Oliver Driver, 39, directed last night's Shortland Street cliffhanger episode after two years behind the scenes on the show. A longtime Auckland actor and theatre director, he hosted TV3's short-lived Sunrise news show.
1. Did you have fun with the bombs in the cliffhanger last night?
With TV you get so many more toys to play with than you do in theatre. This was my first ever TV bomb scene and we had stunt co-ordinators, pyrotechnists, it was brilliant. Having never shot something like that, it was daunting at first but you work it out. You read "the bomb explodes and the deck collapses" and you go "whaaaaaat?". And you can't be teaching viewers how to make a bomb so it's about how to make a bomb that's believable, but also not possible.
2. You acted on Shortland Street for a while: what happened?
I was about 22. I think I'd had some TV roles in Mercy Peak and City Life, and they wrote a part for me. I was the wacky nurse - there's always a wacky nurse - called Mike Galloway. He didn't die, he went to Tasmania with his junkie girlfriend. I keep pushing them to make him return. I think he'd have retrained as a brain surgeon or something. Yes, you can have a brain surgeon on Shortland Street. Anything can happen. We had a helicopter pad on the roof for a while there and there were extras wandering around in pilot suits.
3. Have you learned much directing the show?
After two years directing I know the words "systolic" and "tachycardia". No idea what they mean but the nurses say it a lot. The best drug I've ever heard them use is En-dance-e-tron (Ondansetron), which apparently also cures nausea, so that's helpful. I was super keen to get a director's job on the show because I'd done theatre for 20 years, which was fantastic but I needed to retool my brain and increase my skill base. It was a conscious choice. I like living in New Zealand and you must have a number of strings to do that.
4. Did you grow up in an arty family?
No, not really. My mum was a poet; her fulltime job was a nanny and running a nanny agency but she wrote poetry and was really supportive of doing arts. My dad was into business, building businesses like conservatories and spa pools. Mum died when I was 19 and dad when I was 30.
5. Was it difficult losing your parents so early?
It's horrible in a whole bunch of ways that you would imagine. Not having that support. It dissipates certainly. It's not as hard as it was initially but when the big and small moments in life happen, you still want to call your mum. Losing mum when I was that young taught me a couple of things - to really enjoy life and make the most of it. That's why I usually say yes to things.
6. Has it affected your adult relationships?
Yeah, I guess in a way. It's a difficult thing when a central figure in your life like that dies early; you have all these feelings of, well, trickiness. You get worried about losing people. But you work through those things. You learn to stand on your own two feet and be independent and to push forward. Mum spent a lot of her time not doing things she wanted to and did things other people wanted or needed. It makes you go, "I'm going to do the things I want to do". And then enjoy them. I don't know why I haven't married. I've been focused on work I guess. I'm a workaholic. I think I will at some point.
7. Now you're mostly behind the camera, do you miss being in the public eye?
I always think the best cure for wanting to be a celebrity is being a celebrity. New Zealand's actually a very good place to be one in that people don't really give too much of a shit. You're never really that famous. When the most famous people are newsreaders, it's hard to go "oh, I'm special".
8. Do you wish you'd tried Hollywood, as so many Kiwi actors do?
That's a young man's game and no one was really doing it when I was young. But I'd have to be very, very successful in Hollywood to have the lifestyle I have here. I've got a nice car, a nice house, I go to the beach when I want to, I get to turn jobs down and I'm directing one of the biggest TV shows in the country. Next year I'm directing a very big theatre production of Jesus Christ Superstar! To be able to have that sort of work and career in Hollywood would be astounding.
9. Has your height helped you as an actor?
It's probably been a help, and a hindrance. It limits the amount of acting work you can get because you're playing a distinctive type of person - funny, comedy characters rather than dramatic. And you'll never be a romantic lead because you're towering above the girl. In acting, most are very short. In Hollywood I would be a giant.
10. New Zealand drama series are being cut everywhere - Nothing Trivial and Almighty Johnsons in the past fortnight: does that surprise you?
I'm surprised whenever one of our shows doesn't make it. I'm always upset and perturbed by it. But the way we view TV is changing ... and advertisers are still looking for that one mass audience. Shows that attract hundreds of thousands of viewers at the one time are competitive, or live like The Block and X Factor. There's nothing wrong with those but the great long-form drama that I want to watch doesn't have to be seen at the same moment by everyone. I want to watch it maybe in one go, and at the time I want to watch it. Shortland Street was created at a time when there was no New Zealand content and now it's part of our lives, it's topical and it tells our stories in our accents. It became part of us so we love it unconditionally, in a way. I think if Shortland Street started today, it would fail because our expectations of what a show should be are different now.
11. Why haven't we seen you pop up on the Seven Sharp presenters desk yet?
I don't know. There's this ridiculous notion that the networks have to lose that there are TV2 personalities and TV3 personalities. They still live in a world where they think there's channel loyalty. There isn't. People will watch shows they want to watch wherever they are. Well, the younger generation will. And my generation.
12. You were known as the bolshie young man of Auckland theatre for many years: do you have any regrets?
No. I think as you get older you get much less angry about things. I used to be angry at what didn't get funded or who got that job. Now I'm okay with most things; I think it takes too much energy for that. You see others' points of view more easily, you see the cyclical nature of things. This is a really nice stage of life and I'm happy with the work I'm given. I'm not a trouble-maker any more. At awards shows now and I look around the room and know only about 12 per cent of the people. It's full of young people with all of this drive and energy and passion. I go "go you young things, cause trouble, make a fuss, yell loudly, it's important you do that." The last thing you should realise at the age of 20 is what I realised at 39.