30 Dec 2023

Sir Ian Mune: Kiwi cinema's 'jack of all trades' knighted

9:13 am on 30 December 2023
Ian Mune

Sir Ian Mune. Photo: Supplied

A stack of papers sent to Auckland in a cardboard beer box started a unique writing project between the two creative geniuses behind New Zealand's first blockbuster hit movie Goodbye Pork Pie.

It was the late 1970s, and Ian Mune was living in Devonport, Geoff Murphy in Waimarama.

"Geoffrey got hold of me and said, 'We've been working on a story here, can you have a look at it? I don't need you to tell me if it's any good or not, I just want you to tell me if you think it's worth carrying on with.'"

Mune agreed and received a parcel in the mail.

"He sent me a beer box full of sheets of paper in which he and [others] had worked out all the stunts they had before they even really had a story," he said.

"They'd worked out the stunts in absolute detail. Anyway, I got back to Geoffrey after ploughing through this box full of paper and said, 'Looks to me like all you need is a story and some characters.'

"He said, 'Yeah, but do you think it's worth carrying on with?' I said, 'Absolutely'."

They co-wrote the screenplay, sending scripts by post up and down the country to settle on the plot and genre - an action-comedy.

"I took the bones of the story idea that he had and then wrote it up and developed characters," said Mune.

In the movie, Gerry rents a yellow mini in Kaitaia then heads south, meeting John who wants to go to Invercargill after a break-up, and they pick up a hitchhiker, Shirl. Along the way, they attract the police's attention for running amuck with the law and are pursued as they drive down-country, creating a media frenzy.

Ian Mune, self-portrait.

Ian Mune, self-portrait. Photo: Ian Mune

The award-winning actor, writer and director has brought many New Zealand stories to the stage and screen during his 40-year career and is among those recognised in the New Year Honours.

Mune is being made a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to film, television and theatre.

He co-wrote Sleeping Dogs (1977) and Goodbye Pork Pie (1981) and directed Came a Hot Friday (1984), the coming-of-age drama End of the Golden Weather (1991), The Whole of the Moon (1997) and the sequel to Once Were Warriors, What Becomes of the Broken Hearted? (1999) - to name a few.

Now 82 years old, Sir Ian is recognised as a pioneer who developed the theatre and film industry into viable professions in New Zealand.

"Being a New Zealander in the storytelling acting business particularly in the time I was in it, which was from the early '60s to still going in a way, you really had to be able to do more than one thing."

At that time, theatre was his main breadwinner.

"All the actors I knew worked on stage, and if a bit of TV came up that was terrific, you got much better money. A movie, that was a real rarity - but if you got a bit of work in a movie, that was even better.

"Your basic job was in the theatre."

In 1976, a television series he co-wrote, Winners & Losers, hit the small screen and he returned from travelling overseas to sell the series to find he was out of work.

"By the time I got back, I was deep in debt, but there was no particular place for me at the Mercury [Theatre Company] at that time. I had to be able to find something else to do, so that was when I sat down with Arthur Baysting and wrote Sleeping Dogs."

Sir Ian also starred in the political thriller and action film.

"Being able to jump from horse to horse was really the only way I could survive in the business, otherwise I'd have to go and get a job somewhere, and gee, I hadn't had a job since I was about 20. I think by the time I was 25 I was probably unemployable for a regular job."

He said he was ill-suited to a 9am-5pm routine.

"With a movie you turn up when you're called, it might be six o'clock in the morning or it might be four o'clock in the afternoon. You're never late, you're always on time but it's always a different time."

A DVD cover for the original 1981 New Zealand film directed by Geoff Murphy

A scene from Goodbye Pork Pie. Photo: Amazon

Making Goodbye Pork Pie

The Mercury Theatre Company was his main source of income when he co-wrote Goodbye Pork Pie, sending scripts via the postal service for six months.

"Then we said, 'We've pretty much got it here, why don't we go have a look at the locations?' So we piled into a car and started in Kaitaia."

He and Geoff Murphy drove to Wellington, took the ferry over Cook Strait then hopped on a freight train "with the door open" along the Kaikōura coast, eventually making it to Invercargill.

"All the way down we'd be looking and say, 'Hey, that's a good place, if the car stopped here they could go into this cafe and help themselves to a cup of coffee… this could be a good place for a cop on a motorbike to see them'," Sir Ian said.

"As much as you normally would build a story on character and narrative, we built the story on character and narrative and locations and stunts. So it was a different kind of exercise. It was a hell of a lot of fun."

The movie was a box office hit.

"Geoff had this theory that people would look at it and say, 'Look, look, I know that place there,' and hopefully that would get people to come along," Sir Ian said.

"It was the first time we'd had a movie that took us virtually from North Cape to Bluff."

As an actor with more than 70 screen roles to date, Sir Ian has continued to perform in a variety of film, television and theatre productions, most recently in the mini-series The Pact (2021).

"The one I'm passionate about is the one I'm doing at the time. If I'm acting, that's what I'm passionate about, if I'm directing that's what I'm passionate about, if I'm writing that's what I'm passionate about.

"It's a very Kiwi thing, this position of being a jack of all trades just in order to pay the rent."

The Pact focuses on euthanasia, in which an elderly couple make a suicide pact.

Sir Ian said death has become a recurring theme in his recent work.

"I've done more goddamn death scenes in the last seven to eight years than I did in my entire acting career. And also I've been playing people with Alzheimer's. At my age, that's the work that's available."

Even so, it is another element of acting he enjoys.

"Twice they were comic deaths. but deaths nonetheless. A couple of them were tragic. Another couple were offstage, but still, I was dead by the curtain call. It's just the way it turns out."

"This is where I grew up. As a kid I sailed my seven-footer from Tauranga to the Mount." - Ian Mune

"This is where I grew up. As a kid I sailed my seven-footer from Tauranga to the Mount." - Ian Mune Photo: Ian Mune

From screen to canvas

Sir Ian teaches acting and is connected with new generations of actors as Patron of The Actors Program since 2012. But another art now captures his interest.

"I'm doing the odd bit of acting that turns up and the rest of my time, painting."

He was painting a landscape from a photograph he had taken during a trip to Europe, when he realised where his heart lay.

"I was halfway through it when I realised that the hills I was putting in the background were New Zealand hills," Sir Ian said.

"I struggled through to the end of this painting and I thought, 'That's it, I'm not going to paint all these foreign things, I'm going to do with my paintings what I did with my movies and tell New Zealand stories'."

Sir Ian Mune's honours and awards

  • New Zealand Television Legend Award, 2021
  • Rudall Hayward Award for filmmaking, 2000
  • Officer of the Order of the British Empire, New Year 1991

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