Though Mark Hadlow has often been cast in comical parts as the gormless innocent (Willy Nilly, Meet the Feebles, Seymour in stage musical Little Shop of Horrors), his list of roles ranges widely, from Fagin to Riff Raff to Iago. The actor's origins are almost as difficult to tie down.
Born in the outback town of Walgett to an Australian mother and Kiwi father, Hadlow moved to Perth, before his vicar father took the family for three years to Chennai in India. The move was “a godsend” for his future acting career: “having a neutral accent means you can click into things quicker, and not have your roles determined by your vowels".
Hadlow arrived in New Zealand aged nine, and spent time in Wellington and Christchurch. After taking minor roles in plays at boarding school, he played trumpet for the navy for three years. In 1977 he narrowly failed to get into NIDA in Australia, partly because he wasn't a local.
Instead Hadlow got the chance to train at Auckland’s Theatre Corporate, alongside Sarah Peirse and Phillip Gordon, kickstarting a long stage career that has included award-nominated performances in Wind in the Willows, Jesus Christ Superstar and one-man touring hit Sensitive New Age Guy.
Hadlow’s first ongoing appearance on-screen was a three and a half month long role as a butcher's assistant in 1979 kidult hit Children of Fire Mountain. An accident with a horse on set put him out of action for a week. After tax break money flowed into local features in the 80s, he alternated small roles on film (The Scarecrow, Beyond Reasonable Doubt) with theatre work, odd jobs, and a stint as a presenter on What Now?
His versatility was ironically best showcased in a movie in which he is never seen. Peter Jackson puppet flick Meet the Feebles (1989) saw him providing voices for a multitude of characters, including the film’s star, lisping wannabe Robert the hedgehog, and singing hippo Heidi.
The same year Hadlow appeared in almost every shot of the 50 minute-long Just Me and Mario, one of the screen roles he is most proud of. Hadlow played Kevin Stiles, a repressed puritan obsessed with 50s singing idol Mario Lanza. Director Greg Stitt cast Hadlow thanks to his gift for comedy: “I like to give an actor a key word to base their character on. The word for Kevin is shell-shocked.”
Soon after, Hadlow was invited to join the sitcom version of The Billy T James Show. A post-heart attack Billy played a radio DJ, while Hadlow was employed to bring in extra energy as his "dopey" Australian brother-in-law, who has tried taxidermy and panelbeating without much success.
A short film made in 1998 would lead to one of Hadlow’s biggest screen roles. In Mike Smith’s gothic comedy Willy Nilly, he and Sean Duffy played molly-coddled farmers struggling to deal with their Mum's unexpected death. The short was invited to prestigious French festival Clermont-Ferrand. In 2001 the Willy Nilly TV series debuted for the first of three successful seasons. Tandi Wright played the daft undertaker’s assistant who moves in with Duffy and Hadlow's characters. Wright labelled Hadlow “the best physical comedian I’ve ever seen”. Duffy felt his best comedy actor award should really have gone to his co-star.
Since 1984 Hadlow has largely worked from Christchurch, where he has made a second home acting and directing at the city’s Court Theatre, and appeared in a number of local features. He played a QC in award-winning comedy The Waimate Conspiracy, the first of three films he has made for policeman and filmmaker Stefen Harris. Jim Moriarty starred as a man battling for customary rights to his land.
Having played a corporate villain in follow-up feature No Petrol, No Diesel!, Hadlow returned to co-star in Blue Moon, which was shot on an iPhone in Motueka in just 30 hours. This time he played a petrol station owner who faces off against a threatening visitor. Stuff reporter Stu Hunt praised his performance: "Mark Hadlow gives a finely balanced portrayal of buttoned-down businessman Horace Jones with the creases on his forehead deepening as he slowly sinks further and further out of his depth." In the same year, Hadlow lent his voice to children's animated show Darwin and Newts, giving life to a grumpy frog named Burpee.
Hadlow has also acted in 2011 Christchurch feature The Holy Roller, and battled 40-foot huhu grubs in musical short Huhu Attack, which was invited to several international festivals. His hairiest role to date is in Peter Jackson’s three-part adaptation of The Hobbit, which saw him disguised under a grey beard, braids and bushy eyebrows as Dori the dwarf. In the first film he also played a hungry troll named Bert. He went on to narrate award-winning Australian short The Story of Percival Pilts, and work on Mortal Engines, based on the fantasy novel by Philip Reeve. Hadlow played an auctioneer who sells human beings in the latter film.
In 2017 Hadlow was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to the arts. Acknowledging the honour on website Stuff, Hadlow said "it does feel good!". He also made the point that performing is a team sport, and sounded a warning note about falling audiences for local theatre.
Profile written by Ian Pryor
Updated on 30 August 2018
Alison Carter, ‘Me And Greg’ (Interview) - The Listener (TV Times pullout), 10 September 1990, page 43
Shelley Clement, ‘Everyday Obsessions’ (Interview with Greg Stitt) - Onfilm, June 1989, page 5 (volume 6, No 4)
Linda Herrick, 'The Entertainer' (Interview) - Golden Wing, August 1996
Robert Hood, ‘Giant Monster Musical Horror Film? A Backbrain Exclusive’. Undead Backbrain website. Loaded 22 December 2011. Accessed 30 August 2018
Stu Hunt, 'Blue Moon shines over Motueka's dark side'- Stuff website. Loaded 19 August 2018. Accessed 30 August 2018
Jack Van Beynen, 'Actor Mark Hadlow appointed Officer of New Zealand Order of Merit' (Interview) Stuff website. Loaded 5 June 2017. Accessed 30 August 2018
‘Tandi Wright - as seen on TV’ (Video Interview), NZ On Screen website. Director James Coleman. Loaded 3 October 2011. Accessed 30 August 2018
‘Good Living - Up Close and Personal’ (Video Interview, broken link), YouTube website. Loaded 19 August 2009. Accessed 27 April 2012