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Profile image for Jonathan Hardy

Jonathan Hardy

Actor, Writer

Jonathan Hardy was known for his sense of humour. When he died near the end of July 2012, his friend, fellow Kiwi acting export Lani Tupu recalled his wonderful stories and "wicked wit". Hardy sometimes pointed that wit at himself — in a BBC interview he said of his distinctively generous eyebrows that they were "like looking out from under wisteria", and that he loved the way his Farscape character "bites people ... and farts helium".

Hardy punctuated his extensive theatre career with a long run of Australian TV shows — and the occasional Kiwi role — often playing judges, priests or vaguely dodgy types. 

Hardy was born in Wellington in 1940, the same year that his father was killed by a sniper in Crete. When he appeared in a 1966 touring production of Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors, fellow cast member Ian Mune saw him as a muscular ball of energy, "prancing, dancing, somersaulting, spinning and clowning" as Dromio. The cast were "a strange mish-mash of Poms, Ockers and Kiwis". Mune's words could just as easily have described Hardy’s career.

Hardy spent roughly a decade in England, acting for the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Bristol Old Vic, as well as various regional theatres. In 1972 he acted in BBC time travel series Mandog, and had a small role in London-set comedy hit The Adventures of Barry McKenzie. He also spent time doing vocal study in Spain.

Australia was next. Although Hardy worked regularly in New Zealand into the mid 80s and occasionally beyond, Australia was long his primary creative base. The Kiwi projects included 1920s-era drama The Lie of the Land (1984); a blink twice and you'll miss it role in period drama Mesmerized; and an award-winning part in Alzheimer’s play A Tree Falling. Hardy had hoped to star in a feature film version, directed by his longtime partner Dave Letch. In 2001 Hardy won a NZ Film Award for comical short Camping with Camus (2000), based on an Owen Marshall short story. Hardy starred as a lustful amateur philosopher.  

Hardy acted extensively for the Auckland and Melbourne theatre companies, and headed the MTC’s youth wing for two years. In 1978 he appeared in the premiere of Breaker Morant, based on a controversial case of three Australian soldiers who were court-martialed during the Boer War.

When the play was turned into a movie, Hardy co-wrote the script with David Stevens and director Bruce Beresford. The film won much acclaim; at the 1981 Academy Awards the trio were nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay.

By then Hardy had returned home to head Auckland’s Mercury Theatre, a role he  did for five years. After impressing in the role of Ahab in Orson Welles play Moby Dick Rehearsed, Hardy and director Ian Mune encouraged author Maurice Shadbolt to write them a play. The result, after heated battles over creative control and running time, was Gallipoli saga Once on Chunuk Bair.

He also wrote a handful of projects for the screen  it was a challenge  finding quiet time to write, since he'd "never stopped as an actor virtually since 1965 when I left drama school". Two were Kiwi projects: Constance (1984), which he wrote with director Bruce Morrison, and TV comedy Porters (1987). Constance stars Donogh Rees as a woman haunted by dreams of glamour and stardom in 1940s era Auckland. New York's Time Out raved that the film was "lush and exhilarating", combining style with "genuine emotion". Porters, which Hardy also produced, starred George Henare and Peter Bland as hospital orderlies. It did not fly.

Hardy’s screen directing career also failed to take off. He was set to direct one of the The Man from Snowy River sequels when heart problems — and a heart transplant — got in the way. Hardy went on to helm and co-write Backstage (1988). David Stratton's book The Avocado Plantation outlines the backstage bunfights behind this "ludicrously costly" romance, including legal battles over who wrote the script. Laura Branigan (best known for Flashdance hit 'Gloria') plays an American singer who falls for a theatre critic in Australia.

Hardy's many acting gigs ranged from classics — a small role in John Clarke-scripted Australian romance Lonely Hearts,  and the drunken undertaker in Kiwi gothic tale The Scarecrow — to the ridiculous (his cameo as an Indian shopkeeper in Death Warmed Up, "genuinely terrible" sci-fi show Andra). In 1976 he was nominated for am Australian Film Institute Award after playing a Catholic teacher in Fred Schepisi’s coming of age tale The Devil’s Playground. Later he acted in Kiwi children’s tale Nearly No Christmas, and played the Man in the Moon in Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge. Placido Domingo supplied the singing.

By now Hardy was being feted at sci-fi conventions, thanks to Farscape. Shot in Sydney, the show ran for four seasons, plus a final miniseries. Hardy voiced ex royal leader Dominar Rygel. He described the 66-centimetre green alien as "greedy and selfish and generous and heroic ... so in many ways, because he is so flawed and in many ways so great, I guess he is an archetypal human being. I love him, he's a sweet little guy."

One of his final writing gigs was 2006 fantasy Wishbone, for his partner Dave Letch. It was a tale of "magic and dreams coming true". Jonathan Hardy died on 30 July 2012. He was 71.

Profile updated on 18 August 2021

Sources include
'Jonathan Hardy' (broken link), Sue Barnett & Associates website. Accessed 4 March 2013
Mark Juddery, 'Versatile actor carved out a remarkable career' - The Sydney Morning Herald, 3 September 2012
Phillip Mann, 'The First Production of 'Once on Chunuk Bair' (Interview with Maurice Shadbolt) - Illusions 11, July 1989, Page 14
Ian Mune, Mune - An Autobiography (Nelson: Craig Potton Publishing, 2010)
'A long career - Jonathan Hardy' (and associated links - interview) BBC website. Accessed 9 November 2016 
David Stratton, The Avocado Plantation - Boom and Bust in the Australian Film Industry (Sydney: Pan Macmillan Publishers Australia, 1990)
'Rain Days and Mondays...'(broken link). Facebook, Lani Tupu Fan Page. Loaded 30 July 2012. Accessed 31 July 2012
'Constance' (Review). Time Out website. Accessed 9 November 2016
Wishbone website (broken link). Accessed 31 July 2012
Camping with Camus press kit