Actor Matt Minto, 34, has starred in both Shortland Street and Home and Away and appears in the two-play theatre production of Angels in America next month in Auckland. He is the nephew of veteran activist John Minto.
1. Home and Away seems a long way away from Minto family politics. Where did the acting gene come from?
Hmmm genetic anomaly? No idea where it came from. My sister dabbled in acting for a while so I wouldn't say I'm a black sheep ... but very close to it. My dad is from a family of 10 and they are quite political. I remember as a little kid big heavy debates around the table. My great-grandfather was Croatian and was involved in politics after he arrived in New Zealand: worked with Michael Joseph Savage and the like. My grandmother was very much involved in the [anti] tour protests with John - all the protesters would come down and converge outside the family home in Napier which was opposite the rugby ground. My grandmother would sit out there too with anti-nuclear signs.
2. Would you describe yourself as political?
Well, I would probably describe myself as progressive, I suppose. I don't like classifying myself in terms of left or right. I think that's set up for confrontation and I think ideology doesn't get us very far.
I think politics should be about solutions and measures to improve and better people's lives. I certainly think the mark of a healthy society is how we treat our less fortunate. Opportunity has to be available to everyone.
3. Is your Uncle John misunderstood, do you think?
No I don't think so. I think he clearly articulates his values and his views. John has stayed very true to those his whole life. Sadly, I think he is probably demonised by certain people with opposing views to his but regardless of whether one agrees with him or not, his actions are born out of a deep desire for greater equality for all in our society. He can't abide injustice in whatever form it takes and particularly the hardships poverty inflicts on people. He works tirelessly to help people. He's certainly not out there marching for an income tax cut.
4. One minute you're a Shortland Street "rising star" (2011 TV awards) , the next you're a crazy dad in a cult on Home and Away. What age do you really feel?
I can tell you I certainly don't feel old enough to have 16-year-old twins. I went into a bit of shock when the producer of Home and Away told me that when briefing me on the role. He said "you've got kids" and I thought okay, well maybe 4- or 5-year-olds. But 16!
I definitely feel younger than the reflection in the mirror would have me believe.
5. How did you end up in Australia?
My family had moved to Wellington and after high school I just couldn't wait to get out. I really wanted to train as an actor so I went to Sydney but just mucked around for a few years, travelled through Asia then came back to the Actors Centre in Sydney for two years. Looking back now I think it probably was a difficult transition to Australia but at the time I'm not sure I was very aware of it being overly difficult. I don't think I really appreciated New Zealand when I was young. To be honest I couldn't wait to leave. I certainly appreciate home now and love being back for work.
6. How hard has it been to establish yourself in the industry?
Acting is definitely a labour of love. I think you have to have a certain level of devotion to last in this industry and a lot of resilience. Uncertainty and rejection are the hardest things to manage. I just keep chipping away at it. If someone said to me "should I become an actor?" I don't know if I could say yes.
7. What makes you do it?
The rewards far outweigh the hardships. You're working with great people and there's something so thrilling about the work itself. You get to explore human frailty, people's feelings and shortcomings which is really what makes us interesting.
8. When have you been at your lowest?
My teenage years were a bit dicey. I had a healthy dose of teenage angst. Glad that's done and dusted. When I was 26 or 27 I went through a cancer thing. I found out I had colon cancer when I was at acting school in London and I came home to New Zealand. Conventionally that would be a low point but lots of really positive things came out of it, like my appreciation for life. It was a bit of a wake-up call really. That invincibility of being young disappears.
9. What do you know about love?
Um ... it's hard to define. I think love is more a state of being than anything else. It takes vigilance, needs to be cultivated and nurtured. I think it's very easy to become disillusioned and cynical about the world. It's much harder seeing the beauty in things, appreciating how wonderful and also precarious existence really is. Just being bloody grateful to be here actually. I think that's an act of love.
10. Does acting leave much room for relationships?
Well, I'm single. I've been going backwards and forwards between here and Australia for the past four years and I went to LA for a pilot season for three months. So a relationship would be hard. The work totally is the most important thing for me right now. I'm most fulfilled by working. I'm sure that will probably change. But it may not.
11. Is Angels in America the most lines you've had to learn for a role?
It's definitely a lot of lines to learn because there are two plays to it, but no, not the most I've ever had. Iago in Othello was by far the most. I play a Republican Mormon, a deeply conservative, in-the-closet man. But those are just labels and underneath he's a human being with all these fears and desires.
12. Will the audience last for two plays, especially when they're played together?
You can watch them separately or together which I think is about six hours of theatre. I'm not worried for the audience though - I'm so excited for people to have the chance to see something this good. It is indisputably one of the greatest plays of the 20th century. It's like an HBO box set in the theatre.
* Silo Theatre's Angels in America, parts one and two, play separately and together at Q Theatre in Auckland from March 21.