Dazed and amused

BRIDGET JONES
Last updated 05:00 01/12/2013

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Alan Dale has played American senators, vice-presidents, priests and kings, so pretending to be himself should have been be a cinch. Except Dale hadn't actually seen edgy, local spoof comedy series Auckland Daze when he agreed to take the role.

"This is the first time I've ever said this, but fortunately my parents are dead so they won't see me being the unpleasant prick that I am in this show. But that's all right, as I said to the cast and crew and writers - because they are all the same - as long as it's funny, you sacrifice yourself for the show. Though, no I don't think my parents would like to see me telling dwarves to f... off."

Dale had just been in Vancouver filming the American fantasy series Once Upon A Time in which he plays King George, when his wife picked up on a little bit of homesickness, suggesting a trip home.

"She noticed I was saying ‘oh gee, that's like Auckland' a lot, and thought maybe I was starting to pine, maybe it was time to go back for a bit," he says.

Luckily, the Auckland Daze team called within a few days, asking if the 66-year-old was "going to be in the area" at the end of last year - the timing couldn't have been better.

It's been almost 20 years since Plainclothes - the last TV series Dale returned to New Zealand to work on. He left for Australia in the late 1970s because "there was just nothing, no movies, nothing at all" here for a budding actor, before moving to California 12 years ago.

"I think it would have been a different story if I'd gone to Hollywood sooner. I went to Australia and I should have gone to America, but we never thought about that in those days. It just seemed so daunting - it was daunting even to go to Sydney.

"But I was wrong for not having the courage to go to America earlier. I was 52 or 53 by the time I got there, and that meant I'd cut out all that time when there are thousands of younger roles - I mean, there are thousands of actors for them, but I would have liked to have a go, to have a crack at it."

Despite being a late starter, Dale has carved out a niche on American screens, with serious, often menacing, roles in series including 24, The O.C., NCIS, Lost, The Killing, and films like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

"The reason I've had a lot of success, and it might be self-deprecating, but what the heck, when they called for someone older, they would get the same faces. I was a new face.

"And you can make a good living working as, I don't want to say a B-Grade actor, but I'm not an A-Lister. I am a working actor, which is what I always wanted to be. The first time I got to write that on one of those forms was a buzz for me, and it still is."

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But like most actors, there have been struggles. A fear of failure has lingered over Dale, so much so he says he struggled to connect with roles for a long time.

"I'd pick up a script and I could see every other part, but mine was always like a white light. I just couldn't see what to do. I'd do the best I could, but I was always nervous that I would fail. And I didn't want failure."

That roadblock was most obvious during an audition for a role on the TV drama, Mad Men. After spending six months in England leading the cast of Monty Python's Spamalot to rave reviews, Dale was asked to audition for a role on the series.

"I didn't have much time, I was a bit jetlagged and I was feeling pretty full of myself - I'd had six months of standing ovations, which was cool. So I learnt the thing, went through, did the work, pop, pop, pop, and it wasn't until I was driving home that it suddenly dawned on me that I was suppose to be sarcastic, but I did it straight - I hadn't picked it up. And that was me failing."

And then there was the pilot episode for Bow, a series where Dale played the gay English butler to rapper Bow Wow - it wasn't picked up by any of the networks. But even nearing 70, Dale isn't afraid of trying new things.

"When I showed Bow to my new manager he said we wouldn't be showing anyone that. But he was wrong - I did want to show people that. I mean, for god's sake, stop it. In fact as he said a few months ago, maybe I need to find a new teacher, to try and break me out of this mould I am in; he was being told ‘we want someone just like Alan Dale - not Alan Dale, but someone like him'.

"And I know what they mean, but at the same time, I'm proud of that work that I did. I think people often don't have much imagination. So this role on Auckland Daze and my work on [comedy series] Hot in Cleveland will be part of a portfolio of work to show that I am not that character. Sure, I get cast as it and I love the work and the money, but I'd like to do something else now."

Daze of their lives

A model, a stuntman, a dwarf entertainer and a stand-up comedian walk into a bar. It's not the start of a joke, but an average scene from Auckland Daze. The local spoof comedy follows four mates – Millen Baird, Fasi Amosa, Jimmy James Fletcher and Glen Levy – as they try to make it in the Auckland entertainment industry, with varying levels of success. In fact many of the cringe-worthy scenarios that pop up in the mockumentary-style show have happened to the actors and their well-known guest stars. What started out as made-for-the-internet television in 2011 turned into something of a cult hit, quickly moving from online to the small screen, with season two debuting on TV One on December 5.

Auckland Daze, Thursday, 10.05pm, TV One.

- Sunday Star Times

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