Actor Dean O’Gorman is in a new movie but more importantly, as he tells Greg Bruce, he’s in a good place.

He looks so boyish and was rendered basically immortal by playing a central role in The Hobbit films but Dean O'Gorman married last year and turned 40 last month and now he has to face up to the realities of middle age.

So it's probably appropriate that in Pork Pie, the upcoming remake of the legendary New Zealand film of basically the same name from 1981, he plays Jon, a middle-aged dude who refuses to age: you're boyish until you aren't.

An actor's life, maybe more than any other, is about finding yourself, and that's something O'Gorman has had to do many times, growing up on screen, in real life and, briefly, as a 30-year-old working at Photo Warehouse.

The new Pork Pie is not a great movie but it's a likeable movie, and the main reason for that is O'Gorman and the ease with which he occupies his misguided middle-aged idiot character Jon.


He says he wanted to play a version of a New Zealand man he understood - not a black singlet-wearing, No. 8-wire type of guy, but a creative person living a life of great uncertainty. It is, he says, the sort of artistic person he's been surrounded by most of his life.

"A lot of these people get lost and they struggle because it can be very inconsistent and it's very vulnerable because you're putting projects out there all the time and everyone feels they have an opinion on acting - people will tell me what they think about my acting and I don't even f---ing know them."

The first trailer for Pork Pie - the Goodbye Pork Pie "reimagining".

His first acting role came as a 13-year-old, in the appallingly named genre known as "kidult", with a six-part drama called Raiders of the South Seas, which also starred a young Martin Henderson.

O'Gorman worked as an actor consistently through his teens and early 20s, including substantial spells on Shortland Street, Hercules, Young Hercules and Xena. Then, in 2002, he starred in a New Zealand movie called Toy Love, a highly touted film that was slated by critics.

"I'm not saying it was a perfect film," he says, "but I really enjoyed it and I just felt a bit hurt by that."

No longer feeling inspired by what he was doing here, he moved to Australia, got some odd jobs, did a year long spell on McLeod's Daughters, then moved to America.

He spent a few years there, determined to make it, but he didn't. Just before his 30th birthday, he was cast in a pilot, but says that instead of feeling excited, he just felt homesick. He came home for his birthday and when he went back to Los Angeles, he knew he'd had enough.

"I had this idea that I couldn't go home until I'd achieved something overseas but then I got so homesick, I thought, 'F--- that', and I came home and it was like the greatest decision."

New Zealand actor Dean O'Gorman says he wants to be remembered for being a good person. Photo/Dean Purcell
New Zealand actor Dean O'Gorman says he wants to be remembered for being a good person. Photo/Dean Purcell

He moved into a place in Ponsonby and became a frequenter of Grey Lynn's photographic retail specialists Photo Warehouse.

"I would go there and buy photographic stuff, so I knew the people and I said, 'Can I work here?' They said sure, and I was terrible at it."

"I was always like 'I don't think I'll be here long because I'll either get fired or give up', you know, but I just think it's good to have that diversity."

He left Photo Warehouse after he was cast to play a god on New Zealand television series The Almighty Johnsons, and then he was in New Zealand telemovie Tangiwai, then he got a major role in The Hobbit.

"I just kept thinking, 'When this job finishes, I should go back to the Photo Warehouse'," he says, but he never has.

He has a sort of side career in photography, having exhibited both here and internationally, including at Frankfurt's B3 Biennale in 2015 and the first result after his Wikipedia entry when you google him is his photography website, which includes many striking portraits of his actor friends.

Asked how he's changed as an actor over the years, O'Gorman says, "I probably give some less f---s."

It's a surprising comment because he has had some international success in the last few years, not just in The Hobbit but also playing Kirk Douglas in the critically lauded 2015 Hollywood movie Trumbo, alongside big names like Helen Mirren, Bryan Cranston and Louis C.K. It's possible to argue that he should be giving an exponentially increasing number of f---s.

"I think you need to enjoy your life," he says, "and I spent probably a lot of my mid-20s not really enjoying the projects, or struggling hard to do a job and I think I've learned to do a job because I want to do it and not necessarily look as much at the peripheral, 'What will this do for my career? Where will it take me?'"

I ask O'Gorman what a typical day now looks like for him. "Oh, God," he says, "it's pretty relaxed in a way. You get auditions and you have to prepare for that but it's a town full of actors so everyone just sits around and drinks coffee."

Realising he thought I was asking about Los Angeles, where he no longer lives, but usually spends at least a couple of months a year, I say, "Sorry, I meant here."

"Same thing!" he says. "A typical day is pretty much that, meeting up with some friends or, because we live a bit further out I tend to stay home and work on my own projects a bit more or just relax. The greatest time for me is knowing there's a job coming up and so that is, say two months before that job, I'm not unemployed, I'm on holiday, so I can do whatever."

"I guess at some point when does it tip over from being downtime to being unemployed? I guess there's some boundary."

"I guess at some point when does it tip over from being downtime to being unemployed? I guess there's some boundary." Photo/Dean Purcell

In Pork Pie, O'Gorman's character ends up riding the length of New Zealand in a car stolen by a character played by James Rolleston. The pair are an odd couple who become buddies, and they pick up a young woman along the way, in what is a fairly faithful replica of the events of the original.

In many ways, the gang is going nowhere, directionless, but in another way, the direction is unimportant. What matters is the journey.

O'Gorman says he wants to be remembered not for being a good actor but for being a good person.

"I really like it when people enjoy jobs that I've also enjoyed making," he says, "but I think on your deathbed you want your mates around you, not people who might have seen a job you did once and liked it."

He says that a good person, as he conceives it, is not the same things as being nice, but is more about trying "not to spread any more hate, which is quite rife at the moment, isn't it?"

A couple of minutes later though, he had second thoughts.

"I think what I was trying to say was that I don't feel pressure to be a good samaritan; just knowing what's important. So work is important but family is important and finding the balance between the two. When I was younger, I didn't have as much of that balance and it can be quite empty."

Asked if there was a moment where he came to that realisation, he says: "Yeah - when I came back to New Zealand and I didn't have any work or immediate projects I could use to bolster my appearance of success. I wasn't, like, name-dropping that I was at the Photo Warehouse."

Last January, he married his long-term girlfriend, makeup artist Sarah Wilson: "I felt different when I proposed," he says. "I just felt different. I don't know why. I Just felt very grounded and very, I don't know, I just felt like a man."

Pork Pie is, on some level, the story of O'Gorman's character battling to grow up, or maybe battling against it, but then what is life but an eternal struggle to grow up, and to find a place in this ever-changing world?

"I read this interview, with Alan Rickman I think," O'Gorman says. "He said he spent his whole life trying to work out how to act and then when he figured it out, he didn't want to do it anymore."

I ask O'Gorman if he identifies with that.

"I don't know," he says. "I'm not at that point."