Mark Hadlow as himself, and Dori

Mark Hadlow: actor, lieutenant, father and dwarf.
Mark Hadlow: actor, lieutenant, father and dwarf.
Mark points to a photo of himself as Dori (far right), with his brothers Ori and Nori, in The Hobbit.
Mark points to a photo of himself as Dori (far right), with his brothers Ori and Nori, in The Hobbit.
A man of many words, too.
A man of many words, too.
Even more exciting than The Hobbit? A visit from his grandson.
Even more exciting than The Hobbit? A visit from his grandson.

He's a man of many faces, but Christchurch star Mark Hadlow is more family man than dwarf or troll.

Take your marks

It was the opening night of Mark Hadlow's solo show S.N.A.G. (Sensitive New Age Guy) and, midway through, a woman fell into the aisle of a full theatre, unconscious. What happened next captures the essence of the hard-working actor who, at heart, is a family man; the artist whose ego always plays second fiddle to his compassion. Without missing a beat, Mark leapt from the stage, met the usher halfway up the stairs and carried the woman to the foyer, before resuming the play as if nothing had happened.

Christchurch star Mark Hadlow is not a typical typecast actor. As he bounces from character to character, retelling his life's stories, you can understand why. He's funny, theatrical and won't sit still for long, but talk to him about some wannabe actors' driving desire for 15 minutes of fame and he becomes as serious as a school principal. Mention family, and he changes completely, gushy adjectives tumbling from his mouth and his blue eyes sparkling.

His 16-year-old daughter Olivia, who he describes as the best thing to come from his four-year marriage to Sarah Hood, wants to become an actor, just like her dad. Mark sees in her the same raw talent that had him on stage at the age of nine, when he performed the sketch Rinse The Blood Off My Toga in a church hall in Wellington. Now 55, he slips back into his old characters in an instant.

Christchurch was where Mark met his second wife, Jane Carpenter, when she was putting the rubbish outside her apartment. "I was getting the mower out of my car and I asked her if she wanted to go to the races with me, not knowing who she was." As luck would have it, Jane said yes and Mark took his neighbour to Cup Day at Riccarton in 2002. By this stage, he had been a full-time actor for 25 years, mastering roles from Othello's Iago to the vaudevillian Harry in Sir Peter Jackson's King Kong.

One-man show S.N.A.G. was a particularly significant production. After 350 performances playing the 13 roles by himself, his acting rose to another level. He had no choice, the audience was watching his every move, just as on that opening night, when many believed his brief exit was no more than a perfectly choreographed pause between acts.

A real-life SNAG, Mark describes his first date with Jane with all the drama of a stage show. It was raining and the two strangers made awkward small talk in Mark's flash car - a perk of working for BMW at the time - while Mark prayed he would be able to "blag" his way into a car park near the stands. Jane was unaware of Mark's acting accolades, but the white-coated officials recognised him from The Billy T James Show or The Court Theatre, and not a drop of water fell on the pair. They were married a year later by his vicar father, Selwyn, at St Barnabas in Fendalton. The piece of classical music chosen for Jane's entrance still brings Mark close to tears.

Mark's girls are a huge part of his life. He gets tongue-tied trying to express how special they are to him. Stepdaughter Sarah, 34, is a qualified lawyer working for the Red Cross in Pakistan, and she calls Mark "Dad", something that clearly means a lot to him. She won't be home to hand out the presents at this year's Christmas celebrations. Instead, Mark, Jane and Olivia will celebrate in a North Island destination yet to be decided.

Mark is driven by a love of people and his work relationships are akin to family ties. His latest role as the eldest of three dwarf brothers in The Hobbit trilogy matches the Mark you meet at home. As Dori, Mark took his character's younger brother Ori (Adam Brown) under his wing. He kept a protective eye on his co-star even after the cameras had stopped rolling for the same reason he ran to the aid of an audience member - people come first. Last year, Mark invited Adam and his family, visiting from England, to share Christmas with the Hadlows.

The connections Mark forms with people are so strong that even the opportunity to work on The Hobbit had its down side - it meant he had to leave his workmates at the Christchurch City Council, where he worked as the events production team manager. It was his first fulltime, non-acting job. "We had such fun," he says, admitting he wasn't very good at keeping to budgets, as he aimed too high. "There's a part of me that misses it, especially the team, because most of the guys are still there." He refers to marketing manager Richard Stokes as "the boss from heaven", who could never tell him off without breaking into a grin.

When Avenues visited, Mark was counting down to the arrival of his two-year-old grandson, Campbell. "Can't wait! Can't wait! Can't wait to take him swimming! He's two! He's two! Oh my god, he's glorious. I'm a granddad. It's fantastic." Jane's son, Benjamin, 36, lives in England with his wife, Jen. She and Campbell were to stay with Mark for five precious days.

If Mark wasn't a successful actor, he would be more involved with the Royal New Zealand Navy, as the navy has been a part of his life since the beginning.

As a child, Mark made countless milkshakes for Indian seamen at The Mission to Seamen Flying Angel centre in Wellington, where his father was the chaplain, and two to three times a week, he would join in the laughter at films such as Steve McQueen's Bullitt (1968).

After battling his way through Christ's College, he joined the Royal New Zealand Navy Band as a cornet player and endured the same three months of basic training as other navy recruits. "I was the only one of an 80-guy intake that wore khaki, a black tie, and a white cap with a red band around it. I felt like a penis with no ears." He was the guinea pig and subsequent band members dodged the bullet.

Mark left the band to pursue his acting career, but was drawn back into the ranks in 2009, when he joined the Royal New Zealand Naval Volunteer Reserve. However, Mark won't be navigating a frigate across the ocean any time soon - "there's no way I'd ever be able to drive a ship" - but his position as a commissioned lieutenant enables him to contribute to the navy's events and entertainment. "In a way, I'm serving my country again."

He is in charge of creating events for the navy's 75th anniversary celebrations in 2016. "It's going to be the biggest event of the year!" Think It Ain't Half Hot Mum and ships docking at ports all around New Zealand and you get a glimpse of the big ideas simmering beneath that naval cap.

Mark Hadlow's talent has propelled him into a vast range of roles and secured his spot in one of the most highly anticipated movies of the year. But, at the end of the day, Mark is a family man, whose affection for people runs deep. As we part ways and I totter down the rough hillside pavement in red high heels, he holds his breath ... prepared to stop the show, if necessary.

Dori, Nori, Ori and Bert

Meet Mark Hadlow, the dwarf. On October 20, 2010, he secured the role of Dori in Sir Peter Jackson's film trilogy The Hobbit and has been pinching himself ever since.

For 18 months, filming The Hobbit consumed Mark's life. Transforming into the grey-haired, bulbous-nosed Dori, one of 12 dwarves, took 2½ hours of makeup and prosthetics. His character's main motivation is to look after his siblings. He stays loyal to his rebellious, thieving brother Nori (Jed Brophy) and keeps a close eye on the baby of the family, Ori (Adam Brown). It was easy for Mark to become "Mum", but much harder to stop. "I mollycoddled Ori, which has driven Adam mad, because I do it in real life. 'What are you doing? Well, you can't do that! You can't stay out till three in the morning. Come back earlier'."

For one week, Mark swapped his fat suit for a grey outfit covered in dots to fulfil his other role, Bert, the troll. Brought to life through motion capturing, Bert's one of three menacing trolls, who have a penchant for farmers. "Just a little bit o' farmer, that'd be nice," says Mark, deep in character within a second. He describes Bert as an under-appreciated chef who is passionate about food - rather like Mark himself, although he leaves more adventurous cooking to his wife.

Chauffeur-driven everywhere, working on set in the most spectacular areas of New Zealand and rubbing shoulders with some of the most highly respected actors, Mark says he led the high life while filming The Hobbit. There's still a bit more of that to come, with a few scenes scheduled for filming in mid-2013, and the premieres of The Hobbit: The Unexpected Journey to attend in Wellington, New York and London.

"I just can't wait for people to see the end of the first film. It is just amazing - the graphics, the acting, the whole thing. People will be gagging to get to the second film."

In cinemas ...

The Hobbit: The Unexpected Journey, December 12, 2012

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, December 13, 2013

The Hobbit: There and Back Again, July 18, 2014