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Mark Hadlow’s Middle-earth makeover

Getting fit to play a dwarf was no small task.

Since turning 40, Mark Hadlow has been resolute about getting an annual prostate examination. It’s not a particularly glamorous topic to be discussing over coffee, but one the now 56-year-old actor feels should be talked about.

“Men find it embarrassing and difficult, but they shouldn’t,” he affirms. “As you get older, you’re constantly aware of your own health. And with two daughters, a son and a grandson, I’d like to make sure I’m around with them later on.”

Although he’s keeping hold of his “middle-aged paunch” and denies turning into a “fitness freak”, Mark was spurred to take his fitness a little more seriously during his two-year stint on the Hobbit films. Spending a large part of his time clad in weighty armour and lugging heavy weapons in his role as Dori, Mark inadvertently found himself being put through a Middle-earth makeover.

Mark became interested in health and fitness while working on the Hobbit films.

“It made you very conscious of what you ate and what level of fitness you needed for the role,” he reveals.

One of the exercise options that took his fancy off set was biking, prompting Mark to join a band of local riders. As well as enjoying the activity, Mark was fascinated by the topical and often frank conversations the group engaged in.

“It wasn’t, ‘Look at that lady; isn’t she gorgeous?’ It was emotional issues – business, family, medical – and how to deal with these challenges, which was a nice surprise.”

His experiences formed the basis of a new play, MAMIL (Middle-Aged Man in Lycra). An unofficial sequel to his hit 1990s one-man show SNAG (Sensitive New Age Guy), MAMIL focuses on the dreaded midlife crisis as told by a number of characters, all played by Mark. Primarily a comedy, it centres on the real-life concerns of everyday Kiwi males.

In addition to acting, Mark is also a lieutenant commander in the Naval Reserves and is helping to organise the Navy’s 75th anniversary celebrations for 2016.

And yes, Mark will be changing on stage into that oh-so-flattering fabric. “As one of the characters says, ‘When there’s nothing between the world and your willy, that is the bravest thing a man can do,’” Mark says with a laugh.

Starting his career in dramas, the iconic actor’s distinctive facial features and vocal talents led him into comedy. He first came to international attention in Sir Peter Jackson’s Meet the Feebles in 1989, providing the voices of several characters.

With a career that spans skits with the late Billy T James, presenting children’s show What Now?, Kiwi TV shows, theatre and film, his motto is “diversify” – something he’s now passing on to daughter Olivia (17).

“She’s going to be an actor,” he says with a mock groan. “No, it’s great. She said she used to enjoy watching me and I think she’s got some of that natural comedic timing. I don’t want her to be influenced by me. I’m just here to give her advice, direct her where she wants it.”

Family is a big part of Mark’s life. Although he separated from Olivia’s mother, Sarah Hood, after four years, the two remain close. Both Sarah and his second wife Jane have been influential in Olivia’s life, and Mark says they are “lucky” to have such a supportive unit.

Mark with his family, from left, Olivia, Jane, Campbell, Sarah and Ben.

He has two adult stepchildren, lawyer Sarah and UK-based Ben, a squadron leader in the Royal Air Force. Both call him “Dad”, to Mark’s delight, but it’s Ben’s four-year-old son Campbell who has captured the actor’s heart. “He’s the most gorgeous boy,” Mark gushes. “And just mad on trains!”

With Mark’s welcoming nature, it’s easy to see how the two families have remained tight-knit despite marital and geographical separation.

Lasting bonds were also forged on the Hobbit set. In particular, British actor Adam Brown – who played Dori’s younger brother Ori – was adopted by Mark and his real-life family.

“Before the second film launched, his dad died – he was younger than me. Adam was so affected. It’s such a hard thing to come to terms with.

Mark’s fans even include royalty such as Prince Charles.

“It’s why you have to live every day and always be a good person,” Mark adds.

It’s hard to fault Mark’s resounding positivity, which has seen him captivate everyone from co-stars to Prince Charles.

“[Prince Charles] has this wonderful ability to make people feel like what they are doing is the most important thing in the world,” Mark enthuses. “I think to make someone feel that what they do is special is a lovely quality.”

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