Nothing Trivial star lays down the law

By Catherine Milford

As Blair Strang returns to TV screens for the Nothing Trivial finale, he lets us inside his other job – as a family lawyer.

Blair Strang says his son, Steel, was the catalyst that prompted his taking up a legal career. Photo / Doug Sherring
Blair Strang says his son, Steel, was the catalyst that prompted his taking up a legal career. Photo / Doug Sherring

Blair Strang knows about hard work. For the past three years, the Nothing Trivial actor has held down two demanding and emotionally draining jobs which, at one point, meant he was working seven days a week, every week. So when his son Steel, now 17, let his grades slip at school a few years ago, Strang didn't hesitate to employ some tough love.

"Steel's doing incredibly well now. He's keen on doing media studies, and he's really into photography, producing and directing, so he's following in my footsteps a little bit - I'm really proud of him," says Strang, who juggles his acting career with being a full-time family lawyer, as well as being a solo dad to Steel, whose mother, Cate, lives in Australia.

"But there was a patch where he'd been in college for a year and he was really over-confident. He'd just got the lead role in the school musical and he really thought he was all that - but his grades took a dive.

"He needed a dose of reality, so I walked him down to the public toilets at [Auckland suburb] Kohimarama with a mop and bucket and detergent, and sent him in, saying: 'You go in there mate.

Because if you have no education this is the job you're going to have'.

"He freaked out - went green. It killed his social life for six months, but he needed that to get back on track. It was tough, and it stressed me out, but although I don't think I'm too strict I'm not a jellyfish either. Steel knows I'm his dad, not his mate."

Strang will be back on our screens as "loveable idiot" Brian King in a Nothing Trivial one-off special. The show ran for three seasons and ended on a cliffhanger - only for TV bosses to decide it would not return due to dwindling ratings.

But after fans launched a social media campaign NZ On Air announced it would fund a show-ending two-hour tele-feature.

Makers South Pacific Pictures promises the important questions will be answered - but things won't necessarily run smoothly for the pub quiz team, particularly for Brian who is now married, but temptation is just one "hottie" away.

Strang's lesson for his son is a world away from the carefree style of his character - and some may consider it a harsh one - but after Strang's own experiences, both personally and as a family lawyer, the 42-year-old wanted to teach his son to succeed.

"Steel is the reason I became a lawyer - my dream was to put him through the same private college my brother and I went to, and although I love acting I couldn't do that on an actor's wage," says Strang, who became Steel's full-time solo carer when Steel turned 12. "For me, acting is like the girl you love, and who you'll always love - but law is the girl you marry. And I say that with the utmost respect to my ex-wife."

Strang has the charm and personality to get away with a comment like that. His fellow lawyers at The Law Lounge stand no nonsense from him, batting back his cheeky one-liners in the open-plan office they share on Auckland's North Shore, and Strang is also popular among his fellow actors - most notably with friend and Nothing Trivial co-star Shane Cortese, whom he sees off-duty as well as on duty.

"I think Blair is one of the most comedic actors I've worked with - and I say that from a technique angle," says Cortese, who plays Mac on the show. "Take after take after take, his punchlines always appear fresh - not easy to do."

And his obvious respect for Strang isn't just when they are acting - his friend's legal skill has helped him out of a tight spot in the past. "I needed legal advice, and my letter was a bit weak. Blair changed it and made it clear, precise and to the point. He didn't use a lot of words, which surprised me as I thought lawyers charged per word.

"Anyway, as a good mate, my fee was a round of beers and a pinot for him, 'cause he's quite posh. He's a good bloke."

Although Strang describes his Nothing Trivial character as his favourite role to date, the Auckland-bred raconteur is never short of stories about his 20-plus years in acting, including roles in Kaitangata Twitch, Go Girls and Orange Roughies.

As an actor, Strang has to draw on his emotional repertoire - something he says applies just as much in his role as a family lawyer. "They are at opposite ends of the spectrum, but both of my jobs deal with emotion.

"One side is quite fun, the other is more serious, but both are pretty intense," says Strang, who deals with relationship breakdowns, child custody issues, domestic violence, relationship property and CYF cases, among others, in his job as a barrister and solicitor at Takapuna group The Law Lounge.

"I'm not afraid of emotion - it can be very tiring, but I'm not scared of it."

That said, juggling the two sides of the emotional coin can get confusing. "When I'm doing my lawyer job I have to remove myself emotionally so I can give people the advice and help they need, but when I'm acting, I have to really engage emotionally. It can get hard - sometimes it takes me a while to warm up when I go from lawyering to acting ... and I've been told off by the odd judge in court for being a bit too extrovert in my submissions.

"Being a lawyer doesn't come naturally to me like acting does, but I've grown to really enjoy the area I work in. The two do sometimes get in the way of each other. The other week, I was acting for a mother in a case, and I realised the grandmother was filming me the whole time they were in my office."

Although Strang's professional life does occasionally seem to resemble Cleaver Greene from Australian law drama Rake, he insists his downtime is spent doing less heroic acts.

He does bootcamp with Steel three times a week. "When Steel first came into my solo care for his college years I wasn't going to leave him at home, so I made him come with me. Now he loves it - he won the sprint relay."

Romantically, there is no Mrs Right on the horizon just yet - although he dates regularly he is still single. "I had a child, then got married, now I'm single - I did everything backwards." says Strang, who was married to his then-fellow Shortland Street co-star Katrina Devine in 2001. They have since divorced, and Katrina now lives in Canda.

"I've been single for a while, so maybe subconsciously the fact that I have to deal with emotion every day has had an effect on me."

Perhaps it's the amount of unhappiness he sees in his day job? "I have seen a lot of heartache, but in all seriousness, it hasn't put me off.

"I've learned that sometimes, people are better apart than together," he says.

"Our previous generation would often stay together for the sake of the children, but while I think some people leave their relationships too early - they don't put enough work into it - a lot of the time, you just need to rip off the plaster and open the wound, because both parents and children are happier apart than together."

And he names his own situation as a case in point.

"Steel was in his mum's primary care for a long time, and as always happens in families, things change over time, and Steel's now with me while his mum lives in Canada," says Blair, who at one point was said to have refused to pay child support - an allegation he has neither confirmed nor denied.

"The changes were tough at the time, but they've improved over time, and Steel has two parents who are happy and adore him."

Skin colour an issue, actor told

Blair Strang has been told his brown skin makes it difficult to get acting roles outside New Zealand.

And he says he wouldn't leave here unless there was an amazing role on offer. "I find auditioning for roles outside this country a bit demeaning, as I've been told when I've tried to audition, having brown skin means I won't get much work in Australia or America."

He has a couple of dream roles. "I'd love to do a Sunday Theatre, or something quite meaty I reckon I'd play a good Winston Peters or Howard Morrison."

But he is relaxed about his future after starring in Nothing Trivial. Strang, who has been a regular on our screens since his first role as ambulance driver Rangi Heremaia on Shortland Street in 1991, says Brian's the best character he has played. "I loved him, and I'm going to miss him, loved Nothing Trivial."

He said thousands of people responded to his social media post saying "thanks for the memories" after the show was axed, leading to this tele-feature. "I'm happy where I am - my son's here and I love it. I'd love to act more, but if nothing else comes, no worries. I've still got the day job."

• The two-hour telemovie finale of Nothing Trivial, TV One, 8.30pm, August 3

- Herald on Sunday

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