Born and raised in Auckland, Jane Thomas John graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Auckland University and received a Diploma of Education from Sydney University. She studied acting at Sydney's Ensemble Theatre; she also attended Stella Adler workshops there, and won bit parts on TV dramas for Channel 7 and the ABC.
On returning to New Zealand, she continued to act on stage. In 1976 she made her Kiwi screen debut on anthology series The Immigrants, playing one half of a recently-arrived South African couple (with fellow Kiwi Paul Robinson).
Then came After the Depression, an episode of Roger Donaldson’s and Ian Mune’s pioneering TV series Winners & Losers. Each slot in the series adapted a New Zealand short story for screen; After the Depression was based on a story by Maurice Shadbolt about a family in the grips of poverty. Thomas-John played the long-suffering wife to Bill Morrison (Clyde Scott) as he drags her and their son (played by director Donaldson’s three-year-old son Cass) towards a mining settlement, and a prospective job.
Following a suggestion by Mune to contact the producer of Close to Home, Thomas John was cast in the long-running TV soap, as Geraldine. When the character got pregnant (to a character played by Jim Moriarty) the writers "most unusually" offered them a storyline choice: baby or abortion. The actors chose the latter. When the storyline screened, it attracted both controversy and praise for its treatment of the subject. Thomas John herself got a number of letters.
In 1977 Thomas John played one of the suspects in Opening Night, one of four murder mysteries in the Ngaio Marsh Theatre series. It was the first Kiwi drama show to play on American television (on PBS).
The following year she was cast in short-lived soap Radio Waves, as partner of the radio station’s star DJ (played by Alan Dale, who later acted on Neighbours and US television). In the 1980s, while raising a family, she had supporting roles in Inside Straight (as girlfriend of lead Roy Billing), and in Ian Mune's award-winning feature The Whole of the Moon (as mother to the main character afflicted with cancer).
Thomas John has starred in dozens of commercials, including high profile campaigns for Griffins Gingernuts biscuits — playing a zealous art teacher, for director Lee Tamahori — and for Streets Ice Cream in Australia, as Queen Anne Boleyn riding side-saddle. In the 1980s and 90s she produced dozens of advertisements and promotional films with her partner Roy Thomas, under the banner of Trident Film and Television.
Later she did three months on Shortland Street as Cecile Worthington, super-rich Mum to Matt Minto’s Isaac. Hercules: Legendary Journeys offered a rare chance to play the arch-villain — Queen Parnassa. The part required intensive make-up, including long claw-like fingernails that made it "impossible to do tasks like eat food, or go the toilet unassisted".
Thomas John is also a corporate trainer, and helps people overcome stage fright as part of public speaking coaching consultancy, Now You’re Talking.
Profile published on 10 May 2018