Trans-Tasman actor Erik Thomson celebrated turning 50 with a surf trip to Sumatra and a new electric guitar. The 800 Words star says the secret to long marriage is forgiveness.

1 What's it like being 50?

I see being 50 as a privilege because I know people who didn't make it past 20. We tend to take it for granted, "Oh I'm bloody 50" but we're actually lucky to be here. Turning 50 for me was a case of going, "Okay things have gone quite well and I've earnt a bit of money. This year I want to be a bit selfish and spend some." I bought myself a vintage guitar, took my family diving with whale sharks in North-West Australia and went on a surf trip in Sumatra with my best mate who also turned 50.

2 What kind of guitar?


A 1967 Fender Telecaster. I love the shape of it, the look of it. Joe Strummer played one; I'm a big Clash fan. I've never been a Stratocaster man; they're a bit too fancy pants. I love the simplicity of the Telecaster. It wasn't cheap but I told my wife it's a good investment. Some guys buy vintage cars. This is less expensive to run. I've played acoustic guitars all my life so electric guitar is a whole new technique. It's yet to have a full workout because I don't really have anywhere I can fully open it up. I've got plans to get a little home studio going. It'll be my man cave.

3 Have you been to any good gigs lately?

The last significant gig that I went to was Don McGlashan in Adelaide. There's not a lot of Kiwis in Adelaide so I got to meet him and buy him a whisky at half time. He probably thought I was a freak but I told him, "I've been listening to your music all my life, whether it be Front Lawn, Blam Blam Blam or The Muttonbirds. I've got vivid memories of driving down the West Coast listing to Envy of Angels and I just want to thank you for the journeys." It was a really lovely moment.

4 You played the dad in Packed to the Rafters and 800 Words. Have your TV roles informed the way you parent in real life?

My daughter was one month old when we shot Rafters so they've kind of gone together. I don't think I fully understood the box of emotions that open up inside you until I became a parent. It's a very humbling experience. As a conscientious parent you're probably your own worst critic. You don't want to harm these little beings but you're learning as you go. I fail probably on a daily basis but hopefully I've done okay overall. The most successful times I have with my children, the times I really connect, are when I do what they want to do. If my son wants to play Lego, I'll play Lego with him, rather than saying, "It's a beautiful day you should be outside".

5 You've been married to Australian actress Caitlin McDougall for 20 years – a long time for a showbiz couple. What's the secret to a long marriage?

Forgiveness; more from her to me than the other way around. Acknowledging each other's humanness and the fact no-one's perfect. You're just trying to do the best you can. Underneath there's love and respect and hopefully trust. When we first met, we both felt like we'd known each other before, as crazy as that sounds. There was a familiarity and an ease that has carried on. She's spent the last 11 years throwing her energy into being a mum. Now that our son's in school her sense of self is coming back a bit more.

6. You crossed the Tasman at age 28 for roles in Australian TV shows Pacific Drive and All Saints. 800 Words is shot in Auckland. Would you ever move here?


I couldn't afford to. Auckland's too expensive. It's completely nuts. We live in one of the most affordable states in Australia. Caitlin was brought up in Adelaide. It's a beautiful location and I like the fact our children have a sense of belonging to a wider family with aunties, uncles and grandparents that I never had in New Zealand because we were immigrants.

Actor Erik Thomson sees being 50 as a privilege. Photo / Getty Images
Actor Erik Thomson sees being 50 as a privilege. Photo / Getty Images

7 What was your childhood in New Zealand like?

We emigrated from Scotland to Upper Hutt in 1974 and moved in next door to Selwyn Toogood at the height of It's In the Bag, by hokey. The Hutt Valley in winter is much like winter in Scotland; bloody wet and bloody cold so we shifted to Tauranga and put roots down there. Dad was an obstetrician. He delivered about 6000 locals. I went to Gate Pa primary. My rugby coach Mr Rolleston drove a Mark II Zephyr. We'd all pile in; three in the front, five in the back and he'd drive us to the game in Waihi or wherever, smoking his Winnie blues. He was a good bloke.

8 Did you get teased for being different?

My nicknames were Jock, Haggis, Hamish, kilt-wearer; but everyone gave as good as they got. We used to play Rangiuru, which was the meatworks near Te Puke. All the boys out there must've been brought up on off cuts because they were solid muscle. For Maori, the first line of attack is intimidation. When you're a little white Scotsman with a Maori boy running at you in full pukana it's terrifying. The first game they beat us 63 nil but the next time they only beat us by 27.

9 What values did your parents teach you as a child that you want to pass on to your own children?

To have respect for everyone. Don't look down your nose at anyone or be judgemental. You speak to the people not the profession. It's about equality.

10 What's your favourite 800 Words moment so far - on or off screen?

My favourite scene was in season one at the end of episode five when George has a "surf off" with his old nemesis Dean Marshall. George loses but it ends with a little party on the beach in North Piha on the anniversary of his wife's death with everyone singing April Sun in Cuba as the sun goes down. We managed to capture it all in one take including the moment when George reaches over and pulls his children in and they shed a tear as they remember their mum. That's still my favourite moment.

11 What are you reading?
Island Home by Tim Winton. It's about his experience of the landscape and how it has formed Australians as a culture. I can relate to that. Does that make me Australian? I'm having this identity issue coming up again and again.

12 What's your next career move?

I'm not sure what's around the corner. I don't know yet if 800 Words is going to be renewed for another season. It's kind of exciting. I've got to the stage where making a buck isn't an imperative so I'd like to do some passion projects. Not necessarily as an actor. I'd love to write or produce. I might just have a breather. For the first time in my life I planted tomatoes and for some strange reason I love my tomato plants so maybe I'll just garden for a year.

• 800 Words is available on TVNZ OnDemand. The second half of season three continues in the next couple of months.