Craig Parker was around six when he was bitten by the acting bug, while living in Suva, Fiji. Parker was with his family watching his older sister, Wendy in a stage production of Peter Pan, when he became mesmerised by the flying actors.
“I know there must have been giant ropes because this was in the 1970s,"' he says. "It wouldn’t have been particularly high-tech, but it was utterly magical. That suspension of disbelief is still something I love about acting.”
At age 15, Parker decided he wanted to be a professional actor, thanks in part to a “remarkable” high school drama teacher, Kathryn Whillans, who encouraged him to follow his dreams.
His parents, Barry and Robin, weren’t so enthusiastic. “The terror on their faces...It was like I told them I was a serial killer. They were very supportive in that terrified parent way of going ‘well, you know, just make sure you’ve got backups’. This was in the mid ‘80s; it was almost impossible to have an actual sustainable career in New Zealand.”
His parents’ fear that he’d live under their roof forever never eventuated, as he has been a stalwart of New Zealand television for over 20 years — not bad for someone who never went to drama school.
Parker landed his first screen gig at age 17 on TV drama Hotshotz (1989). At age 19, he took on the role of Justin Grieg on Gloss (he talks about the show in this video interview). Parker would go on to a four year stint as womanising social worker Guy Warner on Shortland Street, play a doctor on rural drama Mercy Peak, and show his versatility with starring roles in comedy Diplomatic Immunity and drama Shackleton's Captain. He also played a ruthless general in hit cable show Spartacus, and an unscrupulous Frenchman in semi-historical drama Reign.
Working on Hotshotz provided valuable early lessons about treating cast and crew with respect. Parker recalls how one colleague who was "obnoxious" wasn't received well by the crew. "It was a great lesson — don't f##k people off".
One of Parker's earliest starring roles was 1992 TV play Mother Tongue. He played a 50s era Jewish teen who dares to fall for a Catholic. Soon after Parker joined the country’s longest-running soap Shortland Street, as Chris Warner's wayward brother Guy. A womaniser, drug addict and author, the character allowed opportunities to range from bereaved lover to "ridiculous comedy". Guy would return briefly to the show in 2007 and 2008.
Twenty-five years after first appearing on Shortland Street, Parker still gets recognised for playing Guy Warner. “If you’ve been on that show, you are forever whatever your character name was. I love that the show is still going…several generations have grown up always having it.”
Later there were roles in the short-lived City Life, and an NZ Television Award nomination for Parker's portrayal of Doctor Alistair Kingsley — son of clinic chief Jeffrey Thomas on "gentle, character-driven" rural drama Mercy Peak.
After working solidly for 13 years, Parker took off to the UK for five years, soon after heading to Nepal for an episode of Intrepid Journeys. “Really I just ran away and had life for a few years without thinking about work. It was amazing.”
Parker turned down a three-year contract on hit BBC drama Casualty, because he didn’t want to commit to a frantic schedule like he had on Shortland Street. “It was heartbreaking but I could not do it….. I’d rather work on something where you have more time and more care given to it where it’s not strictly run by schedule.”
In 2008 he endured weekly humiliations in "highly watchable" James Griffin comedy Diplomatic Immunity, which played in a 10pm slot. He co-starred as a diplomat sent to clean up the High Commission of a mythical Pacific nation.
After being nominated for his work as evil wizard Darken Rahl in fantasy show Legend of the Seeker, he was nominated again for Leanne Pooley's docudrama Shackleton's Captain. Parker starred as real-life Kiwi explorer Frank Worsley, in this tale of Antarctic survival. The Herald praised it as "an instructive, detailed and fresh look at a remarkable story".
A small role in Lord of the Rings — as silver-haired elf Haldir, in the trilogy's first two instalments — gave Parker the chance to tour the world attending fan conventions, telling tales of Nazgul screams and his melting elf ears. He is “incredibly grateful" that the role "opened this world where I’ve gone to bizarre cities and strange places and seen the most magnificent costumes.”
Around 2012 Parker based himself in Los Angeles, moving between England, France and Canada. While filming Reign, he spent three and a half years in Toronto. Making the move to North America was a challenge Parker relished. He can have up to three auditions a day, whereas in New Zealand he might have had one a month. The inevitable rejections "make you a lot tougher and make you prepare a lot better, and you work harder.”
Parker doesn’t stress about the uncertainty of the next job. "“I find when I know absolutely what’s happening in my life, I immediately get cabin fever and want to blow everything up. I love the uncertainty because part of that risk is a phone call that you don’t expect can come in, or a meeting you have turning into something that literally changes your life.”
Spending the first 10 years of his life in Fiji may help explain why Parker doesn’t fret about things he can’t control. His parents moved to Fiji to work for an airline in the late 60s. "I think possibly part of my not worrying much about stuff is a Fijian thing. It’s just like, something good will happen. Why get super obsessed? Still to this day my favourite place is just being on a beach.”
The beach may be his favourite place, but being on stage and a set is where he feels most at ease. “I find being on stage, when you know what you’re doing, you’ve done the work, is the most secure safe place where everything makes sense. Even on a set, it’s the place I feel the most comfortable, the most at home.”
Profile written by Natasha Harris
'Craig Parker: Working at home and abroad' (Video interview) NZ on Screen website. Director Andrew Whiteside. Loaded 3 January 2010. Accessed 9 September 2017
Jane Clifton, 'TV review: Diplomatic Immunity' - The Dominion Post, 3 July 2009
Shannon Huse, 'No more Mr Nice Guy' - Herald on Sunday, 20 January 2008
Kimberley Rothwell, 'Far from family fare' (Interview) - The Dominion Post, 21 September 2010, page 5
Karen Tay, 'Television: The legends live on' (Interview) - The Sunday Star-Times, 29 March 2009 (online publication 21 August 2009), page 25
Melinda Williams, Interview with Craig Parker - Pavement, Summer 2003/2004, page 62
Unknown writer, 'Top 5 TV picks of the week (+trailers)' - The NZ Herald (TimeOut pullout), 1 June 2012