Upfront: Craig Parker

Upfront: Craig Parker

by Fiona Rae

June 24-30 2006, source: New Zealand Listener

New Zealanders remember Craig Parker for his two small-screen roles: Guy Warner, brother of Chris, in Shortland Street, and Alistair Kingsley, the pot-smoking doctor whose love for Dr Nicky went unrequited in Mercy Peak. But for thousands of The Lord of the Rings fans, he is Haldir, the elf who died a noble death at the battle of Helm’s Deep. It’s a role that has sustained him since he left the country in 2002, but he has returned to don flares for the 30th anniversary production of Roger Hall’s Glide Time.

Was there any particular reason that you left New Zealand, or was it just to have a break?
It was sort of a mini mid-life [crisis] in the sense that I just went, “Oh, I’m a bit bored”, and that thing of life being very comfortable, and then I just liked being away. I never did that 19-year-old, disappear for a couple of years and do the OE thing. I’ve always been working, so it was the first time that I went, “I’m not going to look for anything or even worry about work.” I was going to give myself a couple of months, but it turned into two and a half years.

Because you’ve been on the Lord of the Rings convention circuit?
I’ve done a few of those. They’re kind of bizarre but quite wonderful things. Initially they were great, because you’d get an email from someone saying, “Come to Bratislava”, or “Come to somewhere in Australia”, and the next week it would be somewhere in America. So it was the perfect way to travel very comfortably around the world.

Must be nice. You just turn up and they treat you like a demi-god.
Well, there’s a certain amount of singing for your supper, but I used to do a lot of improv and comedy stuff here, and it’s pretty much a similar thing. It is terribly surreal and the very important thing is never to take the weekend demi-god status seriously, because that will destroy you immediately.

In the UK, you did an Australian-ised version of James Griffin’s Serial Killers. How did the British respond to it?
They got it. Because Australian soaps are so huge there, that was the reason for Australian-ising it, really. They absolutely got into it and that play is quite a black piece and the English so have that, too. They laugh at the worst, cruellest jokes, which is why I love their humour so much. We relate to that.

Has it been pretty tough to crack the UK television/theatre market?
I haven’t really been looking until recently. A few months ago I got offered a three-year gig on Casualty. Which was lovely, and you went “woohoo”, but then thought, “Three years working on a soap”, and that was an interesting moment of going, “Right, why am I here and what do I want?” and long lunches with my agent and talking to friends and went, “Actually, I’m not really here for that reason”, so we turned it down.

There’s some very good British drama being made.
There’s some amazing drama. But it’s quite nice being back and doing the Roger Hall thing and I’ve seen a lot of theatre in England recently, with some huge names, people I have a great deal of respect for and a lot of it has not been particularly great. And it’s very reassuring to come back and see things and see people and go, “You are fantastic, you are globally good.”

You have to spill now and tell me who isn’t so good.
Oh gosh, there was one, which is unfair because I think she is a remarkably good actress, but I saw Vanessa Redgrave in Hecuba a while ago and I love her work, absolutely. But for whatever reason, possibly direction, possibly, I don’t know, but it was appalling.

That bad?
It was terrible. God, I can’t be saying this, scrub that immediately.

So you’ve come back to do a 30-year-old play, which you must be too young to remember.
I remember Glide Time on telly, absolutely. It’s iconic New Zealand television, it’s the first big New Zealand comedy that I recall and it’s quite daunting coming in and taking that on.

Is it being done as a period piece?
I’ve got the worst facial hair at the moment and growing my hair longer than it’s been since I was seven and looking like a munter.

Have you got sideburns?
Oh yeah, deeply attractive. I think it’s 1976-77 the play is set. There are lots of references to things going on at the time, but spookily there’s a lot of things that kind of relate to now and just the drudgery and bureaucracy of working in an office.

You’re working with Theresa Healey – Carmen – again.
Beryl’s quite different from Carmen. A lot more passive than Carmen; doesn’t tell me off at all.

How do you remember Shortland Street now?
One of the really good things about that show is, people go on it, they become a bit famous, but then realise that fame in New Zealand means nothing really. It’s just like being recognised at the dairy and they get over themselves and they learn how to do it every day, they get over the preciousness of acting and learn really basic fundamentals of how to do it. As well as that, you’re paid well and have a great time; you get invited to a few parties.