Chad Moffit is nervous. Our chat is his first face-to-face interview about his first feature film. He knows playing Sir Edmund Hillary in docudrama Beyond the Edge - the first big-screen re-telling of the first triumphant ascent of Mt Everest - is the chance of a lifetime. As a windstorm rages outside, Moffit warms up a little over Earl Grey at the Roxy Cinema in Miramar, Wellington, near Weta Digital where he works as a computer animator.
So, during the nationwide hunt for a leading man who looked like Hillary, Moffit sent director Leanne Pooley a photo of himself holding the $5 note which bears Sir Ed's image.
The ploy earned him an audition. "I was really nervous. I didn't know much about the movie, and wanted to be over-prepared rather than underprepared, so I researched Sir Ed, particularly how he walked and talked." The phonecall confirming he'd got the part felt like "an early Christmas present".
Moffit, who had done rock climbing but no alpine climbing, spent nearly a month filming on Mt Cook, the film's Mt Everest. Though he had a stunt double, Moffit did everything that was safe, including climbing a horizontal ladder over a yawning crevasse. "It was really scary. My mind knew I was safe but my body didn't." Filming gave him a new appreciation for just how difficult, dangerous and potentially deadly the 1953 expedition was.
Beyond the Edge, which seamlessly blends documentary with drama, uses archival interviews (with Hillary and others) as voiceover for the dramatised scenes. So Moffit is, effectively, a silent-movie actor whose expression and body language does the talking for him - and he captures Sir Ed's understated personality and physicality well. "Sir Ed was a very shy dude but he wasn't awkward or tense when climbing."
Although Moffit is a few years older than Hillary was in 1953, he doesn't look as weather-beaten. So, before close-ups, make-up artists used prosthetics to age him around his eyes and forehead, to lengthen his teeth, and sometimes to add a beard and stubble. "It's all quite subtle," says Moffit, who has seen some rough cuts of his scenes, but hasn't seen the final film yet. "I can't wait for the premiere at the Embassy [Theatre] on Tuesday."
Currently Moffit is working long hours on the second Hobbit film at Weta, but film isn't just his day job. "I'm a closet filmmaker, mainly helping out on short films. I enjoy writing, assistant directing, being an extra, helping with lighting, whatever needs doing. For this film, it was weird not helping out behind the camera."
Also a trained hypnotherapist, Moffit isn't pursuing a career in acting, but is open to interesting roles. "Acting can be really rewarding - you get to explore different parts of what makes us human. But for me it's all about learning. I try to grab opportunities and experiences when they come along."
Beyond the Edge 3D opens nationwide on Thursday.