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Erik Thomson


Erik Thomson was born in Inverness in Scotland. His family relocated to Tauranga when he was seven. Thomson's teacher often got pupils to sample plays from the School Journal, with each child reading out a part. "I used to love getting to that time of the day ... and the whole acting and drama thing made me comfortable and allowed me to feel accepted into a new place and culture. I just carried on doing it."

At high school he was a "jack of all trades"; he was also playing rugby, and performing Clash and Flying Nun songs in a band with Tim Balme. By now the family had moved to Upper Hutt, where quiz king Selwyn Toogood was their next door neighbour. At Victoria University Thomson had almost finished a Drama and English Literature degree before someone mentioned the idea of auditioning for drama school. He got in. After graduating in 1990 he worked prolifically in theatre, although he was most recognised in this period for six ASB bank adverts, in which he played husband to Lucy Lawless and father to baby 'Stanley'. 

As he says in this video interview, Thomson's first experience of working for television involved spilling a glass on his clothes during a big crowd scene for 1990s resort drama Marlin Bay. He'd won a small but recurring role as a waiter. 

Later he played an American GI in acclaimed Sonja Davies biographical drama Bread & Roses, one of the cops in Plainclothes, and small parts in forgotten surf and crime show High Tide. In 1994 he co-starred opposite Danielle Cormack in Twilight-Zone style short film Snap, which was invited to a number of international film festivals including Clermont-Ferrand.

Hercules: The Legendary Journeys casting director Diana Rowan told the producers to grab Thomson between his many theatre roles. "You'll really like him." After appearing in an early episode, Thomson was invited to play Hades on 'The Other Side', during Hercules' second season. Thomson ending up bringing a "neurotic Woody Allen" interpretation to the overworked God of the underworld, both on Hercules and spin-off Xena: Warrior Princess. Hades was seen less often after Thomson joined Australian soap Pacific Drive, a show he admits taking partly because the Gold Coast location was "a surfer's paradise".

"At that time Australia was this great land of promise just over the Tasman. I was inspired by the successes of people like Sam Neill and Bruno Lawrence and always wanted a Trans-Tasman career." The role which won Thomson a wide Aussie audience (and his first Logie Award for Most Popular Actor) was that of doctor 'Mitch' Stevens in long-running medical drama All Saints. Thomson also headlined as a jaded rock singer in The Alice (both the original tele-movie and the TV series) and hosted travel show Getaway. The time away from acting made him realise what he missed; that acting is what makes him "tick". 

In 2004 Thomson began adding further movies to his screenography, spearheaded by an impressively understated performance in coming of age story Somersault, the breakout film for young actor Abbie Cornish (Bright Star). Thomson won an Australian Film Institute Best Supporting Actor award for his role, as older family friend to Sam Worthington's character, who has Cornish in his sights.

Four years later Thomson was nominated in the same category for drama The Black Balloon, another AFI award-winner for film, direction and script. This time he played the soldier father of the main character.

After a decade in Australia, Thomson returned to New Zealand in 2006 to star in We're Here to Help. Based on a book by Christchurch property developer Dave Henderson, the movie dramatised an extended battle with the tax department. The filmmakers wanted an actor with charm and a sense of independence and drive. Thomson didn't meet Henderson until the final day of filming, because the film was "not a factual reenactment". "I didn't want him to cloud my view of the sort of person I'd interpreted the character to be". Lumière reviewer Simon Sweetman praised the "superb" casting, and Thomson's NZ Film Award-nominated performance for expressing "a playfulness, a cheekiness that could be hiding something".

In 2008 Thomson starred in the first of six seasons of hit Australian family drama/comedy Packed to the Rafters. Thomson's character, father Dave Rafter (opposite Kiwi-born Rebecca Gibney), was "an everyman suburban bloke", familiar to the actor from his own Tauranga upbringing. Debuting in late 2021, sequel Back to the Rafters was Amazon Prime's first Australian-originated drama series. 

When Rafters first ended, Thomson tried out some character roles with emerging directors. But in terms of returning to "mainstream, commercial" television, he was wary of alienating the audience base he'd been building up. "I wanted something that would lead into a new territory without being too different."

The answer was 800 Words. As associate producer, Thomson described himself as "the matchmaker" between the production companies who made it: Australia's Channel Seven and New Zealand's South Pacific Pictures. This time he played Aussie writer George Turner, who makes the "rash decision" to relocate to a small Kiwi town with his two teenage children, after his wife's death. Shot north of Auckland, the show resonated because "it had a big strong heart, but also because I'm an ex-pat New Zealander, and it was about a man coming home, that really resonated with me, and that was how it got into my head".

In 2016 Thomson won a Best Actor Logie for his work, and he was nominated again the next year. He was sad to see the show cancelled in 2018, after three seasons. But having now done a decade of playing "the mildly complicated, affable father figure", he was happy to join comedy series Aftertaste. Thomson stars as a egocentric, disgraced celebrity chef who returns to Australia to start over; he also co-produced the show.

In winter 2019 Thomson returned to New Zealand to star in probably his darkest project to date. In acclaimed indie thriller Coming Home in the Dark, he plays a school teacher who encounters two terrifying drifters, while on a road trip with his wife (Miriama McDowell) and children. Thomson also acted in the TV adaptation of Eleanor Catton's novel The Luminaries, as pimp Dick Mannering.

Profile updated on 4 February 2022 

Sources include
Erik Thomson
'Erik Thomson: Aussie TV's favourite dad...' (Video Interview) NZ On Screen website. Director Andrew Whiteside. Loaded 12 August 2010. Accessed 13 December 2021
Debi Enker, 'Erik Thomson is not Dave Rafter in Seven's new family drama '800 Words'' (Interview) - The Sydney Morning Herald, 7 September 2015
Alistair Hughes, 'Family crisis' (Interview) - The Dominion Post (TV Week pullout), 12 February 2013, page 11
Lydia Jenkin, 'Erik Thomson in 800 Words' (Interview) - The NZ Herald (TimeOut section), 31 October 2015
Walter Marsh, 'Biting satire: Aftertaste skewers #MeToo in the food industry - and beyond' (Interview) - The Guardian, 29 January 2021
Simon Sweetman, 'A Taxing Story: We're Here To help' (Review - broken link) - Lumière Reader website. Loaded 5 November 2007. Accessed 13 August 2010
Robert Weisbrot, Xena Warrior Princess - The Official Guide to the Xenaverse (New York: Main Street Books, Doubleday, 1998)
Unknown writer, ‘A chat with Erik Thomson’ (Interview - broken link)TVNZ website. Accessed 13 August 2010
Unknown writer, 'Packed to the Rafters star Erik Thomson reprises father role in 800 words' (Interview) - The Guardian, 4 September 2015
We're Here to Help press kit