Ian Mune OBE is an award-winning actor, writer and director with a vast range of stage and screen credits to his name. With a career that spans more than 50 years, notable films include Sleeping Dogs, What Becomes of the Broken Hearted and The End of the Golden Weather. In honour of all he has achieved, Mune is the recipient of the 2021 NZ TV Awards "Television Legend" honour for his significant contribution to the screen arts.
Dad was a dairy farmer and we lived on a farm in Te Puke. When I was still very young, Mum noticed that Dad was bringing in smaller and smaller loads of firewood. About the same time Dad was called up for the war, which meant going for a check-up. We all bundled into the car to go to the doctor's and Mum stayed in the car with us three boys while Dad went in for his 20-minute appointment. An hour later he still wasn't out, then the nurse came to the car and said: "Mrs Mune, you need to go inside, I'll stay and look after the boys". Mum found Dad in a state of shock, and the doctor told her to take him to Tauranga Hospital immediately. The only problem was, Mum had only ever driven on farm roads. She'd never driven on a public road. She didn't even have a licence but she drove Dad to Tauranga Hospital. Because dad had contracted rheumatic fever as a child in Fiji, it had weakened his heart muscles, so they sold the farm and moved to a little house in Tauranga. Dad died three years later, when I was 5, and Mum brought three boys up on her own.
Mum struggled on a widow's pension, which in the 1940s wasn't very much. But she was also a trained teacher, so she went to the local primary and while they didn't have any teaching jobs, she became the headmaster's assistant and worked her way into a teaching job. Then Tauranga Hospital asked her to teach their young patients. The hospital had these long wards with a sun room on the end, and mum set up a school at the end of the children's ward. I'd drop in to see her when I was walking home from Tauranga South Primary. She was meant to be teaching them, but she felt, because they were sick, what they should do is play, and through play they would learn. She made such a lovely place for those crook kids.
When Mum was in her 80s, I asked if she'd had any opportunity to marry again. She said there were two men who would've been very good with us boys and one in particular we all got on with very well but when he asked Mum, she said: "I'm sorry, I can't, I'm already married." Which is such an old world view.
I spent my early life looking for fathers. I had a mate at school whose dad took me under his wing. He was the local butcher and he used to take us to a sheep station at the mouth of the Mohaka River, in Hawke's Bay, for the school holidays. We'd ride horses and look after ewes during lambing, or go out with .22s and shoot goats. So I decided to become a farmer, like my dad, and Mum sent me to Wesley College. It was originally for "native" boys but by 1955 they were letting some Pākehā in. We learnt animal husbandry, commercial practice, and dairying but after the fifth form, I realised I didn't want to be a farmer so I returned to Tauranga College and spent two years trying to get university entrance (UE). It was a nightmare, because I was doing all new subjects like biology, geography, art and book-keeping. I think they eventually granted me UE to get rid of me.
My first job was as a clerk for NAC, which became air New Zealand. After a couple of years I was sent to Wellington where I collated amendments to manuals, and it was boring as hell. One day I heard a commotion outside on The Terrace. Down on the street I saw all these trucks and cars going past. People were running and jumping around, shouting and yelling and obviously having a hell of a lot of fun. Well it was the student procession. I looked down and saw three beautiful young women sitting on the cab of a truck. One looked up and caught my eye and beckoned me down. My boss was standing beside me and said, "go on, join them". So I raced down the stairs in my suit and tie and ran to catch up to the truck. I clambered aboard between that bevvy of beauties, one handed me a bottle of beer and away we went up to Victoria and I never went back to my job. I never wore my suit again either.
I met a beautiful girl at university, Jo, who became my wife. She was a bit askance at me exchanging my suit for a blanket with hole cut in the middle, a poncho, and a pair of jeans that hadn't seen a washing machine in far too long, and winkle picker shoes. When she went to training college, she suggested I go too. So I went into the family business of teaching, because by that stage, my brother and a cousin were teachers too, so that pleased my mum.
During my studies, I was very involved with drama and in my third year, when I was about to either go teaching or fulltime to university, I was asked to join Downstage when it was just opening. That led to an opportunity to join a Shakespeare company in Wales, in Cardiff and I went there with Jo and our two small kids from 66 to 68 and I loved it. We toured all over Wales, Northern Ireland and little dabs of England. We did improv and I also got stuck into making comedia dell'arte masks. Back in New Zealand, there wasn't any acting work for me so I got a job as a designer's assistant at the opera company, with Raymond Boyce. Then I was asked to audition for the Mercury Theatre in Auckland, so I hopped on a train and took a hatbox full of masks which I hoped might impress the producer. When the audition was ending I was asked: "What about these masks I heard about?" But when I went to show him, I discovered I'd locked the hat box and lost the key. So either I had to smash it with an axe or ... so I apologised and he said, "we'll be in touch" which sounded like a no. But as I was heading to the railway station, an actor came running after me and said the producer wanted to see me. Although I had to catch a train, I went back and was asked to start the next month.
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Back in Wellington with time to kill and no acting work, I was asked to direct a play. I'd sworn I'd never direct - because it seemed like such an impossible task - but I said yes and took on a totally bizarre thing called America Hurrah which ends with three huge dolls destroying a motel room to appropriate music. Then I was given a play to direct in Auckland, Marat/Sade, or the full title The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade. It's a bit of a mouthful, but it's a fantastic play and that's how the directing took off.
One of the Mercury actors, Shirley Duke, said she had a friend I should meet so she asked me and Jo to dinner. We rolled up to Shirl's and there's this great big tall Aussie bloke and his wife Sue. Well, the bloke was Roger Donaldson, and he and I took a beer out on to the deck and talked and talked and talked. He was making commercials and documentaries and had this background in film, and I had this background in acting and directing stories, so we decided, if we pooled our talents and learnt from each other, we might get a movie off the ground.
My wife Jo was ill for nearly four years. After she died, I went a bit nuts and gave away a whole lot of stuff I should never have given away. Piles of furniture and paintings. Now I keep looking for things, but I can't find them so I assume they were given away. But I got my head around it. I have to say of this Covid lockdown, living on my own, I hardly notice. I spend all my time painting.
I go out once a day to buy the newspaper. I don't read it. I just do Simon Shucker's Code Cracker, and the Sudoku, and maybe sometimes I'll read the back page.
I've had enough of directing movies so now I spend most of my time painting. And I talk to Jo. I've also got these three kids and they've been sprouting kids and one of those kids has sprouted a kid so I'm a great granddad and I do the odd acting job. In the last five years I've done five plays, and in all but one of them I died, and in two of them my death has been the final scene. There aren't as many parts when you're 80. But I do what I can, and I'm very happy spending the rest of my time with brush in hand.
• The 2021 NZ TV Awards "Television Legend" award is supported by NZ On Screen.