Many an actor has scrawled ‘musician’ onto their CV, alongside the ability to ride horses and do a perfect French accent. But in Andy Anderson’s case, claims to sing and act are backed by solid evidence. Charisma, good looks and a sense of unforced naturalism have served Anderson well on-screen, thanks to a long roll-call of rogues — both likable (Marlin Bay, Roche, The Sullivans) and less so (Gloss, Gold).
Andy Anderson grew up in the Lower Hutt suburb of Naenae. Aged 16 he put his drum kit on a boat for Sydney, to sing and drum in soul clubs for returned soldiers from Vietnam. Anderson would go on to showcase what writer John Dix has called his inimitable “part Beefheart, part-Cocker” voice in bands on both sides of the Tasman, including wild, wild-haired Australian rockers The Missing Links and several groups with Anderson in the title.
Appearing in the Australian debut of hippie musical Hair made him aware how much he enjoyed mixing music and drama. Anderson sang with experimental theatre group Red Mole, then in 1975 was the first presenter on music show The Grunt Machine. Though initially made for teens, the series had some edge: Anderson did a hoax interview with supposed muso John Clarke, and helped persuade the powers that be to devote a special episode to Blerta (after which the band got their own series).
In 1978 Anderson got his own break, playing one of the hip DJs around which Radio Waves was built. The series lost the ratings battle after only eight months, but did his career no harm — the following year he was invited to cross the ditch for hit series The Sullivans, which revolved around a middle-class Melbourne family during WWll. Though lady-killer Jim Sullivan was far from his favourite character, two and a half years on the show taught him much about acting, and provided exposure to a sizable trans-Tasman audience. In 1982 he won an Australian Logie Award for supporting actor.
The same year Anderson returned to Wellington for one of his favourite roles: Roche, created by Dean Parker and Greg McGee. The series, which won many letters of protest after early cancellation, centred on a working class Irish family who run a trucking business. Anderson played cowboy trucker to more mature brother John Bach.
The show set Anderson’s career pattern for the next decade: one of crisscrossing back and forth between New Zealand and Australia for the next role. Amongst those most watched at home was schmoozing chat show host Matt Winter on season three of Gloss, where Anderson discovered that women dominated the narrative and the men’s job was largely “to float around in towels”.
The 80s roles included reuniting with John Bach as one of the perpetrators of Australia’s Great Bookie Robbery, playing a commune-dweller in Kiwi movie Trespasses, heavy to an unscrupulous developer in local mini-series The Shadow Trader, and revelling in the gormless title character of short film Gordon Bennett. Anderson thinks it should have been a TV series. On the music front he hosted short-lived country show Dixie Chicken, and played the Pirate King in touring musical The Pirates of Penzance.
Period drama Gold saw Anderson rushing to add horse-riding to his CV. Anderson found Henry Garrick one of his most enjoyable parts to date: “a lying, cheating thief and all-round ratbag” who sets up shop in goldrush Otago, after being convicted for theft back in his native England.
Local television kept Anderson especially busy as the 80s became the 90s: from kidult titles (The Haunting of Barney Palmer, The Boy from Andromeda) to presenting documentary It Isn’t Easy Being Green.
In 1991 Anderson began the first of two seasons on Marlin Bay, set in a luxury seaside resort. It was a perfect role for Anderson — playing Kiwi battler Steve Gannaway, who lacks the cash to fix his biggest single asset, a helicopter. Anderson was gratified by reactions to the show, both in ratings and response from his own neighbours, who had previously shown “no qualms” about telling him when they weren’t satisfied.
By now Anderson was well aware of how programmes set in picturesque settings needed to put as much time into creating likable characters, as they did into “pretty postcard pictures”. On Marlin Bay’s second series, Anderson wrote two episodes and co-wrote a third, providing a new alternative to “trying to con the director into doing it your way”. He enjoyed writing for other characters, utilising his knowledge of what actors could bring to their particular character.
Anderson played front and centre roles in Australian shows Bob Morrison Show and fire-fighting tale Fire before returning to NZ, for period series Greenstone (1999). Anderson made a memorable debut in the first episode (see clip one), as a feisty Irishman battling to save his workers from cholera. Then he joined John Bach on detective show Duggan, guest-starring as the suspected killer of his business partner’s daughter.
In 2000 Anderson won an Australian Film Institute award, after playing the key suspect of another Kiwi-born investigator. This time it was tele-movie Halifax f.p. - A Person of Interest, with Rebecca Gibney’s forensic psychiatrist character Jane Halifax investigating an ex-cop suspected of being a vigilante.
Since, Anderson has concentrated largely on screen work in Australia (including a comical turn as an aging rocker in Alex Proyas feature Garage Days). But the Kiwi roles continue to pop up: He returned home to act (and serenade) on Shortland Street, mounted a horse to play an eccentric tracker in the movie of the same name, and hooned up K road in a taxi for Honk If You're Horny, the first short film from Joe Lonie. Anderson won a trio of best actor awards for the role, and the film also scored a Moa NZ Film Award for best short and best script.
In 2011 he joined Rena Owen to play a hitman in series The Straits, shot in Australia’s Torres Strait Islands. In 2016 he was the dodgy Uncle Trevor in Kiwi series Dirty Laundry.
Anderson released solo CD If I’d known I’d live this long in 2004. Andersongs followed in 2017.
Profile updated on 8 January 2019
Andy Anderson website (broken link). Accessed 1 October 2014
Malcolm Hopwood, 'Andy Anderson's rocky road to satisfaction' (Interview) Stuff website. Loaded 4 January 2019. Accessed 8 January 2019
Ian Pryor, ‘Time out with a busy man’ (Interview) - The Evening Post (TV Week liftout), 26 July 1993, page 3
‘Dynamic duo reunited’ (Interview) - The Evening Post (TV Week liftout), 26 July 1999
‘Halifax f.p: episode guide - A Person of Interest’, Australian Television Information Guide website. Accessed 8 January 2019