Chris Schulz is the deputy head of entertainment for the New Zealand Herald.

Naked and soon famous

The star of new local dramedy Step Dave might be a fresh face but he's already feeling a bit exposed. Jono Kenyon talks to Chris Schulz on the set of the show.

There comes a moment in every actor's career when they have to take off their clothes in front of a camera.

For Kiwi actor Jono Kenyon, that moment came early, during one of his first days shooting the first episode of his first lead role in a prime time television show.

"It's quite funny: you get a little money bag with lace at the top, and you pull that to close the bag. You put one of those over your package, tie it up and then you tape a little beige cover over everything," says Kenyon, laughing at the experience.

"Then you're good to go and you rock on to set. From a distance you look fully naked because it's all skin coloured. By the end of it I was cruising to the water cooler outside [naked], smashing back a water, having some nuts.

"It just became like any other day, perfectly ordinary."

The scene Kenyon got naked for is one of the funniest in the first episode of Step Dave, a comedy-drama of 13 one-hour episodes debuting on TV2 on Tuesday.

Although it may not sound like the clothing budget is too demanding for its leading man, the show has been funded to the tune of $6,672,500 by New Zealand on Air - the biggest funding commitment the agency made last year.

The series, from some of our best TV brains, follows the exploits of Kenyon's Dave, a freewheeling bartender who falls in love with beauty therapist and 39-year-old mother-of-three Cara after she gets locked in his bar's toilet during a bad date.

The only problem is, Dave doesn't know Cara is 39. Or that she has three children. And the moment he finds out, he's caught starkers in Cara's living room as her family, including the children's grandmother, surprise him.

"I've been preparing myself for this kind of thing for years," says Kenyon, a British-born, Marlborough-raised actor who uses a child's action figure to protect his modesty in the scene.

"I've been training hard at the gym. I didn't feel self-conscious or nervous. It was just like, 'This is the role, this is what I've gotta do, this will make a hilarious scene'.

"It makes sense - it sets up meeting the family perfectly. What better way than to be holding one of their toys over myself?"

Kenyon, who plays slacker Dave with scene-stealing enthusiasm, is right: it's a great moment in an opening episode full of them.

And it's the perfect introduction to the comedic talents of Kenyon, who later pulls off a daringly bonkers dance move in a hospital waiting room.

Like many of Step Dave's cast, Kenyon, a theatre actor whose only other TV credit is a cop in the final season of Go Girls, is relatively unknown.

Sia Trokenheim, who plays Cara, is a theatre actress with a recurring bit part on Shortland Street to her name, and the only recognisable faces are Outrageous Fortune's Aidee Walker as Jen, Cara's workmate and best friend, and Kimberley Crossman, who plays Dave's ex-girlfriend, Stacey, with cross-eyed insanity.

Step Dave creator Kate McDermott says the "fresh faces" were approved after difficult casting decisions. But she believes they're bonuses for the show, which she devised in 2010 after working on an episode of Go Girls based only on male characters. Television old hands Rachel Lang and James Griffin also contributed.

After Nothing Trivial and Go Girls were axed late last year, hopes are high that Step Dave becomes a long-running local television success story.

Television reviewer Chris Philpott has his fingers crossed and says the industry "desperately" needs it to become a hit.

"Step Dave doesn't look like the most intellectual show ever, but it does look entertaining and, ultimately, that is the most important thing that a television show needs to be," Philpott says.

"Not only that, there isn't anything like it on the air right now. Step Dave's contemporaries usually involve vampires or secret agents ... nothing that is as relevant to local viewers."

As for those nude scenes, Kenyon promises there are many more to come.

"I had a lot of scenes at Dave's flat and in the initial scripts it said, 'Dave's in his pants, T-shirt and casual clothes'. Then we get these edited scripts and they say, 'Dave's in his boxer shorts, Dave's in his underwear'.

"It's that kind of show."

- NZ Herald

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