At 9am sharp on a wet Wednesday morning I trudged into the cafe across the road from the office to meet Nic Sampson, the hardest working man in show business.

I was on time but he was already there, in front of the counter eyeing up the donuts. I asked if he wanted coffee. No, he said because he'd already ordered.

Sampson's CV is extensive, as are his current occupations. He's a stand-up comedian, a podcaster, a performer with the all-star comedy improv troupe Snort, the head writer for entertainment variety show Jono and Ben and a writer on the sketch show Funny Girls.

Laura Daniel and Rose Matafeo star in the TV series Funny Girls.
Laura Daniel and Rose Matafeo star in the TV series Funny Girls.

He's starred in Go Girls and Step Dave and, after coffee with TimeOut to discuss his starring role in the ever-popular, pastoral crime series The Brokenwood Mysteries he's off to rehearsal for his lead role in Perplex, the Silo Theatre's Christmas production.

Advertisement

He has a lot going on. My first question is a simple one; Why, bro, are you taking everybody's jobs?

"Because," he answers with mock seriousness, "I am a white man and that's what we like to do."

He's laughing before he's even finished his sentence. This happens frequently so it's a good thing he's very funny. A pattern also quickly emerges of gag answer, proper answer.

"But it's a real hangover from my early 20s," he says giving the proper answer. "When you're an actor you spend a lot of time dressing up as a Santa Claus or some bullshit and hating it. So you learn to take whatever job comes your way. It gives you quite a diverse skill set because you have to get good at a lot of things. I think I'd get bored if I did one thing the same for too long. I like to try to switch it up."

It sounds exhausting. What keeps him going?

"Part of it is an overriding fear that I'm not good at anything else. So for me it's about getting work, making sure that there's more work coming so that I can pay for more New Balance sneakers," he jokes.

"I want to keep making stuff because I'm worried that if I slow down everyone'd be like, 'you're not good at this."

He is, of course, very good. At all of it. There are so many strings on his metaphorical bow that it now resembles a guitar.

"I think of myself as a comedian. Mostly. But then I really enjoy acting," he says. "The great thing about acting but calling yourself a comedian is that you don't have any pressure on yourself to be a good actor. If anyone says, 'well, you're not a very good actor," you go, 'I'm just a comedian! What do you want from me?'"

Yeah, true, but the pressure to be funny is so much higher. If people expect funny and you don't deliver the audience will crucify you.

"Well, of course then you spiral into depression," he laughs, before putting on his top blokey voice and saying, "Look. I love to do it all, mate."

Sampson's road to the top started when he left school. He landed a plum gig as Charlie "Chip" Thorn, the yellow Power Ranger on kids favourite Power Rangers Mystic Force. It was a worldwide hit, a smash, and Sampson had a lead role. He thought he was set for life.

"I was like, 'great, I'm going to be a famous actor,' and the next audition I didn't get. It was for a small role on Outrageous Fortune, a small, tiny role, and I was like, 'Pfft... this is going to be easy'. And they were like, 'you didn't get it'. I was like, 'but... I'm a Power Ranger! What do you mean?'"

Nic Sampson as Detective Breen and Dave Fane as Olsen in The Brokenwood Mysteries.
Nic Sampson as Detective Breen and Dave Fane as Olsen in The Brokenwood Mysteries.

It's said cream always floats to the top, and this was something Sampson learned after landing the very next gig he went for.

"I spent the next few years working in a bakery," he says. "I learnt to make good coffee, which is a must for all actors.

"But I wasn't getting work so I thought, 'right, I'm going to make work for myself'. I started writing plays for the comedy festival and doing those. From that I got a job on Jono and Ben."

Sampson says he's influenced by odd, quirky comedy, which may explain why he ordered his coffee in a takeaway cup even though we weren't going anywhere.

"I tend to enjoy more absurdist stuff. I like doing characters even though they're quite bad characters. I really like improv. I like Leslie Nielsen, he's great."

Taking a sip of his coffee he asks, "Did it turn out he was racist?"

No, I reply, I'm pretty sure he was one of the good guys.

"Oh, okay," he says, satisfied, gulping down the last of his drink. "Feels like everyone's turning racist."

After nearly 40 minutes we haven't spoken much about Brokenwood, which is why we're here, so, I say, tell me about Brokenwood.

"We're now in the third season. People seem to really like it. It's getting a little weirder, which I like. Obviously a big part of its success is that my character, Breen, has had a bigger role these last few seasons."

Sampson was originally hired as a "featured extra", essentially a glorified backdrop, with maybe a single line per episode. But after really nailing those lines more kept gradually appearing.

"Now I'm right at the front, baby! I'm saying lines. Sometimes I'm the only main character in a scene," he puffs with mock bravado. "I've even made the Facebook banner. It was my dream to be in a Facebook banner."

He's on screen, he's behind the scenes, but it's the stage, he says, that remains his true calling.

"The most rewarding thing is live performances. You get everyone clapping and cheering. The payoff from doing well is a real bloody buzz."

Nice work if you can get it. Which you can't. Because Nic Sampson, the hardest-working man in showbusiness, has already taken it.

LOWDOWN
WHO: Nic Sampson
WHAT: Everything, but specifically The Brokenwood Mysteries
WHEN: Prime, Sundays, 8:30pm