Here's a little known fact about actor and screen legend Ian Mune: he once lived on a 20ha farm with his wife, five cats, three dogs, 20 cows and 400 angora goats. It means he's got considerable affinity for animals which might help given his latest role sees him on stage alongside a giant cat.

Although a regular on stage and screen, it's been 17 years since Mune had a lead role in a locally-written play. Right now, he's enjoying seeing a new generation lapping up Goodbye Pork Pie, the re-boot of the 1981 film he co-wrote with director Geoff Murphy.

"Geoff called me up and said there was a young director interested in re-making it; I said it was bloody ridiculous and he should do all he could to discourage him then he told me it was his son, Matt, and the only way he could do it was to buy the rights off us. I said, 'in that case, do all you can to encourage him.'"

He says Murphy should be extremely proud of Matt's achievement.

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But away from fast cars and the big screen, Mune is now rehearsing Spirit House. He plays one of two artists working in a studio in Nong Khai, Thailand. His character lives there in 1932; the second artist (Tim Carlsen) in 2017 but the same mysterious woman (Mia Blake) visits both. The otherworldly proceedings are watched over by a 1.8m cat that doesn't speak but makes his feelings obvious.

Mune's first professional theatre role was in 1964 in the extremely English play Lady Audley's Secret; ask if he could have imagined being on stage with an actor (Min Kim) dressed in a cat costume which involved Kim having his head digitally modelled and 3D printed, Mune doesn't blink.

"Well, as an actor you can imagine yourself being on stage with any damn thing," he says dryly. "The most difficult thing to imagine was that it would be in a New Zealand play.

"When you look at the 1960s and 70s in NZ film, TV and theatre, all the reins of power were in the hands of survivors of World War II and it was an authoritarian structure with a strict hierarchy. You had to have permission to do everything and you certainly weren't granted permission to write NZ plays, speak with NZ accents or make NZ films."

He reckons those behind Wellington's Downstage Theatre, opened in 1964, "put their fist through the glass panes" and showed you could work outside established structures. His own work, writing, adapting and directing numerous local stories for TV and film, added to the revolution.

Ian Mune takes his first lead role in a locally-written play in 17 years.
Ian Mune takes his first lead role in a locally-written play in 17 years.

At Downstage, he worked with writer, director and actor Peter Bland; now it's with Peter's son, Carl, who wrote Spirit House. Mune wanted the role because he says Bland and collaborator Ben Crowder create theatrical magic.

"I sat down to read the script and I was thinking, 'for f***s sake, how are they going to do that?' because it's not do-able, although you know in theatre most things are do-able and these two have a reputation for doing the un-doable. I thought I'd hitch a ride and watch how they do it."

Bland and Crowder have put their own fists through a number of glass panes, creating theatre which is grand and ambitious in the telling and the effects it uses to do so. That's ironic, says Crowder, given the two of them struggle with basic computing.

Like his recent plays, written since the sudden death of his partner Peta Rutter, Bland says Spirit House continues to explore the "big questions" about life and death, the various stages of grieving and remaking one's life. He wanted Mune to play the older artist, Charles, because the role needed someone with charisma and ego, a worldly soul who's seen a bit of life.

Mune says it's not his business to question his casting; he's busy getting on with the job of learning lines and doing what the script wants. He acknowledges a tendency to let rip in the more dramatic moments and add lines.

"A lot of the play is innuendo and suggestion so if I overstate things instead of making it bigger, it becomes smaller. It shrinks things down to having only one meaning."

What: Fringe Festival - Spirit House
Where & when: Herald Theatre; February 16 - March 5