Michele Hewitson interview: Shane Cortese

By Michele Hewitson

The boyishly charming TV actor and one-time Dancing with the Stars contestant regularly appears in the gossip pages at A-list dos. Photo  / Natalie Slade
The boyishly charming TV actor and one-time Dancing with the Stars contestant regularly appears in the gossip pages at A-list dos. Photo / Natalie Slade

The boyishly charming TV actor and one-time Dancing with the Stars contestant regularly appears in the gossip pages at A-list dos. Photo / Natalie Slade

The entertainer would probably slap you around the chops with a rare steak if you called him an artist

The bloke who owns the place where I get my hair cut asked if he could suggest somebody to be interviewed: Shane Cortese. Why? Because he was always seeing his picture at those A-list dos in the gossip pages. He wondered whether there was anything more to him.

Obviously there must be, because in addition to going to the opening of a window, he's been Mac in Nothing Trivial, Colin in The Almighty Johnsons, Hayden in Outrageous Fortune and the dead guy, Brian, in Burying Brian.

But I knew what he meant and it's not a bad question, so I asked it. One answer might be, he cheerfully offered, that there are no depths to be plumbed.

Is that true? Yes, and no. He is more interesting than he professes to be, although partly that is because he is so normal, for an actor. He said, somewhat redundantly, that he's not a luvvie.

He suggested we have lunch and we both had, at his suggestion, enormous steaks and huge bowls of chips. I asked what he likes to do when he's not working and he said, sweeping his arm over the table: "This!" He had only one glass of wine because he was going on to rehearsals for The Almighty Johnsons, but you can imagine him having more than one. So he likes eating and drinking, in a blokey, rare steak way. He is the least precious actor I've ever met.

I had wondered whether to tell him about my hairdressing bloke, because it's not the most flattering reason to want to interview somebody, but he didn't mind a bit. "Tell him to come and have a beer with me." He did mean it, but he is very good at marketing himself. That, too, is hardly a flattering thing to say about an actor, but I didn't say it: he did.

We didn't talk about acting at all. I don't think he knows how to, or, more likely, he has no interest in talking about the art of acting. I asked him who his favourite actors were and he said that I'd laugh at him, but that he really likes Hugh Jackman. Perhaps he thought he should say, I don't know, some arty actor like Tilda Swinton. He also likes Tom Cruise because of films like Top Gun which made him want to become an actor. "I'd love to meet him!" If he did meet him, he'd tell him he was the reason he became an actor. He would too, and he wouldn't worry for a minute that this might be a bit naff and it somehow isn't. It's puppyishly endearing.

He likes Jackman as an actor but really he likes him because "he's also a businessman. And he sings and dances and he's good at selling himself. He's everything I'd aspire to be."

Cortese is also a businessman, having last year bought the New Zealand franchise for ICMI, an inspirational speakers' company. He has an office in Takapuna and when he goes to the office he puts on a suit and "I become a businessman for the day".

He has a businesslike definition of acting. "To me, acting is a business. Every part of being an actor should be the same as being a lawyer, or whatever. You still have to sell yourself and you have to be healthy, you've got to be prepared, you've got to deliver what people want. You've got to get up at the right time in the morning and you've got to market yourself and you've got to do your GST."

He is amazingly uninterested in art, and would probably slap you around the chops with a rare steak if you called him an artist. I said, as were leaving, "Are you interested in art at all?" He said, absolutely deadpan (which might have been acting, or he might actually have meant it), that he had some really good oil paintings, by an artist from Palmerston North.

I said, "Are you a serious actor now?" This is a question most actors would rightly take offence at. He said: "A serious actor! Ha! I'm a television actor. I'm pretty commercial. I'm not a method actor, I'm not an Indie actor. I think commercial television is where I fit best. It pays my bills. That's not an offensive question to me at all."

It wasn't meant to be. It's just hard to figure out where he fits in the acting world. You'd think he must have stumbled into it. What he did is much more peculiar than that. He actively pursued a stage career and fame, and in 1993 went off to London and the West End to do musical theatre. He was a travel agent at the time. But where on earth did he get the idea that he could go on the stage? He'd done amateur theatre in Palmerston North so presumably somebody had told him he was good enough to be a professional. "I wasn't. I was told I was terrible. Even my mum told me to stop singing."

He says he now doesn't know how he had the nerve, but he did go and did get roles. He stayed for 10 years and then got an offer of a role in Shortland Street: the evil Dominic. He says he was awful. All of which only demonstrates that he's determined, and stubborn, certainly not that he was meant to be an actor.

How good an actor is he? He told the photographer that this wasn't so much an interview as "a personality dissection", and that his response to the interview request was, "Oh my God! No!" Well, he is used to interviews with women's magazines. But he gave every appearance of valiantly enjoying the process, so who knows which bit was acting.

He's really an entertainer, I suppose, and he achieved a strange sort of fame after appearing on the first season of Dancing with the Stars in 2005. He didn't win, and the really strange bit about his fame is what happened next. His dance partner was Nerida Lister and it was widely assumed that they were having a fling. They were both with other partners at the time and insisted there was nothing going on between them. He says they actually really disliked each other for most of the series but somehow became friends and now they've been married for six years and have two boys, Kees, 4, and Jett, three months old.

Anyway, the point is that his profile was created through a dancing show and salacious gossip. And now we know some rather rum things about him which have little to do with his acting career.

I knew that he has a daughter, Tammy, the result of a one-night stand in 1992, whom he knew nothing about until she wrote to him just before she turned 16. She sent photographs and Nerida said she looked just like him, but he had a DNA test done before meeting her. He obviously thought being asked why a DNA test was a mad thing to ask. "Well, you have to."

I also know that Jett is, possibly, named after one of John Travolta's children. He said I shouldn't believe everything I read. But I know these things (or the majority of them) because he and Nerida sell their stories to the women's mags, even the story of his "love child". He says he got wind that somebody was going to do a story, so he got in first, and that anyway his daughter got the money.

He sold their wedding and the thing I find extraordinary is that the deal went sour - they hadn't ensured another publication couldn't pap the wedding event, thus blowing the exclusive deal - and still they go on selling stories. He told me that after Jett was born, a reporter turned up at the door and a photographer with a long lens sat at the end of his drive for two days, so he might as well make some money out of the story by selling it. "And both of my children have lovely educational trusts now," he said, but what he really meant was: So there.

He wouldn't tell me how much you get for a baby, but he wouldn't do it for 10 grand, so quite a lot is the answer. They also get control: final approval of photos and copy and headlines. It's all PR. "Of course it is."

We had a long and circular row about the person he "sells", which he says is a "character" and that "at home you can be completely different. That's branding and marketing." He proved spectacularly bad at marketing himself as an actor to me and barely mentioned that he is shooting the second series of The Almighty Johnsons, which will screen at a yet-to-be-announced date in 2012, so there, I've done it for him. I should send him the bill.

He is predictably defensive about getting paid for stories. I left my recorder running while I went to the loo and he said, gloomily, to the photographer, that he knew I was going to ask him about the women's mag stories. "I have to! I'm not a rich man!" So I think he thought he had to come up with some sort of argument, but that he really doesn't think much about the devil's pact; he just happily banks the cheques. He says, by the way, that he goes to those opening of windows because he's invited, and the drinks are free.

I doubt, actually, that he's really very different at home.

He has said he has real lows, when he doesn't get a part, say, but he was horrified when I asked if he meant he got depressed. He said, "I wouldn't go down the depression road at all!" He has very manly lows. "I go into man-cave mode and I shut down."

He likes blokey things like watching the Hurricanes on the TV in a pub with his acting mates John Leigh and Michael Galvin. He said: "I don't believe there's anything wrong with a man being a man."

He means that men should change lightbulbs and pay for dinner. He likes playing golf and watching test cricket. He doesn't do deep and meaningful. "No, I'm just straight up."

His idea of a funny prank was to point me in the wrong direction for the loo, towards the rubbish bins. That was quite funny, in a naughty boyish way. He's 43, but there is something boyish about him, for all his business mindedness.

There is an idea about him, I think, driven by his marketing and all of those appearances in gossip pages and magazines, that he is desperate for fame. He used to be, he says, but he's not that interesting any more. Where did the ambition to be a famous actor go? "It dissipated through reality."

He can be very funny. He had a funny idea, which he claims he read somewhere, that I only interview people I don't like.

Neither of us should believe everything we read.

- NZ Herald

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