Champion a storyteller for our time

Peter Hayden describes himself first and foremost as a storyteller.

The actor of tv and stage shows, writer of wildlife series Wild South, and director and presenter of Journeys Across Latitude South 45 among others, is finding a new lease of life.

“I’m taking courses in film acting.

"I’m looking at writing screenplays, really looking at that way of telling good stories, and back to drama again which I love.”

Peter Hayden with Darien Takle as fairy

He has also taken on a role as a SuperSeniors Champion, one of a small number of New Zealanders recognised as an outstanding advocate for positive ageing.

The actor is returning to the small screen as the grandfather in the comedy series ‘800 Words’.

It features a Kiwi returning to New Zealand to live with his two Australian children.

“It’s about the highs and lows, the quirks, foibles and strange things that happen to him in rural New Zealand, which are a lot.

“The Aussies get to laugh at it and the Kiwis get to laugh at these crazy Australians trying to settle in NZ.”

There’s also an appearance in an episode of the Brokenwood Mysteries.

Peter Hayden and Darien Takle on stage in Auckland. Photographer - Sabin Holloway

Surviving in a tough industry

It’s a tough industry for actors to survive in at any stage of their career.

“I think the tide goes in and the tide goes out.

“In your 20s and 30s, there are a lot of roles written for men, not so many for women. Then you go into your 40s and 50s and maybe fewer roles then.

“[Once] you hit your 60s, it seems like there’s grandfather, elder statesman, crusty old neighbour or people at the top of their game, professionals who are still very active in their late 60s and early 70s. There’s a great range of roles.”

There have been theatre roles too, in Roger Hall’s play ‘You Can Always Hand Them Back’, and Mark Haddon’s ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night’.

For many years, there was little chance to work in drama while documentaries took up so much of his time but he’s relishing the opportunity to be involved again.

“I think the fact that I’m entering it again, virtually on the edge of becoming a senior, means that I’m actually fresh legs off the bench at a late age, and I’m loving it.”

The blowtorch of little money

Peter Hayden has little intention of retiring.

Peter Hayden in the garden

“There’s nothing like the blowtorch of not having a hell of a lot of money behind you to keep you working,” he says with a smile in his voice.

“It’s like a blowtorch applied to your backside to keep you going. That’s one thing.

“The other thing, and I’ve heard this spoken of a number of times by other people, is that I could never stop, I could never give up.”

Being able to act, write and direct has secured work in various facets of what is a small industry.

“My career has been as a storyteller – that’s how I first and foremost see myself, and I came to that realisation when I was at university studying to be a vet.

“I didn’t become [one] but ended with a science degree and went straight to drama school.

And from that time on, whether it was television or film or in theatre, whether in documentaries or in drama, I tell stories.

“That’s what I like to do - find the best way of telling the best story that’s going to interest people."

Open to opportunities

The actor has quite a different outlook to his father.

“I’m not the sort of person who, like my father, received his crystal decanter and lounge chair when he retired from the Napier Harbour Board all those years ago, and there was a definite line in the sand.

“For so many people these days, it’s a blurred line. They’re not on a one-job lifetime career that ends at a certain point.

"They have moved from position to position to position and in my industry, that’s more than most.

“Every contract can be a month or two months or three days when it’s a film job so that’s the way it is.”

Being open to opportunities works well for the industry veteran.

Peter Hayden on stage with pram

“I’m loving the new challenges and I think that’s one of the things for positive ageing – is finding new challenges.

“Maybe it’s not just a golf course or going on a cruise.

"It has to be life challenges for people and if you don’t have a lot of income, your challenges may be a little bit more restricted but by no means are they taken away from you.

“The other thing, it’s almost a cliché but I certainly abide by it, it’s being curious.

"I am absolutely curious about life and every production that I’m in.

“Everything that I do in life is wonderful and new.”

Peter Hayden on stage in Auckland. Photographer - Michael Smith

Apart from healthy eating and keeping physically active, Peter Hayden says ageing positively is a state of mind.

“I think it’s be curious, keep our minds active because a number of people in my extended family and people I know get to a certain age and go, ‘well, I know what I feel and I know what I think and I don’t need to challenge those thoughts any more because that’s my position’, and they kind of stop or they lock themselves off.

“Remain open to young people and to new ideas, find your passion.

“For people of our generation, we need to find new passions or, in my case, re-ignite old ones. It’s so important.”