Joel Tobeck plays lovable rogue in Hope and Wire

HOPE AND WIRE: Joel Tobeck says unfortunately or fortunately, stories from events such as the Christchurch earthquakes need to be told and always will be.
HOPE AND WIRE: Joel Tobeck says unfortunately or fortunately, stories from events such as the Christchurch earthquakes need to be told and always will be.

Internationally renowned Kiwi actor Joel Tobeck's latest role brought him to Christchurch to recreate the events surrounding and immediately following the major earthquakes of 2010 and 2011. He talks to James Croot about his career and making Hope and Wire.

How did you hear about the show and what attracted you to it?

Gaylene Preston rung me at home and offered me the role. Always a great phone call to get, those ones. I will always work for Gaylene. One of our greatest.

LOVABLE ROGUE: Joel Tobeck plays property developer Greggo in Hope and Wire, which starts on Thursday on TV3.
LOVABLE ROGUE: Joel Tobeck plays property developer Greggo in Hope and Wire, which starts on Thursday on TV3.

Were you looking for a project to do back here in New Zealand?

I am always looking to work at home. It's where it all began for me. I enjoy hanging out with our actors and crews immensely.

Tell me a little bit about your character - property developer Greggo. How would you describe him? Did you have much say in forming him or in his wardrobe?

He's a bit of a lovable rogue. Always looking for the best deal. More concerned about his interests. To be honest, I never really say anything about my character or wardrobe. I've always gone on my gut instinct. I've never really felt it was my place to say ''...Well I think my character should ..'' etc. Maybe it was my early education in the business where we were more or less told ''just do it, it's not about you''.

Where were you on February 22, 2011 and what do you remember about that time?

I was at home in the Waikato. I was listening to everything unfold on the radio . .. Quite surreal. Incredibly immediate accounts of what was happening as people rang in and spoke about it on air.

Why do you think these are stories that need to be told now and in this form?

Unfortunately or fortunately, these stories always need to be told and always will be. Extreme events like these whether positive or negative unite us. Maybe it goes back to our ''herd'' instincts. Especially for a small place like New Zealand. We usually watch these things happening to other countries. The fact that most of us know people or have friends who know people who were there has a significant effect on our psyche.

What was it like filming in Christchurch? Had you spent much time there before? Were you surprised by the state of the city?

I hadn't been there for 12 years or so. Walking around the city was very sad. It's not until you see it that you really get how devastating it actually is. When I saw the Cathedral for the first time it really hit me. I suddenly felt the enormity of what had happened. The silence around Cathedral Square was quite overwhelming.

Was it an easy character and scenario to leave behind at the end of day's shooting? Any scenes that were particularly harrowing to do?

Hearing locals from the cast talk about the day was harrowing. I remember the stuff we shot in the moments after the quake was incredibly moving. It helps when you are surrounded by great actors and crew. I must also acknowledge the fantastic extras who helped re-create those scenes. It can't have been easy to go there again.

How did they bring to life the earthquakes?

We had an incredibly talented art, wardrobe and make-up departments headed by John Harding, Lesley Burkes-Harding and Frankie Karena who recreated the environment. Also when you have Thomas Burstyn as your director of photography, and of course Gaylene at the helm it helps your journey  no-end!

What to you is the state of television drama in New Zealand? How has that changed and how has the way TV is made changed in the 20 or so years since you were on Shortland St? Also, how does it compare to Australia in terms of opportunities and the way productions are put together?

A lot has changed and a lot hasn't changed. We make great drama in this country, and as long as we have the passion and drive that our directors, producers, crews, writers and actors have we will continue to make great drama. Unfortunately the industry here still feels a bit low-down-the-list-of-importance. But, that's the way it is. There's a lot more young talent coming through than 20 years ago. Very competent, strong and confident performers etc who will take us into the next 20 years and keep us oldies on our toes. Yes, there are more opportunities in Australia, yes, the pay is sometimes better, and actors are a little more revered than in New Zealand. I have many great friends there who are just as dedicated to the business, and also struggle, like us, with some aspects of it too.

What was it like working on Sons of Anarchy? Was that a real culture shock for you at all?

I was pretty excited to get onto to it. It was one of those days when everything went in my favour. I had a great meeting with the casting woman and a great audition (the producer later told me ''you had the role at hello...'' ).

Finally, what's up next for you?

There are some opportunities coming up for me later in the year. But, in the meantime I am currently working for a friend of mine building houses. I'm really enjoying the challenge.

Hope and Wire 8.30pm, Thursday, TV3

The Dominion Post