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Image by Archi Banal
Image by Archi Banal

Pop CultureNovember 11, 2023

‘I’m hooked and repulsed’: The TV series Tom Sainsbury can’t stop watching

Image by Archi Banal
Image by Archi Banal

The writer, director and star of new local thriller Loop Track reflects on his life in TV, from the frustrating early days of VHS to the 2000s sitcom moment that always makes him cry. 

Whether he’s purring on Facebook as Gingerbread the cat, flapping his arms around with Paula Bennett on TVNZ’s Give Us a Clue or hyperventilating on the big screen in new thriller Loop Track, Tom Sainsbury has conquered screens big and small over the course of his prolific career. The comedian and writer has starred in Shortland Street as the skittish stalker Jason Fitzpatrick, hosted Snack Masters alongside fellow Shorty alum Kimberley Crossman and even helmed his own studio chat show on Three in Tom Sainsbury’s Love Hour

Rattling through the rest of Sainsbury’s extensive biography, you’ll find a laundry list of most of the major local comedy productions of the last decade. He has credits on Wellington Paranormal, Super City, Golden Boy, Creamerie, Kid Sister, 7 Days and Jono and Ben, as well as local feature films such as Nude Tuesday, The Breaker Upperers and Pork Pie. All those impressive achievements, and yet it was a pitch perfect panini-praising Paul Bennett impression that propelled Sainsbury to a new level of fame as “Snapchat dude” in 2017

In his latest project Loop Track, a feature length thriller that he wrote, directed and stars in, Sainsbury could not be further from the cosy, pashmina-laden world of Paula Bennett impersonation. He plays Ian, an anxiety-ridden, jeans-wearing divorcee who heads into the bush and quickly becomes paranoid that someone – or something – is watching him. Filled with chilling imagery, mysterious characters and a taut score, Loop Track is a true blue New Zealand nightmare with a climax that has to be seen to be believed. 

So how did Sainsbury get to be one of our most well-known onscreen personalities and prolific screenwriters? He says he owes a lot of it to TV. “Looking back, all the ingredients were there. What I would do is I would watch a lot of television. My parents were busy working on the farm. When no one was around, I was allowed to watch a lot of television programmes,” he told RNZ in 2018. “Then I would recreate them either in my bedroom or I would go into my mother’s extensive garden or I would walk around the farm recreating it in my head.” 

We asked Sainsbury to dig a little deeper into his television past, reflecting on everything from the frustrating early days of VHS to the 2000s sitcom moment that always makes him cry. 

My earliest TV memory is… Hiding under the dining table because I was terrified by the old men in the Muppet Show. These days they’re my favourite characters and I relate to their cantankerousness. 

The TV show I used to rush home from school to watch was… The Fresh Prince of Bel Air (Will Smith was so cool and Carlton and Hilary were my comedy heroes).

The TV moment that haunts me the most is… When the VHS didn’t record the last eight minutes of The Empire Strikes Back. I was furious for a week. 

My earliest TV crush was… Uncle Jesse from Full House made me feel things. And then the lead in the La Bamba movie tipped me over the edge. 

Uncle Jesse from Full House: ‘Made me feel things’

The TV ad I can’t stop thinking about is… Who else can remember the Watties Spaghetti Monster? What a moment in time! These days David Correos in the Burger King ads makes me love him all the more. 

My TV guilty pleasure is… Survivor. I can’t get enough of it and now I’m going through the episodes from decades ago. It’s so good. 

My favourite TV moment of all time is… when Maggie was born on The Simpsons and Homer realised it was all worth it. I also cry with joy and sadness when Tim and Dawn get together in The Office Christmas special. 

My favourite TV character of all time is… I had a huge crush on Courteney Cox as Monica in friends. But I can’t get enough of Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Veep and Lisa Kudrow in The Comeback. 

The most stylish person on TV is… Hilary Barry in her off-the-shoulders numbers. She also just oozes style whenever and wherever. 

My most used streaming platform is… TVNZ On Demand, I’ve found some real hidden gems in there. 

My favourite TV project I’ve ever been involved in is… Wellington Paranormal was such a comedy dream. I feel forever privileged to be involved and laugh all day with the rest of the cast. 

Tom Sainsbury in Wellington Paranormal

My defining onscreen role is… The dancing alien on Masked Singer NZ?? But probably my six-week stint on Shortland Street. People know me from that more than anything else! 

My advice for anyone who wants to be on TV is… Become friends with people working in the industry. They’ll more likely think of you when a job comes up. And I reckon take any job going and do the best you can. And if you want to write for TV, write for theatre first. A good way to hone your craft. 

The TV show that defined my lockdown was… Tiger King, like everyone else. Still can’t believe tigers are so cheap to buy in Florida. 

The TV show I wish I was involved in is… Succession, of course. What a masterpiece. Or Game of Thrones. Though no one would be able to take me seriously, marching around with a name like Vymarian. 

The Roy family of Succession.

My most-watched TV show of all time is… The Simpsons. I’ve watched hours and hours and hours and weeks of it. 

My most controversial TV opinion is… TVNZ should be entirely government-funded and focussed on artistry. Lol. 

A show I will never watch, no matter how many people say I should is… Love Island and Married at First Sight. Look, I know I’ll end up loving both of them. And getting hooked. But I don’t have time to get involved in these people’s lives! 

The last thing I watched on TV was… I’ve just finished the second season of Yellowjackets. It’s good, man. I’m hooked. And repulsed. I’m also a die-hard Melanie Lynskey stan. 

Loop Track is out now in cinemas nationwide.

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