By GREG DIXON
The very devil has arrived at Karl Urban's door. He pushes the button of an ageing bell with no result, then knocks politely and waits for the actor to open up, let him in, make him welcome.
This devil, you see, has an invitation, something Urban has come to issue reluctantly to the media.
Though he's played Cupid to Xena, let it all hang very much out in Foreskin's Lament and has his name attached to the star-heavy The Lord Of The Rings, this up-and-coming Auck-
land actor is adamant he'd prefer to keep his name and face far from the headlines.
Tell him there's only one story under his name on it in the Herald's files, and that's from 1992, and Urban will say that's "just the way I like it."
If that's the way he likes it, he's hiding it well enough.
The doorbell is not encouraging. But Urban knows how to make even a media devil feel welcome when he comes to Herne Bay. The actor makes a cup of tea. He sits and sups.
And once on the couch says, by way of rather curious explanation: "If you dance with the devil, then you've got to pay the band."
He's doing this interview because he loves his latest film, The Price Of Milk, which has its world premiere on Thursday at the Auckland International Film Festival.
He's proud of it. It is, the 28-year-old reckons, his best work to date and that director and scriptwriter Harry Sinclair has created "a magical film which to my mind stands up with the lineage of great New Zealand cinema."
It's a rural love story, a whimsical fairytale about a farming couple's perfect and imperfect love.
For Urban, the price of loving The Price Of Milk is talking about himself. The price of fame is a devil called attention.
He anticipates the obvious question: "I can hear your readers saying, 'Well, why do you want to be an actor [if you don't want attention]?'
"I guess nowadays I'm a lot more cautious and careful about my image and publicity and I make damned sure of the reason behind doing what I'm doing."
Which is to say, it wasn't always so.
Urban's first acting job was at age 8, but the Wellington-born son of German immigrants did not really embark on his "vocation" until he had left Wellington College in 1990 and had begun, but then dropped out of, a bachelor of arts degree at Victoria University.
Television has been very good to him since. After small roles in the likes of Shark in the Park, Riding High and the like, and a move to Auckland, he eventually — like so many actors of his generation — found his way into the Shortland Street star factory, spending 1993 and 1994 as the Street's Jamie Forrest.
He also found himself caught up in, then raging against, the publicity machine.
"I think there was a point in my career when I thought that it was a good thing to have my face in magazines and it was a good thing to be recognised. But I came to realise that was not what it was about, that you must love the art in yourself, not yourself in the art.
"Quite often people in the media, how they feel about themselves day to day, is a direct representation of how many photos they have in a magazine that week, you know, serving the ego. I found myself getting caught up in that and suddenly life was like a goldfish bowl."
And so, in 1995 the goldfish moved cities one more time, leaving Auckland for Bondi Beach, Sydney.
He now calls that year of time-out across the ditch "one of the lowest points in my life." He chased away the demons bedeviling him, he was lonely. But by the time he returned to New Zealand in 1996 he was ready to start "investing" in his craft, starting with his first acting lessons with Raymond Hawthorne and Michael Saccente.
Giant steps have followed. Small, recurring parts in Hercules and Xena (for "purely mercenary reasons" he still makes appearances for at American fan conventions), then his first feature film in 1997, Scott Reynold's rather un-loved Heaven, which has only just made its way to New Zealand cinemas.
His second feature, Anthony McCarten's Via Satellite, earned him a best supporting actor nomination at the recent New Zealand Film Awards, while his work as Rob on The Price Of Milk garnered a second nomination for best actor, though neither gong came his way.
He's also trod the boards three times in two years for the Auckland Theatre Company, including the lead in last year's Foreskin's Lament.
And this year — in a decision that had him dancing about his small, cold living room — he was offered the role of Eomer, warrior of Rohan, in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings.
"It's all been exponential. I've always looked at it like climbing a ladder and, as of a couple of years ago, I always though of myself on the third rung. I might be on the fifth rung now, you know. But if you look at it on a world scale, I'm on the bottom rung.
"I don't," he adds with a tease, "necessarily think nationally."
He is, however, reticent about the future. He has goals, but he's not saying what. Ask the question and he delivers a soliloquy from the book of standard quotes for actors.
"At the very best I hope to be able to work with the very best within our industry. That would probably be the most important thing to me, to work with people of a calibre so that I can learn from them."
His last completed local film is called The Irrefutable Truth About Demons. The media devils will no doubt be issued invitations.
By GREG DIXON