Don Selwyn said: "Do you have to do this?" He was trying to sound grumpy and failed miserably. When I said he had to do this, oh, and had to have his picture taken too, he groaned a bit more and said he'd put his "monkey mask on" for that.

When we arrive, the first thing he says is "you naughty thing". This is for wanting to interview him which he is not grumpy about. He is a bit embarrassed initially, but gets over it quickly. He likes a good natter.

I'd been told he often pretends to be gloomy about being interviewed, but that it's mostly acting. Well, he is an actor. And director and producer and mentor, and many more things besides.

This week he was given an award with a big title, Te Tohutiketike a Te Waka Toi, for his outstanding contribution to the development of Maori arts, from Te Waka Toi, the Maori arts board of Creative New Zealand. He already has quite a few awards, an honorary doctorate from Massey University, for one, and an ONZM.

He's quite the big shot. This is the sort of joke he would appreciate. His Maori mates, he says, take the mickey and say "What are you a doctor of? Gynaecology?" I thought he'd be pretty chuffed with the award but he says "these things come around, you know. You don't think much about it because everybody else has been doing all the work. I just do the organising."

He got the award not just for all that acting and directing and producing, which he's been doing since the late '60s, but for his "tireless" work in training and mentoring young Maori in the industry.

So saying he just does the organising is, I say, utter rubbish. He's not having a bar of this. "It's true," he says. He must be terribly bossy then? "Yeah, I'm just the bossy one."

The Te Waka Toi award came with $20,000 which he promptly gave away to a trust he's involved with "for making drama and feature films in the Maori language". This seems excessively generous, but when I tell him so, he looks at me with complete incomprehension.

Finally he says he gave it away "because it's not mine". He won the thing. "Yes, but it was for me to do what I want with it. My friends said 'oh, we could have gone and had a good party'. And I said, 'well, we don't need this much to have a party'." He is not too good at spending money. He doesn't take holidays and his last investment was an exercycle. "And I've been watching it for the last three months." Which is what they're for. "Yeah, to watch someone else on, not me."

No, he says, "It's better to, for me, have an investment in the language".

I think the giving away of the money is partly a way of batting away the accolade. He is, of course, honoured by such things but "some of them you feel a bit embarrassed about. I think the doctorate of professorship or whatever, it's nice but I feel I've cheated those ones that really worked hard and got those degrees". He does not, he says incredulously, have Dr on his business cards.

When I read him an excerpt from what was said when he was given the award, a bit about his "relentless devotion" and "his tireless work", he says "umm, well, it's not because of me, it's because I love the industry and I'd like more people to be in it. It's only a reflection of what people have done for me."

He is rotten at taking a compliment. He is quite old-fashioned. He believes in things like duty and humility and obligation. He says "this business is what we owe each other, it's got nothing to do with money".

He is quite up-to-the-minute in other ways. He tells me, with huge enthusiasm, about how he "had an interesting detox yesterday". He is describing a "what-you-call-it machine that these two people came in with. This British invention you put your feet in and it takes the toxins out of your body. You wouldn't believe what it looks like. I tell you, I couldn't believe it. I felt so much better."

I say it sounds like quackery and he says, "oh it sounds like quackery, but I tell you, it's not". I have to say he talks about this machine with vastly more excitement than he does about his latest honour. You can see how he managed to get The Maori Merchant of Venice made. And you think: nobody else could have managed it. It took 10 years to get made.

Three years after it first screened, the project still sounds mad. People thought so. "Of course they did. A lot of Maori did too." He's had long enough to come up with an excellent answer to why he wanted to make such a film. "When I was going to school they brought Shakespeare in to colonise me; now I've put it into Maori language I've colonised Shakespeare."

He delivers this with the relish such a statement deserves, and leans back, grinning widely. I can't think of anything to say except: "All right, you win". He laughs so hard he snorts. "I just enjoy that little bit of a twist in the whole thing."

He is 70 and "in the zip club" due to the quadruple bypass he had 12 years ago. Despite the detox, his hands and feet look painfully swollen with arthritis. Should he be taking it a bit easy; perhaps think about retiring? But he hates the very idea. "No, I don't know what the word means. The thing is, when you retire, everybody thinks, you know, gold watch time. I'd sooner give someone else the pain of me still existing. And there's still so much to do."

He's about to head off to New Plymouth later in the day "for the United Nations thing, the fella from what's-your-name Mexico. On the foreshore thing." He's making 10 one-hour documentaries "about contemporary things".

He learned "You can't do anything without a social conscience. That comes from my parents". His father used to say, "Well, it's no good keeping the knowledge to yourself. Because you'll get indigestion, you'll get a hernia with all the knowledge unless you pass it on". And he said: 'You don't need a PhD to understand that'."

He was good at sport at Taumarunui High School and "a failure at school academically. Oh, terrible". He is still tickled by this: "The irony, of course, is that I became a schoolteacher".

When he went for his interview for teacher training, he was asked why he wanted to teach. "I said, 'well, I was such a bad pupil, I thought I'd make a good teacher'. And they all laughed and that's how I ended up going." He says he wasn't very confident then but it sounds as though he was a charmer, and quite aware of it.

He was from the laconic bloke school of sport. "Today you're much more flamboyant about being the sportsman. In those days we kept it contained because it was more about humility, it was about being a good loser. No showing off. So it was good I got into acting so I could."

He thinks it's in everyone to be a bit of a show-off. He thinks everyone can act, based, quite possibly on the fact that he found, to his amazement, that he could. "Of course they can. It's just a matter of having the courage to perform."

He has, despite his professed reluctance, managed to perform very nicely for his interview. As I'm leaving he says again: "You naughty thing." What an actor he is.