Real-life role a challenge for Outrageous star

By Anna Leask

Craig Hall in  Bloodlines . Photo / Supplied
Craig Hall in Bloodlines . Photo / Supplied

Craig Hall is no stranger to getting into character.

But having to play the role of a real-life doctor caught up in a murder that shocked the nation - in front of the man himself - was something the Outrageous Fortune star found especially daunting.

Hall appears in the one-off drama Bloodlines, on TV One Thursday, chronicling the downfall of Dunedin psychiatrist Colin Bouwer, who killed his wife of 20 years using insulin.

South African-born Bouwer, 51, thought to have been motivated by an affair with a colleague, systematically poisoned wife Annette, 47, over a period of months between 1999 and 2000, hoping to make it look like she suffered from a rare tumour. He planned to cover his tracks by claiming his Christian wife was an Orthodox Jew who needed to be cremated the morning after her death. (Chillingly, his adopted son by his first wife, namesake Colin Bouwer jnr, also killed his wife in South Africa months before his father put his own plan into action and, like his dad, was charged with the crime almost a year later).

Bouwer might have gotten away with the "perfect" murder had it not been for Dr Andrew Bowers, played by Hall, who refused to sign Annette's death certificate.

Bowers had struggled to diagnose the mystery illness that led to his patient's demise and his last-minute decision to order a post-mortem sealed Bouwer's fate, despite the philandering psychiatrist's carefully concocted plan.

In 2001, a jury took just three hours to convict Bouwer of murder. He was later sentenced to 15 years in prison and is not eligible for release until 2015.

Hall says he wasn't familiar with the case when he took the role, but quickly set about reading up on New Zealand's "Doctor Death".

"This doctor who tried to treat this lady was hugely competent but unable to solve the dilemma," says Hall. "The way he got pulled into Colin Bouwer's master plan was really interesting. He was just a normal guy in the middle of this huge thing. That's always quite an attractive character to play."

Hall had talked to director Peter Burger (who previously tackled the acclaimed David Dougherty TV drama Until Proven Innocent), about wanting to get in contact with Bowers, but Burger wasn't so keen. "He didn't want me to get caught up trying to mimic a person," Hall explains. "I ended up meeting Andrew when we were down in Dunedin in the last few days of shooting. Andrew and family were extras in the funeral scene so it was a bit bizarre walking past them up to the church - quite surreal."

He admits it was daunting to meet the man who lived through such a unique experience.

"I wanted to honour the story, as it had such an impact on his family. This film being made, in some ways, brought a bit of that back. He was only ever trying to help Annette. He got into a situation where it was his word against Colin's.

"I hope it is received well. It's such a tender topic. It's hard talking about something that is about real people. "I hope the people who were affected, when they see it, feel that it's been done with integrity and honours them."

The role of the caring, dedicated doctor is a far cry from the character audiences are used to seeing Hall play, including the criminally inclined Nicky Greegan on Outrageous Fortune.

Hall, who has an extensive list of television, theatre and film credits, said there is an essence of himself in every character he plays.

"But obviously the character is in the writing. Andrew had been written quite serious, quite on the job and quite direct. He didn't pander to egos and that was fun to play. It was quite a different style from Outrageous Fortune. The characters are quite different, morally speaking.

"Part of my job that I love is going from role to role - you get to change up."

Hall recently starred in Taika Waititi's smash hits Boy and Eagle vs Shark, projects he lists among his career highlights. This year we'll see Hall in the Disney movie Avalon High, and the Kiwi cinema release Love Birds with Flight of the Conchords funnyman Rhys Darby.

*Bloodlines plays on TV One, Thursday at 8.30pm.
*Outrageous Fortune is on TV3, Tuesdays at 8.30pm.

- Herald on Sunday

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