He has what many actors would consider a dream resumé - steadily covering the spectrum of commercial and independent projects across a diverse range of genres, in an industry where many struggle for years, even decades, to land just one significant role.

On film, one minute Marton Csokas is starring in three number-one blockbusters - The Amazing Spider-Man 2, The Equalizer and Noah - within six months; the next he's preparing to release three smaller productions.

Meanwhile, over on the small screen he's gone from working alongside Thandie Newton in US satellite broadcaster DirecTV's exclusive series, Rogue, to debuting one of his biggest television roles yet, as a lead on Into the Badlands on AMC - the American power network that gave birth to The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad.

Yet, as he prepares to mark his 50th birthday, one would be remiss to wonder if the former Shortland Street star is at the height of his Hollywood career.

Advertisement

"I hope it's not the peak ... because then it's all downhill from there," he laughs. "You never know what life brings.

I did have a run of big, commercial films, then Into the Badlands came along and since then I've done smaller films - Burn Your Maps, Voice from the Stone and Loving, an inter-racial love story, which I finished yesterday morning at 5am.

Then I'm moving to Poland for a murder mystery noir, which is another interesting psychological piece.

"I'm happy to be doing these smaller films that have a more particular vision than some of the bigger commercial movies. I'm mixing it up and enjoying it and in no way think it's the peak of my career. Goodness me ... I hope not."

Perhaps it's not the peak, but there's no denying that having now been acting for half of his life, Csokas has reached a notable high - one which the steady stream of Shortland Street cast following in his footsteps and swapping Ferndale for Los Angeles doubtlessly hope of achieving.

It wasn't so long ago that the Invercargill-born, half-Hungarian actor was in their shoes, having made his television debut on Shark in the Park in 1990, then becoming a beloved household name as Dr Leonard Dodds in Shortland Street's infant years.

It's a character he will never fully shed - an eccentric, geeky and endearing doctor, who remains one of the show's most popular characters.

Over the years, he co-founded his own theatre company, having been inspired to pursue acting by exploring London theatres and discovering a book on theatre in a second-hand store around the age of 19.

Advertisement

Since then he has graced the stage in London, New York and Sydney. After Shorty, Csokas starred in Xena: Warrior Princess and Australian series Water Rats and All Saints and played Lord Celeborn in the first and final Lord of the Rings films.

But it's since relocating to America 13 years ago that Csokas has given the shadow of Dr Dodds the biggest shake.

Some fight for years and many give up, packing their Hollywood dreams into a suitcase and returning home, but Csokas has landed gigs consistently, crediting a work ethic that spurs him into doing whatever it takes to get by - whether it's washing dishes and tossing pizzas at Auckland restaurant Rakinos earlier in his career or taking on, at least some, projects with bigger pay checks.

"A continuum of work is a wonderful thing and obviously a necessary thing. I've always had a steady stream of it. I have a strong work ethic, mostly born from necessity!

"When I was in drama school I was working full time supporting myself in bars, cafes, and restaurants. I put myself through university like that, put myself through drama school like that and then when I was out of drama school I took on whatever I needed to in order to support whatever was happening. So during a lot of the co-operative theatre I did, I was working full time.

"Then at some point you go, 'Okay, do I want to forget this acting thing, or do I take a little more of a commercial approach in order to call myself an actor and pay the bills?'
"I've been fortunate enough to be able to do that for the last 10 years."

That commercial approach has not only allowed him to take on smaller projects without having to resort to dishwashing, but seen him roll out credits alongside Hollywood heavyweights like Forest Whitaker in Pawn, Johnny Depp in Alice in Wonderland, Russell Crowe in Noah and Matt Damon in The Bourne Supremacy.

Along the way he has become somewhat notorious for playing the baddie, from portraying the leader of a terrorist group in 2002's XXX, to squaring off against Denzel Washington in The Equalizer.

Such roles may not be what anyone would have expected sweet and nerdy Dr Dodds to go on to, and Csokas himself was unlikely to have envisioned becoming somewhat of a go-to villain back when he was engrossing himself in the world of London theatre.

However, his fierceness has stuck and surfaces once again in his latest project Into the Badlands.

Described by Rolling Stone as a mash-up of "American Westerns, Samurai epics, Chinese folk tales, Hong Kong action flicks, and not-so-distant-future post-apocalyptic tales", the series is loosely based on Chinese tale Journey to the West and was developed for television by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, the team behind Smallville and upcoming, locally-filmed series The Shannara Chronicles.

It follows warrior Sunny (Daniel Wu) as he journeys across dangerous lands with a young boy. Csokas plays Baron Quinn, the most powerful baron in the region, who took in Sunny as an orphan and trained him to become his most trusted and loyal assassin.

He was cast as Quinn despite being two years younger than the age requirement for the character.

"We were trying to find someone for this role and we just could not find it," says director David Dobkin. "Then I was on an aeroplane and saw The Equalizer.

Halfway through, I kept saying to my wife, 'This guy is insane. Unbelievable. He's toe-to-toe with Denzel.'

"She's like, 'Why don't you call him in?'

"So Al and I meet with him and he plays the monologue - that he gives in the beginning of the first episode - to us on his phone and he's done it in a voice that is part Miles Davis, part Kurtz from Apocalypse Now, maybe even some painters. He's so artistic and creative.

"I listened to it and was like, 'I'm being drawn into this guy's character without even seeing him'.

He just brings a level of authenticity to everything he does. It's well thought-out, well researched and performed from the deepest and most honest place. To be a man like Quinn - and what it takes to be that brutal - is not easy and Marton was committed to going all the way with it.

"He swung his ass out there so hard in this character. He created something that was so nuts."

Co-star Wu says Csokas elevated the entire cast's performance, while Millar adds that as well as "his magnificent beard", the Kiwi brought power and integrity to a role, which "in less of an actor's hands could be too big or not grounded".

He may have surpassed the show creators' expectations, yet Csokas had little idea what he was getting into, signing on to the series while it was still taking shape.

Previous film roles placed him in good stead for the show's fight scenes, particularly his sword work on Kingdom of Heaven and martial arts experience from The Bourne Supremacy.

"As brief as my work was on Bourne, we worked very hard on choreographing certain types of fights and that's the closest I've come to working with [Into the Badlands fight director] Steven Fung and [martial arts choreographer] Master Dee Dee.

They figure out what actors' strengths are, as well as what they can get away with cinematically - they have a great knowledge of the camera as well as the physical discipline and they're easygoing, gentle and kind.

That goes a long way to achieving what you need to, as opposed to a more totalitarian state, which is horrible to work with."

It may seem Csokas has had somewhat of an easy run compared with many foreign actors trying to make it in Hollywood, and he's well aware, dropping words like "fortunate", "lucky" and "grateful" countless times throughout the interview.

But success hasn't come without its hurdles. The same challenges actors face in New Zealand are prevalent in the US and he says his biggest lesson is simply that sometimes, nothing is something.

"The hardest part is just rolling with the punches. Life is full of challenges and knockbacks and I feel lucky that I've been able to keep going.

You fall into lots of holes and drag yourself out of them and people's perception in this industry is a very important thing, which is unfortunate but that's the way it goes.

"I've had a lot of people who have helped me, for which I'm grateful and some people who haven't, for which I'm grateful."

Care to share any examples?

He chuckles. "Not really. I like to accentuate the positive. What I'm saying is that when things don't work out, at the time you think, 'Oh my God, if only that happened', but it's important to let go of these things and go, 'Well, what is it that is happening?'

"It's easy to embrace a piece of work or a busy time. But when you don't have work and you're in a bad spot, those are the important times that teach us all the things we need to know.

"It's not a certain road, that's for sure. You've got to have a fairly philosophical disposition towards it all, so I'm grateful for the spiritual and philosophical things that those times have taught me about how you need to walk through life. I'm in a good spot for the time being, but typical to this profession you never know what's going to happen thereafter and that's where the philosophical position you take is very, very important ."

As for whether the big 5-0, coming up next June, sparks any philosophical thoughts about his future, Csokas laughs off the milestone.

"It's an absurd number. It's an absurd notion. Is it a big deal? Well, it means I'm getting older. It's a good thing. I feel wiser, richer in spirit and like I've got so much more to learn - and am in a good position to learn it. So I'm happy for that."

Into the badlands is on SoHo, Thursdays at 9.30pm.