Erik Thomson embodies the quintessential Aussie dad. When chatting with the actor, well known for his successful role as Dave Rafter in Packed to the Rafters, it’s hard to imagine his real life persona stems too far from that lovable, all round good bloke. Ironically, Erik’s technically not even an Aussie. Originally born in Ireland, he was raised in Auckland, New Zealand before moving to Australia in his late twenties to further his acting career.
“When I came to Australia I was a bit of an outsider. I was in my late twenties and I hadn’t come up through that network of NIDA (National Institute of Dramatic Art),” says Erik.
In spite of this the actor went on to beat all the odds landing ongoing roles in Pacific Drive, All Saints, and The Alice, which kept him on our golden soil. Skipping to 2013 and the roaring run of Packed to the Rafters was, at last, drawing to a close. It was at this time that an old Kiwi colleague and friend of Erik’s sent him the script of what is now Seven’s latest smash-hit television series, 800 Words.
“As soon as I read it I fell in love with it. I immediately thought this could be something great.
“I responded to the script immediately on a deep emotional basis. It spoke to me because I’m an expat New Zealander, having lived in Australia for the past 20 years. The thought of going home to shoot on location was really appealing.”
Displaying New Zealand’s picturesque landscape on the gold and silver screens is nothing groundbreaking. For major blockbuster films, Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit spring to mind, have already laid down that well trodden path. Even so, 800 Words still manages to stun with its spectacular panoramic shots around the coast of the North Island. Refreshingly where the show deviates from its predecessors lies not in its visual representation of the land over the ditch but rather its commentary on our two nations’ brotherly bond.
“New Zealand’s that annoying little brother. From a New Zealander’s point of view Australia’s the big brother you just want to have acknowledge you. It’s nice to have Australians and New Zealanders doing a show together and explore what our relationship with one another is really like.
“We have so much in common. History has shown, when needed, we team together so well in so many different facets. Whether it be the ANZAC legacy or economically, we help each other out at the drop of a hat. Then in other arenas, mostly sport, we’re the first to give each other shit and be fiercely competitive. You can only do that with people you really care about.”
When pushed to take sides between the sibling rivalry Erik identifies himself as ultimately a Kiwi at heart.
“New Zealand is the county of my youth, it’s where I grew up. Those places are very deep in your soul.”
We’ll forgive him for that. Mostly because his uncanny portrayals of morally sound characters lead us to believe, with no disrespect to his craft, that he too is a stand up guy. Perhaps this is initially what draws Erik to these characters, as he believes honesty to be the very foundation of screen acting.
“It’s all about honesty. It’s about being genuine in front of the camera and allowing your raw emotions to be read by the audience. I’m willing to be laid bare in front of the camera, I don’t mask my emotional journey.
“When I do a scene whatever the words may be, it has to resonate with me. I have to believe that there is truth there. I never want to walk away from a scene feeling like I’ve not been truthful.”
800 Words depicts the upheaval of recent widower George Turner, who on a whim uproots his two teenage children from their Sydney home and moves to far East Australia (New Zealand). With a fish out of water quality, off the bat the show is incredibly endearing. With Erik delivering his now iconic colloquial charm, it’s not hard to imagine Packed to the Rafters fans seamlessly shifting their undivided attention to this fresh
“I felt that I needed to make that journey a little more subtly away from what I had been doing. I didn’t want Rafters fans to be too confronted with having to accept me as something totally different. I thought it would be a really nice transition as opposed to doing something radically different.”
Over the past two years television across the board has been dominated by the ‘reality’ genre. Channel Seven alone boasts a bevy of reality cooking and talent shows. With our fixation on these programs seemingly stronger than ever it begs the question, do shows like Packed to the Rafters and 800 Words still have a wanted place on our screens? Or, will comedy-dramas be swallowed up by their reality competitors? Erik begs to differ, opting to have faith in the Australian audience.
“I did ask that question, ‘Would the Australian audience come on the journey with us?’ but I think that 800 Words landed just at the perfect time. People are disillusioned with reality and are craving something they can just disappear into.
“The drama constructed into these ‘Reality’ shows is fairly basic drama. 800 Words offers more nuance, escapism, and is something you can really sink your teeth into.”
With the ratings on their side, the team behind 800 Words has created a show that not only transports everyday Australians out of their homes but also reinforces strong family values.
“We highlight the significance of the viewers personal relationships. Whether it be partners, families, or friends, I hope it helps strengthen those bonds. “That’s what the show is all about. For all the funniness that we go through and all the things that life throws at us, at the end of the day it’s just the people that you’ve got in your life.”
These are Erik’s words to live by, “that the audience can walk away holding onto”.
Seven’s ‘drama with a comedic heart’
800 Words airs on Tuesdays at 8.40pm.