Dean O’Gorman showed he was a screen natural from an early age.
At age 13 he played one of the heroes of WWll adventure series Raiders of the South Seas, after a casting agent saw him at a school speech contest. At 17, O'Gorman found himself starring in movie Bonjour Timothy, an experience that involved far more joy than stress. "I loved it," he says."I just had a really really fun time." He was nominated for Best Actor awards both in New Zealand and at Europe's largest children’s film festival (Giffoni in Italy).
O’Gorman played Timothy, the Kiwi teen smitten by the French-Canadian exchange student staying in his house. North and South reviewer Nicholas Reid praised the film as “sweet-tempered, innocent fun”. Reid wrote of the actor's portrayal: “...the self-conscious, jerky, apologetic and eager-to-please Timothy is nearer to most teenage boys’ idea of themselves than the celluloid heroes they usually ogle.”
Over the next five years, a run of roles meant that O'Gorman's plans to study graphic design never left the drawing board. A year after Bonjour Timothy (a planned sequel never got made) he found himself acting five days a week on Shortland Street. He talks about playing nurse Harry Martin in this video interview. There were big roles in three TV movies: hero Jim Hawkins in Return to Treasure Island, narrating Australian apocalyptic tale Doom Runners, and stuntman story Fearless. He was also a suspect in the third Lawless TV movie Beyond Justice (see the second clip).
O’Gorman acted in an early episode of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (‘The Gauntlet’). Later he returned to the show for occasional episodes, playing a younger version of Hercules’ sidekick Iolaus. When spin-off Young Hercules began filming downunder, O’Gorman co-starred in the same role, opposite Ryan Gosling (La La Land). Although it won him fans overseas, the show was soon canned, partly due to changing directives from American network executives.
A month after the final episode of Young Hercules screened in the United States, O’Gorman’s second feature film debuted. When Love Comes ranged across two generations of characters, as they tried to sort their romantic and creative lives. O’Gorman’s character was the “tortured wastrel” (said writer Russell Baillie) whom Simon Prast’s character takes a shine to. O’Gorman took the role partly out of an urge to try something new.
His third feature made bigger ripples. In Snakeskin he was one of two dreamers who hit the road in a Chrysler Valiant. O’Gorman’s character has a soft spot for his co-driver (Melanie Lynskey from Heavenly Creatures). But things go awry after an American cowboy joins the ride. “It was tough, but beautiful at the same time,” said O’Gorman of the shoot. “Driving the car was like moments of pure freedom, surrounded by nature rather than stuck in a studio. But it was cold.” Reviews were upbeat. Snakeskin drove off with five gongs at the 2001 NZ Film and TV Awards, including Best Film.
O’Gorman scored an even bigger role in Harry Sinclair's Toy Love (2002). This time he played a young charmer who lies his way through relationships, but meets his match in the shape of the even more immoral Chlo (Kate Elliott from Jean). The film won an Audience Jury Award at Portuguese festival Fantasporto. But local reaction was downbeat, and a disheartened O’Gorman decided to check out if the opportunities in Sydney.
After a dry run trying to pay the bills, he scored a role as love interest to Rachael Carpani's character on Australian hit McLeod’s Daughters. He also did voice work on series Animalia (based on the bestselling childrens book).
O’Gorman returned home to act in satire Serial Killers. Channelling his time on Shortland Street, he played a soap actor who tries to charm the writing team into killing his character off, in the hope it will aid his popularity. The show was created by ex-Shortland scribe James Griffin. O'Gorman revelled in the chance to play an unsympathetic character (see the clips for episodes four and five). He was nominated for an NZ Screen Award for Best Supporting Actor.
Low-budget American action film Sabotage failed to launch O'Gorman stateside. But back home, he was nominated again, this time for 2010's Nights in the Gardens of Spain (aka Kawa). Based on the Witi Ihimaera novel, the telemovie saw him playing lover to the main character. He also acted in Tangiwai (as real life test cricketer Bert Sutcliffe).
Then came three seasons playing one of his favourite roles yet: PR man, charmer, and general "rude prick" Anders Johnson on The Almighty Johnsons. For O'Gorman, the show's appeal was obvious as soon as the cast first got together. "The idea was very catchy ... these idiot guys who happened to be reincarnations of Norse gods."
In April 2011, Peter Jackson announced on his Facebook page that O'Gorman was set to join the cast of The Hobbit, taking over the role of dwarf Fili. The trilogy of fantasy films marks his most widely-seen work to date. The experience of filming and promoting the movies was "like getting on a rollercoaster and just going with it".
In 2015 he was cast in miniseries Hillary, based on the life of mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary. After a run of nominations, O'Gorman finally won a Best Actor Award as Hillary's lifelong friend, adventurer George Lowe. He played another real life person in American biopic Trumbo — legendary actor Kirk Douglas. Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston stars as American screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who was blacklisted after accusations he was a communist. O'Gorman wrote to the 98-year-old Douglas, asking advice on how to play him. The response was "Playing Kirk Douglas, forget him...just play the part and you will be fine."
O'Gorman went on to co-star in Matt Murphy's remake of classic road movie Goodbye Pork Pie. His portrait of a struggling middle-aged writer who finds himself becoming an outlaw was inspired partly by the many struggling creatives he knew from being an actor.
In 2019 O'Gorman took on one of the starring roles in high profile TV thriller The Bad Seed, based on two books by Kiwi novelist Charlotte Grimshaw. He played aborist Ford Lampton, whose obstetrician brother is accused of murder.
Spurred On (2017) offered a very different kind of adventure. The interactive documentary sees O'Gorman following family connections back to first world war battlefields in Europe.
Dean O'Gorman is also a longtime photographer. The images on his self-titled website range from portraits and shots taken on film sets, to a series of staged war scenes which were invited to the 2015 B3 Biennale in Berlin.
Profile updated on 8 May 2019
'Dean O'Gorman: An almighty hobbit...' (Video interview) NZ On Screen website. Director Andrew Whiteside. Loaded 12 September 2012. Accessed 8 May 2019
'Dean O'Gorman' Johnson and Laird website. Accessed 8 May 2019
Dean O'Gorman website. Accessed 8 May 2019
Russell Baillie, ‘Dean O’Gorman: From nurse to worse’ (Interview) - The NZ Herald, 30 June 2000
Greg Bruce, 'Dean O'Gorman: Remaking Goodbye Pork Pie, why LA is over-rated and turning 40' (Interview) - The NZ Herald, 14 January 2017
Peter Jackson, 'Casting news!' Peter Jackson Facebook page. Loaded 30 April 2011. Accessed 8 May 2019
Jonathan McAloon, ''Trumbo was a strange guy': Kirk Douglas praises Bryan Cranston's performance' - The Telegraph, 11 January 2016
Nicholas Reid, Review of Bonjour Timothy - North and South, February 1996
Unknown writer, 'O'Gorman gets break in McLeod's Daughters' (Interview) - The NZ Herald, 21 October 2004
Unknown writer, 'Spurred On - New Zealand And Canada At Passchendaele' WW 100 website. Loaded 8 September 2017. Accessed 8 May 2019
Snakeskin press kit