Twelve questions

Sarah Stuart poses 12 questions to well-known faces

Twelve Questions: Stephen Sinclair

Writer Stephen Sinclair, 56, is best known for co-writing Ladies Night and working with Sir Peter Jackson on Meet the Feebles, Braindead and The Lord of the Rings. The son of noted historian and poet Sir Keith Sinclair and brother of actor Harry, he says he never expected to make a living with his writing.

Stephen Sinclair fears technology is making us selfish. Photo / Richard Robinson
Stephen Sinclair fears technology is making us selfish. Photo / Richard Robinson

1. Your latest play Intimacies is about how technology is warping our lives and relationships - how is it affecting you?

In lots of ways I guess. I'm more impatient and more restless. I've resisted Facebook and I don't Twitter but I check my phone for texts a lot. And email. When I should be writing. I don't think technology is making anyone happier. It's making us dumber and more hedonistic and more selfish.

2. How difficult has it been to make a living writing?

Mercury Theatre put on Ladies Night in 1987 [the play about male strippers which he co-wrote with Anthony McCarten] and aside from a couple of short periods, that's supported me ever since. It still has an ongoing life in France, Germany, Russia, Poland and the Ukraine.

3. Was the payout you got in the case against the film The Full Monty [which was settled out of court] a financial high-point?

That's an assumption on your part. I can't talk about it but you have made an assumption there.

4. Was it difficult making your directorial debut with Russian Snark (2010) after so many years of writing for Sir Peter Jackson?

I expected directing a film to be incredibly stressful and lose sleep but it was a dream. I loved it. For writers, just getting away from the computer and working with people in a social environment is fantastic. It was based on the Russian couple who sailed to Auckland from Vladivostok (in 1999) and I met them and took them along to a screening. They're still living in Northland.

5. What was it like watching Peter's rise to the top of Hollywood from working with him back on Braindead?

It was like sitting in the bleachers at Cape Canaveral. I was always amazed at how driven he was, and energised and unstoppable so I never thought "how did that guy get there?". But it was still surreal. Jealous? No, I haven't been tormented by that. He's an institution. It would be like being envious of Steven Spielberg.

6. You come from quite the literary family - father Sir Keith and brother Harry. Was there ever any chance you'd be a plumber?

No. I had literary aspirations from quite a young age. Dad really enthused me about writing and also about Maori language - New Zealand history wasn't a nine-to-five job for him. We'd go to pa sites and travel around the country. We had great holidays at a family bach we've still got in the Coromandel. Writing was always an acceptable thing to pursue in our family.

7. Was he proud of your work?

I think he was. He did tell me on one occasion. There was quite a lot of rivalry going on. He was incredibly competitive and it didn't make life easy in some respects. There was definitely a dynamic there. Some people say I'm too much like him but I don't think I am.

8. You recently lamented the lack of political theatre in New Zealand - why is there so little, do you think?

People aren't as political as they used to be. I think the demise of communism dealt the left a real body blow and there was no real alternative to capitalism for a long time. Unions aren't a presence in society the way they used to be and people are more hedonistic and selfish - there are so many distractions.

9. Have you got less angry as you get older?

I'm going on marches again - I did for the asset sales and also was part of a flotilla in Coromandel protesting mining. I feel like a bit of a dinosaur but I did see Dean Parker on the march so I'm not the only playwright doing it.

10. Are writers born or made?

Made. You have to have an innate ability but it's about temperament more than ability. Persevering even when you have grown to hate the story that you're writing. And some belief in yourself but also the intelligence to take on criticism. I've had periods in more recent times when just getting up and doing every day what I have been doing for 40 years is hard. It seems to have lifted somewhat thank God.

11. And you've got lots of projects on the go - this play, another being workshopped, a film in development, an animated feature. Spreading yourself a bit thin?

It helps, especially if you're hating one. The American writer John Updike said he had several computers in his house in different rooms, each with a different work on it. When he was frustrated with one, he'd get up, walk down the hall, and work on something else.

12. What is the state of the New Zealand arts community at present?

I think it's really great. There's a lot of amazing talent around - music, theatre, film. But it's really tough in theatre. There are so many more practitioners than there used to be even 10 years ago and there's not enough dollars to support them. I've given up on New Zealand TV. There are some highlights - Harry, Outrageous Fortune. But news and current affairs is laughable and documentaries have just disappeared. How awful is that?

* Stephen Sinclair's Intimacies opens at the Musgrove Theatre on July 5 and his film Russian Snark shows on the Rialto channel this month as part of New Zealand Film Month.

- NZ Herald

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