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Bret McKenzie: ‘It’s family before fame’

The Oscar-winning Kiwi funnyman takes parenthood very seriously.
Flight of the Conchords' star Bret McKenzie

Hollywood is filled with cautionary tales of those who have been seduced by the bright lights and glamour. And this is precisely why Kiwi Bret McKenzie wants to keep his family as far away from Los Angeles as possible.

Bret, who stars in the new comedy Two Little Boys, has been awash with job offers since winning a Best Original Song Oscar for Man or Muppet earlier this year. But the Flight of the Conchords star is treating the hype with trepidation and is keen to shield his family from “Hollyweird”.

Wife Hannah was there when Bret picked up his Oscar in February

Bret says he’s never far from his wife Hannah Clarke and their two kids Vita (3) and Leo (1). The family travel together when Bret has work in LA, but Bret and Hannah still have their home base in Wellington. “When I move, we all move,” says Bret (36).

Visiting LA is still a surreal experience for Bret, who was once recognised by a Hollywood tour group while stopped at traffic lights. He’s anxious that his kids’ upbringing isn’t too different from the laidback Kiwi childhood he had in Wellington. “We’re not excited about bringing them up in LA – we definitely want to bring the kids up in New Zealand,” says Bret.

“At the moment it’s fine – LA isn’t all that different to New Zealand when you are bringing up small kids. A playground is a playground. “But when they’re older – it could be very concerning… say, if they want cosmetic surgery when they’re teenagers.”

Bret wants his kids to experience the same laidback Kiwi upbringing he did

When confronted by a swarm of reporters after his Oscars win, Bret was quick to credit his down-to-earth upbringing as the reason for his success. “[In] America everyone’s obsessed with their careers; [in] New Zealand you just get to live your dream,” he told the reporters.

Luckily his latest projects have allowed him to live his dream as well as spend time in the country he loves. His Red Nose Day charity song, Feel Inside (And Stuff Like That), written with Conchords comedy partner Jemaine Clement went to number one on iTunes, and followed sell-out concerts in Australia and New Zealand.

Now Bret is appearing on the big screen in Kiwi comedy Two Little Boys – a film that’s sure to have audiences in stitches. Bret plays a bogan called Nige opposite Aussie comedian Hamish Blake. “Hamish and I were very mullet-proud. We spent a lot of time competing to get the best mullet and I think mine was superior,” says Bret, who admits he had a rat’s tail hairstyle as a youngster.

Unlike many LA celebs, Bret is more comfortable cracking jokes than talking about himself or his accolades. He was “surprised and honoured and confused” after being named an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit earlier this year and keeps his Oscar on top of his piano.

Bret won an Oscar for Best Original Song for ‘Man or Muppet’ earlier this year

At the end of the year, Bret will return to the big screen as elf Lindir in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and next year will appear in the UK-based romance Austenland. And while Bret feels like he’s living his life with his foot on the accelerator, he acknowledges the opportunities winning an Academy Award has given him. “It means doors open that wouldn’t always open. You get to talk to people that otherwise you wouldn’t talk to.”

Bret says he is recognised more and more in New Zealand, but most Kiwis give him a little more distance than autograph-hungry fans overseas. “Conchords fans are quite specific types of people, but random people say hello to me now.”

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