will watch. "Unlike Outrageous Fortune," where risque ruled.

They weren't fans? "No, it wasn't their appointment viewing."

"A show like Outrageous Fortune or Almighty Johnsons, half the world won't buy those shows because of the material. So [with Brokenwood] you instantly open up the whole globe to it being sold.

Inspiration for murder mystery scripts come from everywhere, but oldest brother and Tauranga defence lawyer, Tony Balme, must be one of his secret weapons?

"I can't possibly say! Because there's a thing called client confidentiality, but I have to say, if we do series five (no show is funded more than a series at a time in New Zealand), there is an idea that he inspired me to think about."

Because he must have some ripper yarns?

"Oh, of course. He obviously is impeccable in being discreet."

There's three brothers in the Balme family - Tim (who lives in Auckland), Tony and Chris. Chris is professor of theatre studies at Munich University. "So I do theatre, Chris teaches theatre, and Tony does theatre in court."

All three went to Otumoetai College and teachers Bob Addison and Pat Cook "lit the candle" for theatre.

Watching Chris play Pinocchio at the Gateway Theatre in Tauranga in the 70s blew his mind. "His nose really grew. How did they do that?! Theatre magic."

Speaking of school, he's the celebrity judge at this year's New Zealand leg of the International Youth Silent Film Festival at Baycourt Theatre on November 22, and has written a silent short film himself, yet to be produced.

He's done a lot in his career, but is coy on his age. "Let's just say I'm approaching something fairly significant." Early in his career, he'd lie about his age for the role he wanted.

"You'll usually age yourself up, and then there comes a point where you go: 'S***, I've got to start ageing myself down.' It's a pretty harsh business... Ageism and sexism. I don't think we've come that far."

He is married to Katie Wolfe, film, TV and theatre director, who tackles the difficult subject of child abuse in her new film Waru and play Anahera. The pair have two children Edie, 16, and Nikau. Balme has a son Sam, 30, from a previous relationship.

Katie, Edie and Nikau speak fluent te reo Maori, with Nikau attending total immersion school, Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ngā Maungarongo, in Mt Albert.

Balme tried learning the language but work got in the way: "I couldn't honour it and I let it slide."

He drops in one word when he answers his cellphone to talk to daughter, Edie, mid-interview though. "Kia Ora... Hi...Yep...Hmm...Wow...Okay..."

He hangs up a while later. "Sorry, cat trauma. Cat got attacked."

Family puss, Charlie Eyes, is recovering from being cat-mauled.

Back to the interview, and Balme, whose favourite movie is Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, gets script ideas from daily life. Radius Matua even inspired an idea.

"[My parents] moved in last year and when I was moving them, I got an idea for an episode. So this series, series four, is set in a rest home, one of them."

Do the residents recognise him? "No, but after this one screens, they might not let me in!"
Another idea he got at a funeral in Tauranga. "I was sitting in this funeral for an old family friend, it was a good funeral, I was sitting there going: 'What if?' ... So there's an episode in series three inspired by me going to that funeral."

To ensure authenticity, he uses a consultant, who is an ex-police detective from Wellington. Balme met him when he wrote the TV movie Stolen, based on the baby Kahu story.

He was the actual detective on the case. "We try to be as authentic as we can."

Unlike many Kiwi actors, he has rarely been out of work. He never felt the need to go to L.A. for pilot season because he diversified into writing 12 years ago.

"People who just want to be actors and stay here, they'll inevitably start doing jobs they don't want to do for the sake of keeping working. I did a couple of things I look back now and think I should never have done it."

Does he want to say what? "Nah, that never ends well for anybody."

He often writes at the kitchen table, with his kids coming in and out.

"Every series I've written of Brokenwood, I've moved into a different room in the house. I don't know where I'm going to do series five, I might have to get an out-office."

He still does the odd bit of acting. In a 2009 horror film, he was playing a pathologist and had to do a lengthy monologue in High German.

It was technical, medical jargon to be delivered as he observed a naked woman.

"That was just so weird". More recently, he played King Charles II in the theatre show, Nell Gwynn.

Looking back on movies, Peter Jackson's movie Braindead "was huge". "I think it's still one of the most gory films ever made." It's attracted a cult following too. "People, they talk about this film as being life-changing. They're intense," he laughs.

"Believe it or not, we don't have a copy [of Braindead]."

Surely Peter Jackson could hook him up? "Ah, yeah, busy guy, I suspect. Yeah, I should ring him up."

On a scale of one to 10, how weird is Balme in real life? "I don't think I''m very weird."

Nikau: "You're normal enough."

Balme: "I'm a five."

His spirit animal?

"Silverback gorilla... Actually, tiger. They are quite solitary and I'm a reasonably solitary person, apart from my family."

His most annoying quality?

"What drives mum insane about me?"

Nikau: "It wouldn't be the snoring, that's the thing that drives me insane."

Balme: "It's seasonal.

"I think, I'm a fairly generous person but that possibly is what drives her insane as well, because I give too much money away to charity, every time they ring up. I'm a soft touch for a sob story."

Someone who gives to charity, but decides the best way to knock someone off, is a curious combination.

When The Brokenwood Mysteries airs tomorrow night, no doubt more questions will emerge for Balme. For now, I'll let him finish his Guinness.
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THE SERIES
# Series four of The Brokenwood Mysteries starts tomorrow at 8.30pm on Prime.

# There will be a red carpet prizegiving at Baycourt Theatre on November 22 for the New Zealand leg of the International Youth Silent Film Festival with Tim Balme. An international final will be held in Portland, Oregon, next June. www.makesilentfilm.com