Danny Mulheron is a hard man to tie down. Though his career as actor/writer/director is laced with every kind of comedy from drug-addicted puppets and Roger Hall to old school teachers (Mr Gormsby), he has also been known to keep a straight face. Mulheron has directed consumer watchdog programmes, documentaries and post-apocalyptic dramas, and acted in Close to Home and 80s trucking drama Roche.
As a Wellington High School student, Mulheron began creating comedy with his friend Dave Armstrong. Some of their work required explanatory visits to the school principal. In a future life Mulheron would work with Armstrong on a run of TV shows, including their gleefully un-PC schoolteaching satire Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby, inspired by an old teacher who wore a military beret and an opera cape.
After graduating from drama school, Mulheron won a role in long-running 70s soap Close to Home. By the last half of the 80s Mulheron had begun to mix more screen work into his busy theatrical career. He had small roles in madcap comedy Send a Gorilla and the short O'Reilly's Luck; he played a scarecrow in three episodes of Worzel Gummidge Down Under, and appeared as suitor to the heroine in Gaylene Preston-directed ghost movie Mr Wrong.
In 1985, Mulheron joined the cast of working class trucking drama, Roche, playing the younger conscience to screen brothers John Bach and Andy Anderson. Although the show won critical praise, plans for a second series never eventuated.
In 1989 Mulheron was drafted by director Peter Jackson to join his writing team. Jackson had three fevered weeks to expand Meet the Feebles, a short film about dysfunctional puppets, into a full-length script. Both Mulheron and Feebles co-writer Stephen Sinclair used the experience to push the boundaries of taste, after recent experiences of feeling hemmed in by what they saw as ‘liberal' censorship in the theatre. Mulheron and Sinclair would collaborate again on The Sex Fiend, a theatrical farce about political-correctness which won return seasons in all the main centres.
The Feebles movie saw Mulheron sweating buckets inside a foam suit, as prima donna hippo Heidi. In the process Mulheron won an acting award from an Italian fantasy film festival, and a nomination for best female performance at the 1990 NZ Film and Television Awards. Mulheron went on to collaborate with Jackson on two unproduced scripts, including Monty Python style fantasy Blubberhead. Mulheron also spent time in Hollywood, working on a puppet television show for Fox television which never made it to the screen. Back in the interior of Avalon studios, he appeared among the cast of Gallipoli movie Chunuk Bair.
Between his adventures in Jacksonville and Hollywood, Mulheron began working on the first of many comedy sketch shows for Wellington production company Gibson Group. Initially Mulheron contributed writing for 1989 puppet show Public Eye, and wrote and acted in sketch show Away Laughing. The show saw the screen debut of a character Mulheron had first done on stage: condescending priest Phineas O'Diddle, who made life hell for Hori Ahipene's working class Māori.
In 1993 Mulheron began writing, acting and directing for longrunning Public Eye follow-up, Skitz, often alternating directing duties with future moviemaker Glenn Standring. Mulheron would work again with many of the Skitz cast — including Robbie Magasiva, Hori Ahipene, Jackie Clarke and David Fane — on two further Mulheron-directed sketch shows, Telly Laughs and short-lived Skitz spin-off The Semisis, the tale of a dysfunctional Samoan family.
Mulheron has also collaborated extensively with Skitz actor Brian Sergent, directing him in one of Mulheron's earliest ventures into screen directing — 1993 short I'm in Here, the tale of a man and his toilet. They later worked together in the first version of drug drama The Shirt.
Mulheron followed Skitz with a varied range of directing assignments — including work on Shortland Street, McPhail and Gadsby and consumer rights show Target. He also directed two series of Market Forces, the sequel to Roger Hall hit Glide Time.
Since 2000, Mulheron's screen directing has swung increasingly towards drama, with one noteworthy exception. He helmed many episodes of The Strip, a tale of a woman, her relationships and her strip club; plus episodes of kidult success The Tribe and shortlived follow-up Atlantis High.
The exception was Gormsby. Working with Tom Scott and longtime colleague Dave Armstrong, Mulheron set about creating a tale of a racist, sexist teacher from another era, who challenges the norms at a low decile school. Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby was based on a monologue Mulheron had performed on stage. With Mulheron concentrating on directing, the role of Gormsby went to David McPhail.
Dominion Post reviewer Jane Bowron compared Gormsby to the cult figures of Fred Dagg and Lyn of Tawa, and the show was nominated for best script and best comedy in the 2006 NZ Screen Awards. Sydney Morning Herald writer Lenny Ann Low called it "darkly funny", praising its "quick-witted poke at modern education and society".
Since directing Gormsby, the ex-Mark 1 Cortina owner has presented car series AA Torque Show, and directed tele-movie Eruption — which includes scenes of a volcano erupting in Auckland harbour — plus episodes of award-nominated drama The Hothouse.
In 2008 he and partner Sara Stretton co-directed feature-length documentary The Third Richard, which examines the life of Mulheron's late grandfather Richard Fuchs, a Jewish composer whose music was banned by the Nazis.
Later Mulheron flew to Raratonga to direct Paradise Café, a kidult tale of ghosts and banana smoothies made for the BBC.
From around 2011 onwards, Mulheron began directing television projects chronicling Kiwi icons and moments. Tele-movie Rage was set during the them-and-us days of the 1981 Springbok tour. It revolves around the relationship between a student protestor, and a Māori policewoman working undercover. The script is by Mulheron's Gormsby partner Tom Scott, and Scott's brother-in-law, longtime policeman Grant O'Fee.
Mulheron and Scott regrouped in 2014 for another tele-movie involving rugby: the Moa-nominated The Kick, inspired by a live or die kick during the final of the 2011 World Cup. Since then, Mulheron has directed television dramas chronicling Kiwi icons Jonah Lomu, Edmund Hillary and The Dance Exponents.
Mulheron made his big screen directorial debut back in 2012 with Fresh Meat, a comedy horror tale about a gang of criminals who take a Māori family hostage, only to discover that cannibalism runs in the family. The cast included Temuera Morrison and Kate Elliott.
Profile updated on 27 September 2019
Danny Mulheron website. Accessed 27 September 2019
'Danny Mulheron - Funny As Interview' (Video Interview) NZ On Screen website. Director Rupert Mackenzie. Loaded 20 September 2019. Accessed 15 January 2020
Jane Bowron, 'Orthodoxy and the cult of Gormsby' (Review) - The Dominion Post, 2005
Direct Hit Productions, 'Mr. Gormsby' wows Australian critics!' (Press release), 12 December 2005
Ian Pryor, Peter Jackson: from prince of splatter to lord of the rings (Auckland: Random House, 2003)