Paul Hogan is a happy man. At 64 he’s exactly where he wants to be, not only professionally, but also emotionally, geographically and, thanks largely to the fortune he made playing Crocodile Dundee, financially. A beloved comedy idol in his native Australia, he enjoys an idyllic existence in surf paradise Byron Bay, working only when he feels like it, and looking not a day over 50.
“I’m a bit more wrinkled than I used to be,” he concedes, “but otherwise I haven’t changed.” Good genetics and an active lifestyle appear to be the key. “I eat and drink as I please, but I exercise a lot. I’m into kayaking at the moment. When I’m not doing that I’m on the rowing machine. It keeps me fit and strong.”
Back in the Seventies, before he was claimed by show business, Hogan made a living painting the Sydney Harbour Bridge, a precarious task involving perilous heights and excessive dangling.
“That was my last proper job,” he says. “Looking back at it now it was really dangerous, but at the time it didn’t seem so bad. If you have no fear of heights and you’re not a showboat, you’re comparatively safe.” Only comparatively? “Your life still depends on the grip of your hand,” he says. Regardless of the risks, Hogan is proud of his blue-collar beginnings. “If you’ve lived in that world and worked six days a week, it makes you appreciate what a wonderful, lazy life it is in entertainment, and just how lucky you are. It’s kept me grounded all these years.”
As a child Hogan dreamed of professional sporting glory, making his name in the boxing ring or out on the football pitch. Though comedy was something he’d never considered, he couldn’t resist the lure of a top telly talent show.
“I only did it to take the mickey. I went on as a tap-dancing knife thrower who could neither tap dance nor throw knives with any great accuracy. I was having a laugh at their expense, at least that’s what I thought. It was only supposed to be a one-off, but then I won the whole show and suddenly had a career in TV comedy. So I guess the joke was on me!”
Hogan’s first paid engagement was a weekly gig on a current affairs show. “I was still working on the bridge back then. Once a week I’d comment on the news, a genuine working man sharing his thoughts on the way the world was going wrong. It turned out to be the most popular part of the show, and spun me off into doing my own series.”
Sounds like a lot of responsibility. “I never took it seriously,” he reveals. “I used to think, ‘they’ll wake up to me any minute’, so I kept my union card and all my rigging equipment, just in case. For the first two years I expected a tap on the shoulder, someone saying ‘wait a minute, you’re not real’.
As it turned out, The Paul Hogan Show ran throughout the Seventies and aired around the world. “I wrote 90% of the sketches myself, at least 600 of them, and by the end I felt like I’d sent up everything on the planet. So I stopped for a year or two, had a proper break, and then decided that I’d like to write something that lasted longer than four minutes. That’s when I came up with Crocodile Dundee, which came out in 1986 and changed my life forever.”
As charming outback hero Mick Dundee, Hogan was for a while the most famous man on the planet. “It was mind boggling,” he says, breaking into a satisfied little chuckle. “It surprised everybody, and thrilled me to the back teeth. It was a great experience but it did make me feel like I should retire, as I knew I’d never be able to top it. The success of that film was like going to the Olympics with bare feet and rolled-up jeans, running the hundred and winning the gold medal. You can’t top that. Besides, I’m a bit lazy. I’ve only done six or seven movies since Crocodile Dundee as it’s not easy to get me off my butt.”
Strange Bedfellows is a small but perfectly formed comedy about two traditional, heterosexual men (Hogan and Michael Caton) who are forced to pose as a gay couple in order to secure a hefty tax break promised to same sex couples. Shot in Australia, it’s exactly the kind of film that Hogan will get out of bed, or even the ocean, to make. “I thought it was very funny, cute and warm. Definitely something I wanted to be a part of.
“It was a 40-day shoot and I loved every minute of it. Much better than making a movie in Hollywood. Making a film in Australia is like a little home workshop. Everyone’s involved and everyone’s enthusiastic and you become friends with everyone on the set. But then you go to America and there’s no mucking in, it’s just work, nothing personal, and everyone’s looking at the clock.
“I’m proud of Strange Bedfellows,” continues Hogan. “Before they saw it, a lot of critics thought it was going to be a cheap send-up of gay people, but actually what it does is make fun of straight men. It’s very pro-tolerance and its heart is in the right place. I reckon it’s one of my best movies.”
What of the future then? What’s next for Paul Hogan? “Nothing for a while,” he says with a smile. “Give me a couple of years and I’ll get back to you!”