Oliver Driver’s career has rarely followed a straight line. He’s spent time as an actor, director, TV and radio host, and been responsible for running both a TV channel and the country’s biggest theatre company. To make things even more complicated, he often seems to be taking on three different tasks at the one time; Driver has long been aware of the value of being creative in the widest sense.
The son of a nanny/part-time poet and a businessman, Driver began acting while growing up in Takapuna. After leaving school he took up Theatresports, where he acted alongside Kevin Smith and Jay Laga’aia, and learnt how to “improvise and to think quickly”. Theatresports led to roles in local plays, and his first agent. He was also accepted into drama school, but the idea that Driver would be required to “stop working to learn how to work” made little sense. Instead he opted to continue working as an actor, arranging ad hoc acting classes for himself and his friends.
While Driver’s stage career was beginning to take off, television would have to wait. Having debuted on screen with an uncredited role in one-off drama A Death in the Family while still at school, his breakthrough screen role was 90s series City Life. Driver played wide-eyed stand-up comedian Josh Gribble, one of a group of young Aucklanders. The show offered the chance to learn “the tricks of the trade”. He won a NZ Television Best Actor award for his efforts.
Driver then joined Shortland Street , as “wacky nurse” Mike Galloway. The role helped make him a familiar face on local TV, after City Life’s poor initial ratings and consequently staggered screening schedule impacted the show’s success.
While working on Shortland Street, Driver began three years at the Auckland Theatre Company. In 2000 he took on the fulltime role of Associate Director, then did a year as Acting Artistic Director. During his time at the helm Driver created in-house offshoot 2econd Unit, and directed several successful plays, including seasons of The Blue Room and (after two female directors turned it down) The Vagina Monologues. He also acted in The Rocky Horror Show and soap opera parody Serial Killers (plus this TV adaptation), and played a hate-fulled skinhead in road movie Snakeskin.
In 2004 Driver began five years as presenter of arts show Frontseat. The show looked at the Kiwi arts scene. It ran for five series and saw Driver presenting and doing interviews in the studio, and reporting from The Edinburgh Fringe and Toronto Film Festival. Driver counted himself “darned proud to front an arts show that’s maintained its credibility within the arts community whilst being irreverent and opinionated.” Frontseat ended in 2007; the following year he began co-hosting TV3’s breakfast show Sunrise, alongside Carly Flynn.
Complimenting his time in television and theatre, Driver has also appeared in a number of feature films. In 1999 did solid work as quirky sperm donor Jackson in offbeat drama Magik and Rose. On Jackson's unusual square dancing habits, Driver said "That's when this job is great, when you get to be someone else doing this thing you would never otherwise do." In 2006 Driver appeared in the first of two collaborations with director Jonathan King. After falling victim to one of the killer sheep in horror comedy Black Sheep, he was pulled in at late notice to take on the role of “the greatest villain of our country”, Mr Wilberforce, in the movie version of Under the Mountain. Driver revelled in the chance to play against (comic) type. As a child he had found himself “freaked out” by the original TV series; some of it had been filmed near where he lived. Seen in several different forms, Mr Wilberforce sometimes required four hours in the make-up chair.
From 2006 to 2009 Driver served as creative director of music channel ALT-TV. As host of Alt-TV show Let’s Be Frank on Sunday nights, he interviewed a number of NZ personalities including John Key and Helen Clark. In early 2009 Driver cut ties with the channel shortly before it ceased broadcasting.
Driver has also been involved with the Newstalk ZB radio station. After having been a longtime substitute announcer, he began presenting his show Almost Monday in late 2006. The talkback style show ran until October 2008, when he took on hosting Sunrise. The show was briefly revived in 2011.
A successful guest slot in 2011 on the local version of British panel show Would I Lie to You? saw him becoming a regular team leader in 2012; the same year he cameoed in The Almighty Johnsons.
In 2013 he starred alongside Tammy Davis (Munter in Outrageous Fortune) in Sunny Skies, a comedy about two half-brothers who meet for the first time, after inheriting a campground from their mutually estranged father. Driver played uptight Auckland businessman Oscar, to Davis’ laidback Deano. The show received rave reviews, with Stuff’s Chris Philpott calling it the “best new Kiwi comedy this year”.
In the same period Driver moved increasingly into directing for television. His television work includes episodes of Step Dave, (Mikey) Havoc Presents: Quality Time and cliffhanger episodes of Shortland Street. In 2015 he began working as a director on Filthy Rich, New Zealand's most expensive television series to date, which follows three illegitimate children laying a claim to a sizeable family fortune. He also continues to direct for the Auckland Theatre Company — including a 2014 production of Jesus Christ Superstar — and has worked frequently with Silo Theatre.
Profile written by Simon Smith; updated on 14 August 2019
‘Oliver Driver’ (Video Interview), NZ On Screen website. Director Andrew Whiteside. Loaded 7 July 2009 Accessed 14 August 2019
'Oliver Driver' Auckland Actors website. Accessed 14 August 2019
Cameron McMilan, 'Under the Mountain: Oliver Driver' (Interview). Yahoo NZ website (Broken link). Loaded 2 December 2009. Accessed 31 August 2015
Chris Philpott, ‘Summer Peaks with Sunny Skies’ (Review), Stuff website. Loaded 18 February 2013. Accessed 14 August 2019
Sarah Stuart, 'Twelve Questions: Oliver Driver' (Interview) - The NZ Herald, 12 December 2013
Frontseat press kit
Unknown writer, ‘Culture Vultures’ - The Dominion Post (TV Week pullout), 11 May 2004
Unknown writer, ‘An eye on the arts scene’ - The Dominion Post (TV Week pullout) 27 February 2007, page T15
Unknown writer, ‘Oliver Driver’ (interview) - The NZ Herald, 16 February 2008
Unknown writer, "Villainous transformation' - The Dominion Post, 10 December 2009, page 5
Unknown writer, 'Oliver Driver Director' Auckland Theatre Company website. Accessed 14 August 2019