TV

Westside's Todd Emerson on the two roles that have changed his life

The Kiwi actor reveals what he's learnt from Hudson & Halls Live! and the Outrageous Fortune prequel.

By Ciara Pratt

When the Weekly sits down with Todd Emerson, he’s having a coffee in the quiet box office café at Q Theatre in Auckland. It’s a place he’s spent a good portion of his career.

“When it first opened six years ago, I didn’t have any acting work so I got hired behind the box office to sell tickets,” he tells. “I would sit there selling tickets wondering if I’d ever work here. And now I’ve worked in this space more than any other space!” the 33-year-old laughs, remarking on the full-circle journey.

It’s been a busy year for the Auckland-based actor who, when we speak, is gearing up for the third season of Westside to hit screens. He is also in the middle of the second showing of stage show Hudson & Halls Live! and, to top it all off, just celebrated his first wedding anniversary with husband and co-collaborator Kip Chapman (36).

And while it could be said that art is mirroring life in a small way – Todd’s two most-recent projects both see him play two gay men from the ‘80s – his work also couldn’t be more different from his reality today.

Reprising his role as Peter Hudson from the fabulous and iconic cooking duo Hudson & Halls, Todd and his co-star Chris Parker (26) brought the second season of their show, Hudson & Halls Live! to a bigger stage due to it being a roaring success in 2015.

Cheeky actors Todd and Chris recreate an old photo similar to flamboyant duo Peter Hudson and David Halls (below).
Cheeky actors Todd and Chris recreate an old photo similar to flamboyant duo Peter Hudson and David Halls (below).

“We’ve had to effectively double our audience,” Todd adds.

“An amazing thing happens with the show. People get on a roll with the laughter that builds to a state of hysteria,” he laughs.

It was Todd’s idea to do a performance piece effectively resurrecting the trailblazing cooking duo who appeared on Kiwi screens in the 1970s along with their “in the closet with the door wide open” love story.

His husband Kip jumped on board with their friend Sophie Roberts and created the stage show, which has audiences in stitches and is set in a true-blue ‘80s kitchen.

“The characters are such a blessing for Chris and I,” reveals Todd. “They’re so big comedically and, because we’ve created a piece of theatre that’s essentially a farce, the characters are larger than life.”

Chris and Todd researched their roles by talking to the pair’s friends, old colleagues and even employees.

“It’s amazing. You start talking about them and everyone’s got a connection,” reveals Todd. “We get told by friends of theirs that we haven’t gone far enough!”

While Peter and David never publicly revealed their relationship, audiences were not oblivious to the chemistry and closeness the pair shared. Peter died from prostate cancer in 1992 and David died the following year in 1993, absolutely grief-stricken.

“Hudson and Halls weren’t political, they didn’t come out, but historically they were the first people to be seen on national television who were homosexual,” explains Todd.

Todd, pictured with his *Westside* co-star David de Lautour, plays career criminal and closet homosexual Bilkey.
Todd, pictured with his Westside co-star David de Lautour, plays career criminal and closet homosexual Bilkey.

“The great thing about them is they were being themselves. I think they would have started getting into trouble if they had said anything.”

Playing bright and jolly Peter couldn’t be further from Todd’s character in TV drama Westside, where he plays gang member Bjelke “Bilkey” Van Heeder – who only last season began to reveal his true sexuality.

“What I love is how different they are,” Todd says about the two characters. “Bilkey is completely the opposite in that he’s been conditioned into creating a facade.

“I think the representation of homosexual characters on New Zealand television in general has never been great. And I think that Bilkey is a real representation of a certain type of gay man living in the 1980s.

“I’m just glad that there is some sort of representation on a really popular New Zealand TV show that shows a real gay character because there’s not just one type,” he says.

At one point last year, Todd had about six projects on the go. He got so run down and stressed, he developed a kidney stone.

“Acting is a muscle and you’re really good when you’re using it all the time,” he jokes. “But there were nights where I thought, 'I’d just love to sit on the couch at home with my husband and read
a book'.”

Todd and the Hudson & Halls Live! team are developing the show to tour overseas, hoping to take it to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival to reach fans of the cooking duo’s BBC days. And Todd believes they could be working for a while yet.

“Chris and I realised we can legitimately do this show for the next 30 years – we could play these characters up until their 80s,” he laughs.

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