Michele Hewitson interview: Mark Hadlow

By Michele Hewitson

One of our best-known characters opens up on the navy, ironing his shirts, and his competitive streak

Remembering the fish ... one of actor and naval officer Mark Hadlow's lasting memories is of the catering when he was filming The Hobbit. Photo / Dean Purcell
Remembering the fish ... one of actor and naval officer Mark Hadlow's lasting memories is of the catering when he was filming The Hobbit. Photo / Dean Purcell

What an interesting face actor Mark Hadlow has. It is as though somebody had made a cartoon character by animating one of those giant balls made from rubber bands.

It is, in other words, a rubbery sort of face, one given to contortions. I don't think he'll mind me saying this. He is a pragmatist and a character actor, and a rubbery face is the perfect face for a character actor. Also, he says he is not a fragile character and I believe him.

He had a big success, some years ago, with his one-man play, SNAG (remember them?) and he is soon to appear in the "spiritual sequel" to SNAG, MAMIL. A MAMIL is a middle-aged man in lycra and he had the idea for it (although he hasn't written it; his friend Greg Cooper did that) after he joined a men's biking group to stay fit while he was filming The Hobbit - in which he played the dwarf Dori, who was even more rubbery-faced than he is.

He plays several characters - while pedalling away - but the main one is a delightful sounding chap called Bryan Cook who is a "stressed out, self-medicating, self-loathing arse".

So I thought: Oh good! Given that he had the idea and that the play is based on his experiences in his cycling group, I was hoping the character was based on him. But of course it isn't. He doesn't do interior writhing or, to put it another way, self-loathing. He assures me he is not an arse, but he didn't mind being asked.

I had an idea about him that other actors might have thought he was a bit of an arse, but that was based on the Actor's Equity row over The Hobbit. He is not a member of the union and said at the time that nobody could tell him what he could and couldn't do - and he could and did do The Hobbit. It all got very heated and if he was a bit hot-headed then, he's not now.

I thought he might have been regarded as a traitor by some other actors but he said that if he is, nobody has ever told him so and so "I have no idea. And to be honest, if that's the case, well, it's not my problem." He believes in young actors belonging to the union, he said, and he did when he was a young actor.

He is now a middle-aged actor and he was wearing a very nice, pin-striped suit, a beautiful silk tie and shiny shoes. I made the mistake of saying he was looking prosperous. He shouted: "What do you mean I look prosperous? Well, no. I'm just wearing a suit. It's a suit that I've had for about ten years. I just happen to be wearing a suit. I had a job today."

The job was to put on his nice suit and go to a hospitality industry do called "meetings" for which he turns up and, well, does what, exactly?

"I sort of go and just introduce myself to people and say, 'Hello. You're going to have a great time.'" I didn't want to be rude, but why do they want him? "I'm a personality, Michele. Ha, ha, ha."

It sounds awfully strange but he says, no, it's just part of what making a living as an actor in New Zealand involves. "It's just corporate entertainment ... the quiver of tools an actor has to have these days."

And really, it was a bit daft of me to think going to corporate events as a sort of ice breaker was a peculiar thing for an actor to do because he's done far weirder gigs. The strangest might have been getting into his Dori the dwarf costume, with full rubber face make-up and going down on bended knee before Prince Charles and telling the royal that he was his servant for the day. Did Charles have any dwarf servant requests? "No, no. But I would gladly have taken my Dori cloak off and laid it down in the mud. I would have ... drawn my sword and gladly slain a dragon."

He loved it of course and so did Charles whose birthday it was. "He said, 'Oh my goodness me. I have to say this is the best birthday present I've ever had.'" He does a very good royal impersonation, for an impoverished actor in an ancient suit.

I amended prosperous to dapper. He did look that. He always has shiny shoes. "I don't go anywhere without clean shoes. That's one thing I've got from the navy." He was wearing a little lapel pin which is his navy pin. He might be the only actor in the world who is a lieutenant commander in a navy. This is interesting because it is certainly an unusual thing for an actor to be, I thought. He seems to be as matter of fact about it as he is about being an actor. I had hoped he'd be wearing his uniform but he said maybe next time.

I don't think it would take much to encourage him to wear his uniform (or one of them because there is a summer uniform and a winter one and an every day get-up which includes a beret.) He loves the uniforms and told me that there is real gold in the braids.

Of course he loves the uniform because it's playing dress ups and actors love playing dress ups, I said. But, no, he takes it very seriously and is now in the public relations wing of the navy - an events manager - and is organising its 75th year celebrations for 2016.

But how did he ever end up in the navy? Actually, it's the other way around because his father was a navy chaplain so he decided to join the navy too and did - he started out as a trumpet player in the navy band, before deciding he really wanted to be an actor. Then some years ago he re-joined, as a reservist, because it was suggested he could do PR for the service and he thought (ever the pragmatist) that this "wasn't a bad idea, actually".

He likes the discipline but he says being an actor is about being disciplined too and it is, with him at least. He takes whatever he does very seriously, including ironing his shirts. He does his own ironing because his wife, Jane, once ironed his navy shirt and put a double crease in the sleeve - an absolute no-no - and he asked her, nicely, to please not iron his shirts again and so she rightly got huffy and hasn't. Of course his shirts would be the best ironed shirts in the navy but only because he'd be competing with himself to make sure they were.

He is fiercely competitive, but only with himself, and particularly when it comes to golf to which he is addicted. He used to be a golf-club thrower until one day he was playing the pro at the Christchurch Golf Club "and I threw a bit of a dizz and he said: 'You know, you should pull your head in and stick it up your arse. You're not a professional golfer'." He knows how to take direction so he's behaved himself on the golf course ever since.

He loves golf and cycling and his family. He is happily married to Jane, his second wife, but on very good terms with his first wife - they have a daughter, Olivia; he has two step-children and a step-grandson ("I'm mad about them all") and he thinks he is going to stay with the first wife and her second husband during MAMIL's Auckland run. There is no money for him to stay in a hotel because the play didn't get funding, so it's smell of the oily rag stuff. It often is, although he's been an actor for more than 30 years. He loved being in The Hobbit, not only because it was great fun playing a dwarf but because of the catering. He still gets excited remembering this catering and his face goes like a big, happy, rubbery sun. He said, with vast enthusiasm: "I had fish. Every day! Every day it was cooked for me, by Billie from Billionaire's Catering. She cooked me fish every fecking day. Any way I liked." How starry. "Oh, tell me about it. I felt so important."

Being a naval officer is important business. It's also his other job. I thought it must be mostly ceremonial, but he really is a proper member of the navy and even gets paid, $31.50 an hour, which is the reservist rate, for the hours he works. He is very proud of being in the navy (although he might play it up, just a bit) and is fond of quoting his number - V21639 - at the drop of a naval cap. His rank is the equivalent of a major but he is not very big-wiggish. "No, darling. The big-wigs are the captains and up to the admiral."

He does get saluted by the lower ranks but he said, absolutely seriously, I think, that "They don't salute me. They salute the uniform. They salute my rank."

Anyway, you do hope that the life of a lieutenant commander is more glamorous than the life of an actor, but, oh, ha, ha. One of his jobs is to run quiz nights in Auckland to raise money for his ship's company at the navy reserve base HMNZS Pegasus, and he lives in Martinborough and so has to stay overnight. It is just like the life of an actor in that there is no money for a hotel room, so he sleeps on a hard leather couch in the wardroom, in his sleeping bag.

I said this was tragic and he sang: "That's the life I choose to take ..." But he's an officer in the navy. "I'm an officer in her Majesty's Royal New Zealand Navy. I'm a public relations officer in the Royal New Zealand Navy. Sounds good, doesn't it?"

It still sounds a bit strange to me, but he is an actor. He can pull off more than one role. He said: "I'm a reasonably good actor and I'm an average naval officer. Ha, ha!" And pulled another of his rubber faces.

Does he pull these faces when he's in uniform? I'd give a lot to seethat.

MAMIL is at the Herald Theatre in the Aotea Centre from July 24.

- NZ Herald

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