Paul Henry, New Zealand’s most entertainingly obnoxious talk show host, is starring in a film about to premiere in America. Tomorrow. Seriously. David Farrier brings us this exclusive report and interview. //
For two years Paul Henry has been sitting on a strange, fascinating secret. For a few months in between being fired in Australia and hired at TV3, he snuck off and starred in a film called The Desk, which is about to have its world premiere at the Florida Film Festival.
It sounds mad. He’s a host, not an actor. He’s just launched his groundbreaking new multi-platform morning show. How could this possibly be anything more than some sick joke? But I can assure you, it’s all true. The film is called The Desk and opens at the Florida Film Festival at midday on Saturday (Sunday here in New Zealand). It’s “the absolutely true story of Andrew Goldman, a New York Times journalist who makes a short film about an outrageous New Zealand talk show host named Paul Henry. In the process, Goldman’s life and career implodes before his very eyes”.
Only, it’s no short film – while the project began that way, it’s ended up as a full-blown 90 minute feature film. Paul Henry’s first. In the trailer, Goldman describes Henry as “the most confident person I’ve ever met. And that’s why I can blame him for ruining my life.”
We’ve embedded it below. It looks pretty bloody entertaining, and features both Richard Simmons and Ron Jeremy.
The film’s existence is matched in strangeness only by the story of how it came about, which Paul explains in an interview below. I first learned about The Desk about a month ago, as I was getting strapped into a jet-boat next to Paul. We were in Queenstown on a strange TV3 bonding exercise. He turned to me in hushed tones and said, “Have you heard of the Florida Film Festival?”
He had his cheeky little grin on. I told him I’d heard of it, but that was all. “My film is opening there next month,” he said. As we jet-boated along I recalled rumors of a film or TV project in the United States, and that he’d spent a bunch of time up there. But then I’d promptly forgotten about it.
Paul and I have a funny history. The first time I met him was post-TVNZ in 2011, when I interviewed him for TV3 news about how he was leaving for the Channel 10 job. I mainly badgered him about how much he was getting paid, which ended in him saying it was “over” a million dollars:
I remember feeling a bit down after that, thinking about what I was getting paid compared with him (there was a difference of roughly one million dollars). But then I had some of Paul’s wine and felt okay about my life again.
The next time I met him it was raining in Takapuna. Paul had moved from Channel 10 to Snickers and the interview was a bit less whimsical:
I didn’t see Paul again until Nightline was canned and the Paul Henry Show took over. When I saw Paul in the hallways at TV3 I couldn’t help but remember that last interview and worried it might be awkward. But it wasn’t. He knew I loved movies and I’d go on his show sometimes to do movie reviews. He loves horror films and we love talking about them together.
And so, about a month ago in Christchurch, he asked if I could perhaps watch the trailer. He said he hadn’t seen the film himself, that the trailer was the first he’d seen of it. He wanted to know what I thought. The American director had sent him a private link, so when we got back to Auckland, I watched it. Then I told him I must write something about it.
He assured me that he’d let me be the first to speak to him. Then yesterday, Paul calls me. He tells me the documentary has gotten it’s E&O insurance (all films need “errors and omissions” insurance before they go out into the world) and the trailer is finally live.
He still hasn’t seen the film. Seriously. I think that’s why he brought it up with me – he was just curious about what I made of it all. And to be honest, I really bloody want to watch it. I have so many questions. What is real, and what is not? Paul Henry is playing himself, and director Andrew Goldman is playing himself too, but then an actor is playing him as well. The film’s blurb claims it’s an “absolutely true story”, and Goldman is definitely a former New York Times journalist, and left under something of a cloud. Where does Paul fit into all this?
He tells me he doesn’t particularly want to promote it. He hasn’t seen it, so how could he, even if he wanted to? It’s all so thoroughly bizarre. I tell him this whole situation is a little mind-boggling, and he has to talk to someone about it. He laughs and says “okay”. So I pull the car over and frantically transcribe our conversation before he pops out for dinner.
So you still haven’t seen your movie?
I’ve never seen the film, and until the trailer I hadn’t seen one frame of the movie! And for me it was such an extraordinary experience to make it – I was just keen to be involved. It was like my second Hollywood involvement. The first time was going for meetings in Hollywood with my crew who all believed I would have a fabulous career. I played hard to get and at the that timeIi thought ‘Oh god, I won’t do it half-pie. If it’s not good enough to relocate my whole life, I won’t do it!’ I just thought was an extraordinary experience. Then all of a sudden they say we’ve written this movie about you!
So what? Some New York Times journalist wrote a film for you?
I thought this would be a few hand-held cameras and a nightmarish week, and when I turned up to do it, it was like a huge crew! There was catering! I thought, ‘Oh my god’. I only knew it was finished when someone said ‘that’s it!’ And then I thought I would just get on with my life. I thought that it would never be released. Then I’m sent a trailer and it’s on at this film festival.
How did this New York Times guy get in touch?
He phoned TVNZ after I was sacked and asked if he could have my contact details. They contacted me and said this person has contacted you. And I was going to the US a lot then, so I gave him a ring. He said, ‘You have a great future here and I’ve been talking to people…’ And a production company… the one that produced Paris Hilton’s series – the one with Paris and Nicole [The Simple Life] – that one. It wasn’t the biggest one in the world, but they had cred. And the next minute I was in all these executive meetings and expensive clubs in LA. And I was meeting the director of Bloomberg and I was in the offices of CNN!
At one point I was there and Bella [Paul’s daughter] was having a year in Kansas – separate to any of this – and I was driving her around and CNN rang up and said, ‘Oh God we need you in Atlanta, we have meetings! I said, ‘We’re in the middle of nowhere!’ And they said, ‘Can you get to Denver airport?’ They said ‘We have a business class flight for you and your daughter and will get you there!’ This was how it was for a while! It was quite exciting, it was fun. Why would you say no to that? I never expected anything to come out of it!
It’s just crazy to me you haven’t seen it! I don’t get it at all.
I haven’t seen it. What happened is, it was going to be a short. I don’t know, my understanding was that is was a short movie exposing the way Hollywood works, the disaffected way it works. It was exposing this based on my experience as they took me around: all these people who were fearful of making the wrong decision or no decision at all. They were thinking, ‘You are a complete liability… or you are the best talent in the world that will slip through my fingers!’
So it was going to be a short movie. They made that, and there was so much content in it! The premise is that I’ve come from New Zealand to make it big, having been sacked. And I was offered a job in America… but in the time it took to get me to get to LA the man who offered me the job is no longer there! So I brought my desk over with me – Sir Edmund Hilary’s desk – not really, but that’s in the script. I am sort of acting. But what do I know about acting?
When will you get to see it?
I am terrified still. Nothing embarrasses me, to be honest. I don’t want to be complete shit in it. But I can’t see how I can’t be, unless in there is this inherent ability inside me to act brilliantly. Then I see the trailer… did you see that still on the site? Me in the robe? That was a scene we shot and during this scene I get drunker and drunker and then a prostitute arrives – that old woman is a prostitute! – and we wreck the room. I never thought it would be in the movie and then it’s on the website!
Who else is in it?
Ron Jeremy and Richard Simmons are in it! These people who are in various stages of fame. I turn up and I do serious interviews with them. I mean, I thought they were brilliant, but who knows? And then Andrew Goldman [The Desk’s director and subject] was losing his job [at the New York Times] as I’d encouraged him to become more of an asshole than he already was.
The interesting thing is this is potentially the last appearance on screen of Richard Simmons! He basically hasn’t been seen in public for over a year. I am a good friend of his – and he won’t even return my calls! Police were called for elder abuse. I have been to the house lots of times since but I’ve just seen the housekeeper and have never been in the house since. So this could be the last time Richard Simmons appears on screen! He might be dead. It may be elder abuse. His manager and housekeepers taking over his fortune and taking advantage of him? Basically, if he is still alive he’s held up in one of the Gone with the Wind houses. The link is because of my friendship with him he was in the movie. And there’s an interview. It’s fantastic. Him just being himself.
Amazing. So, uh, when did you shoot this again?
It was before Australia. It’s been in post for about two years. One of the reasons it was in post for so long is that they were trying to make a short for Sundance. But it was with so many editors, and too much good stuff was getting left out. It’s taken that long because it had to become a feature!
And that was our conversation about The Desk. Paul Henry is starring in but has yet to see. Floridians will get to watch it this weekend. We here at The Spinoff will be keeping our eyes peeled on twitter to see what comments are made. Maybe there will be some reviews. I’d quite like to talk to Paul again after he’s seen it, if he ever does.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.