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Peter Cox


Hamilton-raised Peter Cox was an award-winning young playwright when he began his Master of Arts in Scriptwriting at Victoria University. At the age of 26, he dreamed up a thesis project that would propel him to a level of success few university graduates could hope for.

Cox wrote scripts for two episodes of The Insiders Guide to Happiness, as part of his Masters. His idea was to follow the interconnecting lives of a group of 20-something characters — one of them dead — as they search for happiness. He never thought it would be commercially viable, but sent the scripts to Wellington company The Gibson Group anyway. "I thought, I've got a year, I can write anything I want," said Cox. "It'll probably never get made, so why not experiment?"

Cox was intrigued by questions of who someone really is, when all the surface trappings are taken away: "the relationship or job that you have or things that you own or clothes that you wear. If all that's stripped away from a person, then what's left, what really matters?"

Gibson Group boss Dave Gibson loved the idea. Cox joined scriptwriters Paula Boock and David Brechin-Smith (both of The Strip), and novelist Damien Wilkins to write the 13-part series. Strong storytelling and  performances saw it win seven awards at the 2005 New Zealand Screen Awards  including Best Drama and Best Script. Cox was 28-years-old, with just one screen credit to his name. As Wilkins put it, he "wasn't an industry insider ... everyone got hooked on this idea that had come from left field."  

Pavement's Katie Newton's recommended viewers tune in, if they were keen to be "stimulated by a show that makes you think. If you're interested in supporting something Kiwi that aspires to the lofty standards set by international sensations such as Six Feet Under or The Sopranos". Cox was also on the writing team for award-winning prequel series The Insiders Guide to Love.

In 2005, Cox won the prestigious Buddle Findlay Sargeson Fellowship, which allowed him to write full-time for a year. That year, he created acclaimed mockumentary The Pretender, with Philip Smith. Cox enjoyed the "pure troublemaking of shooting a fake documentary about a fake politician  and, among other things, having the then current PM Helen Clarke give an entirely fake interview, while pretending it was all for real". 

The show stars Bob Maclaren as a hapless property developer who campaigns to win a fictional seat in Queenstown. Cox was nominated for Best Comedy Script for the first episode at the 2006 NZ Screen Awards. The second season (for which Cox wrote this episode, among others) was nominated for Best Comedy Programme at the 2009 Qantas Awards.

Cox moved on to thriller/drama The Cultwhich he co-created with Kathryn Burnett (he also co-wrote this first episode). The series follows two groups: the members of a commune, who have renounced all contact with the outside world, and a loose-knit team of 'liberators', keen to reestablish contact with commune members that they care about. At the 2010 Qantas Film and Television Awards, The Cult won six of its 11 nominations, and was nominated for Best Drama. 

In the same period Cox joined the development and writing team on award-winning sci-fi thriller This is Not My LifeCharlies Mesure plays a man who wakes up one morning to find he doesn't know who or where he is.

In 2021 Cox finished work on his Australian goldrush drama New Gold Mountain. The four-part TV series stars Chinese-Kiwi actor Yoson An as a Chinese goldminer in Ballarat, who is keen to ensure that the murder of a white woman doesn't get blamed on Chinese miners. Cox is also working on a second Australian TV project, Edgewater.

In 2014 Cox began a Doctor of Philosophy focussing on television, at Victoria University's International Institute of Modern Letters. He is a past president of the NZ Writers Guild.

Profile written by Natasha Harris; updated on 22 September 2021 

Sources include
Peter Cox
Peter Cox'
Creative Representation website. Accessed 22 September 2021
'Peter Cox' Victoria University website. Accessed 22 September 2021
Frances Grant, 'The Insider's Guide to Happiness' (Interview) - The NZ Herald, 20 May 2004
Maura McHugh, 'Participant profile: Peter Cox' World Conference of Screenwriters website. Loaded 9 October 2009. Accessed 22 September 2021
Katie Newton, 'The Inside Story' - Pavement issue 64, Winter 2004, page 115
Megan Nicol Reed, 'Drama from happiness' (Interview) - The Sunday Star-Times, 9 May 2004, page 29
Unknown writer, 'Epic SBS drama 'New Gold Mountain' coming in October' SBS website. Loaded 9 September 2021. Accessed 22 September 2021