It's a good 10 weeks before The Hobbit opens around the world, but Wellington actor William Kircher has already been getting fan mail for months.
Kircher, a veteran of New Zealand television and movies, plays Bifur the dwarf in the $600 million trilogy.
''I've been getting fan letters for months and months and months, all the time, and they're for Bifur because people react to him,'' he says.
This is impressive enough, because there are 13 dwarfs, but then all anyone has seen of Kircher as Bifur have been a couple of photographs and glimpses in the movie's trailers.
The fan mail has also given Kircher, who played policeman Stu Guthrie in Robert Sarkies' Out of the Blue, a hint that once The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is released, his life will change.
''I do think there will be a change. Peter [Jackson], the producers and the writers did a fantastic thing by creating individual personalities for all the dwarfs. So though we are a group, we are also very individual in our looks and so therefore everyone has an association with us individually.''
Kircher says he expects to do about three months' more filming on the trilogy next year, but is now on a break. This has given him time to return to another facet of his career that has grown of late - and probably would be bigger if not for The Hobbit. It's the rise of Kircher the singer.
For about the past four years Kircher has been one of the five-member singing group The California Dreamers, set up by his wife Nicole Chesterman-Kircher 10 years ago. The group's repertoire is mostly classic pop songs from the late 60s, including The Mamas and the Papas and The Turtles, with the performers are dressed in a variety of 60s garb. Demand for the group continues to grow, with a tour next year to include the South Island.
''The thing is, it's not like a tribute band, because there are so many around,'' says Kircher, who decks himself out in a nehru jacket to play ''the straight guy'' to the rest of the performers. ''It really is just a celebration of a whole lot of songs that you very rarely hear live.''
Persuaded by his wife to join, Kircher's singing experience was thin, despite a multitude of roles in television, including Shark in the Park and film. A rare outing was singing in Braindead the Musical in Wellington, written by Stephen Sinclair and based on the film Sinclair co-wrote with Jackson and Fran Walsh.
''But that was a long time ago and it was always on and off. Nicole trained me up and she's a fantastic and very experienced rock singer.'' Kircher says the group has found it appeals across the board - not just to baby boomers.
It has also given members scope to expand their repertoire, although still sticking to the late 60s and early 70s.
''At the [Wairarapa Wines] Harvest Festival this year, we added The Beatles' All You Need is Love. We don't do a lot of Beatles and, when we did All You Need is Love, we got hundreds of people waving and singing and then they all flooded up on to the stage. It just hits a real chord with people. So we do The Hollies, we touch on Deep Purple and even do Born to be Wild.'' And with Kircher it's not just a cursory excursion into 60s music.
As he discusses California Dreamers' set list, it's obvious he has read a lot about the history of the bands, right down to the specifics of the Mamas and the Papas recording sessions.
But, he cautions, this doesn't signal of sudden career change. ''I still think of myself more as an actor than a singer. But I do love it. There's something about hearing that sound that you are all making together. It's a very uplifting feeling.''
Wellingtonians will be able to witness for themselves Kircher in 60s garb when The California Dreamers perform at Wellington Botanic Garden during Tulip Sunday this weekend.
But already on the horizon are commitments for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, including the world premiere in Wellington in November and decisions on attending other premieres overseas, including the Royal Film Performance in front of the Queen in London on December 12.
Again, the reality of what's ahead hits Kircher. When The California Dreamers went to the Botanic Garden this week for a photograph session with The Dominion Post, the group stayed on for an impromptu rehearsal of The Mamas and the Papas' Creeque Alley.
''Crowds of people cloistered around us. It was so lovely and fun and of course a whole lot of tourists took photos. If they only knew I was also playing Bifur in The Hobbit ... they'd be a riot.''
The California Dreamers, The Soundshell, Botanic Gardens, Wellington, Sunday, 1.30pm.
- The Dominion Post
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