Two minutes with: Mike Mizrahi

by Listener Archive / 24 November, 2012
From the opening ceremony of the Rugby World Cup to the spectacle of NZ’s showcase at the Frankfurt Book Fair, Mike Mizrahi’s production company, Inside Out, has provided Kiwis with some of our most magical moments.
Mike Mizrahi

You’re sort of New Zealand’s answer to Danny Boyle, aren’t you?
Really? Sometimes I read that I am an “events maestro”, and I think “What?” The Listener once called me “Mike Miz – showbiz whizz”. I like that. “Event” is one of those odd new words. I’ve never really done a food and wine event or a car show, but those are all events. We’re sort of designers who don’t draw. We collaborate with people, and create magic. We try so hard to rise above mediocrity, which is the norm.

What would you have done differently for the London Olympics?
I would have used more projection technology because it works so well on a large scale. I really liked the closing ceremony, but I felt the opening ceremony was a bit bitsy. Using lots of people means you’re never sure what that TV shot is going to be – you might get someone without a lot of experience pulling a funny face or something. The use of the LEDs around the outside was extraordinary, though.

What’s been the hairiest moment so far in one of your big productions?
I suppose it was the millennium for New Zealand, which was going live to a couple of billion people. We had a cast of 1000 people and we decided to tell the story of Earth from the birth of Jesus to today, which was a stupid, stupid idea. And it rained and it was really scary because we had to change the show on the fly. The stage manager described it as like crash-landing a jumbo jet – just terrifying. Because it was such a struggle to get there, when it was over I don’t think I’ve ever felt more euphoric in my life.

What was it like being in The Hobbit?
I’ve got a tiny little cameo, like most of New Zealand, I think. I play the dwarf king Thrain. For me, it was so fantastic just to see the best of the world collaborating. I had five hours of make-up and it was just extraordinary – the precision and the artistry of every single person working. It was just such a privilege to see that pursuit of excellence.

Who’s someone you admire?
Peter Jackson has probably singlehandedly changed people’s perception of New Zealand – that not only are we a stunning, beautiful country but also that we are full of creative people. When we pitch internationally now, people don’t laugh when you say you’re a New Zealander. We won the Adelaide Fringe Festival in 1988 and when they announced us as New Zealanders, the audience literally laughed because they thought it was a joke. We have come so far.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I’m a London Turkish Jew, so it’s all a bit confusing, isn’t it? I come from a plastics entrepreneur. My dad is credited with inventing plastic wood. I was a hopeless, hopeless dreamer and a lousy student. I would always make up stories and I think I’ve always wanted to be a storyteller of some sort. I was studying business at one point, and my teacher said: “Look, Mike, I think you should really give this up and become a clown.”

Inside Out’s production of Holy Sinner was a milestone for theatre in this country. How do you feel about theatre’s future?
It seems to be in really good hands. The young ones are very like we were when we were young – very passionate and very uncompromising. We would work for months, unpaid, because we just wanted it to be so good. The problem is money. Theatre is expensive to do. It’s hard in a time of recession. I do worry about that and I don’t have the answers.

What’s left on your bucket list?
I’d love to work with more Maori people. I just think we could do something wonderful. There’s passion there and an energy and some great stories. I’d also love to do something in a different medium altogether – maybe television or something. It’s always been a bit of a fantasy to do some writing, and some comedy. I’ve love to do something funny. And maybe get into exhibition design. It’s very interesting, but it seems very lacklustre and odd really, and it just doesn’t connect.

Favourite stretch of road?
I love the Desert Road, just because I love the name. And just because it’s so epic. I grew up in London in tiny little streets and no horizon line, and when I’m the only car on the road, I just go: “Oh my God, this really is Godzone. I feel very lucky to be here.”
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