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In Richard O'Brien's dressing room

Tue 9 Nov 2010 In: Performance View at Wayback View at NDHA

Richard O'Brien feels like he's home. "It's always been home," he says about New Zealand. "I never quite understood why other people couldn't see it as well. Officialdom couldn't see it." The British-born, New Zealand-raised master of sexy schlock horror is still at a loss to understand why the country where he grew his creative wings has tied so much red tape around him, as he fights to be counted a citizen. His current status is "resident"; something he appreciates but finds a little weird, considering New Zealand has actually claimed him: "When Rocky broke it was in the papers 'Kiwi does this and that', they built a statue of me, then they had on television 100 iconographic New Zealanders and I came in about 94th – it wasn't high enough," he jokes, "but I'm still there – and they're still making me work for my citizenship. "And I will," he vows. "I'm very grateful to them for allowing me the first step, but I find it very difficult to understand the reticence to just actually make me an honorary citizen. "I don't know why they don't just rubber stamp me," he continues. "Because I'm still going to be talking about it in another two years time, I'm still going to be talking about it in another four years time if I'm still alive. Why not just make me an honorary citizen? It doesn't give you any advantages, but it says 'you belong, welcome'." O'Brien certainly seems rights at home, chatting to on the couch of his dressing room backstage at the Civic. He has joined the cast of The Rocky Horror Show for its New Zealand season, to play the role of narrator in the cult creation he penned almost 40 years ago. Although it's a question he is probably asked in every interview, O'Brien says yes, he is still amazed that a show he created for a bit of fun is so timeless and so adored that it's still onstage in 2010. "I love it. It is unbelievable. You would have thought that it would have had a sell-by date wouldn't you? It doesn't appear to be that way does it?" O'Brien believes it's the fairytale element hidden in Rocky Horror that's made it so durable. He shares the story of a friend who recently called him at 1am to congratulate him on the 1975 film adaptation, who he told 'it was over 30 years ago'. His friend replied that he had been playing it on his DVD player in the car, and it's the only thing his children want to watch. The children are all pre-teen, the youngest just seven – and the man asks O'Brien "and you know what my seven-year-old's favourite song is don;t you?" and O'Brien replies "well if you're saying that then I'm guessing maybe Sweet Transvestite", "Oh I wish", his friend replies "It's Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me". The quieter life Katikati is somewhere the magnificently preserved 68-year-old feels a sense of belonging. It's just a hop, skip and jump from Tauranga, where he went to school. Eleven years ago he bought a two and a half acre block of land from friends whose farm he helped on as a boy. "I have a nice flat oblong paddock," he says. "Windswept and desolate ... and we've planted it up with trees and built a barn and stables and a pumphouse, a nice house. It is paradise." He says it's like a scene from a painting by American artist Andrew Wyeth. "It all looks as if it's there for Andrew Wyeth to paint, there's that sort of subject matter." His house has high pitched roofs, which he now realises is rare in New Zealand due to the wind. "It's got a little bit of Cape Cod, a little bit of New Zealand, a little bit of Australian colonial kind of weatherboard look about it. It's got a little bit of everything and it does look as if it's been there for 100 years, which is nice." O'Brien agrees it is world away from London. "I love it. My house is divine. My house is the most selfish house ever built, because it's huge and it's only got one bedroom. My son said 'oh dad you've only got one bedroom' and I went 'yes, and your problem is?'" "'Well you know people come to stay'", his son replied, to which O'Brien says he replied "'yes well, you know, I don't want people to stay at my house. Why do I want people to stay at my house, they've got the stables'." He is a man who clearly adores his children. He won't even stay in New Zealand for too long at a time because his London-based daughter is too young for him to live here fulltime. "I'm very, very lucky, truly lucky, that they like to spend time with me. They enjoy my company. And that actually, of all the pleasures, is the greatest one." Like many parents he has some fears when his children are around that he may be imposing on their age-group fun. "But that never happens. My daughter, even if I was sitting there with a frock and three sheets to the wind, she'll come and sit on the side of my chair and she'll look around everybody and put her arm around me in a very proprietorial manner and say 'I love my dad. I do. I love my dad,' she'll go, like daring anybody to say 'no you don't'. Its kinda cool. I do like it," he laughs. Yet he loves his time alone in Katikati, where he tends to pad around doing very little. "I'm very monkish and I never get lonely. I'm quite happy on my own with my own company. I don't get bored. Nothing ever bores me. There's always something to do." O'Brien says he doesn't need to talk to people all the time, or have somebody there who simply natters. "I know lots of people like that. It doesn't matter who's there. As long as there's somebody there and they can natter. That's a bit boring and a bit patronising for everyone else. Cause it doesn't really matter if it's you or anybody 'cause I can run off my mouth'. "Well I can run off my mouth on my own when nobody's there. And I do. I play roles with myself. I say 'you're as crazy as a barrel full of monkeys, you're nuts'. And then I'll say 'who give a fuck, because I'm here on my own and nobody can tell can they, I'm alone, you will never know I was nuts'," he giggles. He has plans to paint when alone and there is nobody to look over his shoulder and critique, telling him his blue is too aquamarine or whatever. "With nobody there I'll be the judge of the blue. And if I don't like it very much I'll go 'I don't like that very much and I'm going to burn it'. And nobody knows." O'Brien says he has reached a place in his life where he loves being him. "I'm nearly fucking 70. I look pretty good for the age group. I still look good in a frock. And I enjoy being me. And being free to me. I think it's wonderful that I can go now anywhere I want as myself and actually not get judged by it anymore truthfully. I mean there are places I wouldn't want to go. I think Beirut may be a place to stay away from." He says when he left New Zealand in 1964 gay people certainly didn't announce the fact, but instead fled the country to Australia or the UK or the US. He says New Zealand was very unfriendly to difference, which says was odd, as it has always been such a liberal country. "However like most colonial countries we were overrun with Christian denomination churches ... these people whose lips were more pursed than their neighbours because they were closer to God than their neighbours." The performer says there is still an element of that in New Zealand, pointing out that when the Riff Raff statue in his honour was unveiled in Hamilton people were writing to the papers saying 'Riff raff, riff raff, I've looked up the word in my junior dictionary. It means people of low repute!' "I think there's still a little bit of it here, people who take the moral high ground. Have you ever noticed they never climb the moral high ground?" O'Brien asks. "They just deposit themselves, I think they get a helicopter to drop them in," he says making chopper noises. "'And now we're on top of the moral high ground, OH HOW DARE YOU'," he bleats in a dead-pan impression of someone, well, taking the moral high ground. O'Brien is well-aware that life is short. He has recently lost a friend who was in their early 50s and says it breaks his heart everyday to think of it. "There's a hole in the world that he should fill," he reflects. 'So now I just go, seize the fucking day. And that's all you can do. Because it just can be over in a second." Richard O'Brien features as the narrator in The Rocky Horror Show, which opens at The Civic in Auckland tonight. It moves to the St James Theatre in Wellington on December 1 before reaching Isaac Theatre Royal in Christchurch on December 9. Jacqui Stanford - 9th November 2010    

Credit: Jacqui Stanford

First published: Tuesday, 9th November 2010 - 6:22pm

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