11 Apr 2012

Actor Grant Tilly dies

7:01 pm on 11 April 2012

Actor, director and artist Grant Tilly has died in Wellington after a long illness. He was 74.

The death was announced on Wednesday by Wellington's Circa Theatre, which he helped co-found and designed in 1994. It says he made a great contribution to the theatre scene in New Zealand and will be sorely missed.

Grant Tilly had a long and varied career, including 30 years in Wellington theatre where he was involved in 170 productions as actor, designer or director, as well as playing 28 different roles in film and television since 1972. He has also appeared in plays broadcast by Radio New Zealand.

Tilly is perhaps best remembered for the film adaptation of Middle Aged Spread and Carry Me Back. He is often associated with Roger Hall, appearing in many of his plays including Glide Time Middle Aged Spread, Bedtime and C'mon Black.

"The best roles I've done are these New Zealand roles - they're roles written by New Zealanders for New Zealanders. Those are the ones that I remember and cherish," he said.

Tilly was born in Sydney, Australia, on 12 December 1937 and was there for just one month before his holidaying parents returned to Wellington.

He grew up in Cuba Street and was raised by his parents until the marriage fell apart when he was nine years old. Tilly and his younger brother Warren were placed in the Berhampore Presbyterian Orphanage where he was introduced to performing and sang in the Christmas nativity show.

He was educated at Wellington Technical College taking art in the early 1950s, followed by Wellington and Dunedin Teachers' College, specialising in arts and crafts teaching.

As the 1960s began he was awarded an overseas bursary, studying children's drama in London. He returned to New Zealand and became a senior acting tutor at the New Zealand Drama School in 1974 where he pursued acting while he was taught at the school until the 1980s.

Man of many talents

Grant Tilly also built and designed sets throughout his life and also illustrated several books - his artistic talent notably in pop-up style artworks of buildings.

During the 1970s and 1980s he worked as an illustrator for articles in Wellington's The Evening Post and then on his own column Drawing On History.

He published his first book of drawings, The Old House Town and later mounted his first ever and highly successful exhibition at Harry Seresin's Settlement Gallery.

In 1984, he was awarded the Tasman Theatre exchange Fellowship - taking New Zealand plays to run in the Stables Theatre in Sydney

After receiving the Chapman Trip lifetime achievement award in 1997, he very publicly said: "This means I'm officially dead".

Tilly took a break from acting following the award, moving successfully from the stage into furniture-making.

He explained that though his performances on stage may be forgotten through time, he will leave his mark on the world with his artwork and furniture.