He earned a best actor nod for his role in the TVNZ series The Cult, but Kiwi/American actor Latham Gaines, 50, has gained serious kudos - and money - with his transition into toy inventing.

Opi and Me, the product development company Latham runs with his Kiwi wife, Laura Interval, licences toys and game concepts to companies worldwide.

Now they are offering their expertise and experience to Kiwis with dreams of toy inventing but no knowledge of how to crack into the US$20 billion ($25 billion) industry.

"My website, Inventureland.com, solicits ideas and helps to get projects off the ground," Gaines told The Diary. "You can't just walk into Mattel with an idea. It's like trying to get into Paramount with a pitch for a movie. It's a very competitive market and it takes time and energy to create a concept, make it, film it and pitch it to a board of toy manufacturers."

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Gaines has 12 international toy licensing deals to his name, including Ligretto Twist with German toy giant Schmidt Spiele and Hot Wheels SpinShotz with Fortune 500 company Mattel.

His newest toy, Nitro Grinders, has been licensed to Canadian toy manufacturer Tech 4 Kids and will hit US shelves this year.

"If you're clever and persistent, you can make good money in toys. I built a house in Alabama paid entirely for by toys," he said. Mind you, creating is in his blood; his novelist father Charles Gaines was a paintball pioneer. Gaines divides his time between homes in Alabama and Auckland, and continues to work in acting and, more creatively, composing music with readymade objects.

He joined forces with his brother, Shelby, and collaborated with close friend and Hollywood star Ethan Hawke on two conceptual plays in New York - A Lie of the Mind and Clive - writing musical scores and creating instruments out of junk such as disused doors found on the street.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Uma Thurman and Frances McDormand were big fans.