From Matamata farmboy to Snapchat darling, actor, playwright and comedian, Tom Sainsbury is a man of many impressions, alter egos and voices.
He spoke to Kathryn Ryan about getting under the skin of Paula Bennett and Simon Bridges, among others.
Paula Bennett or ‘Mama B’ has embraced it, Sainsbury says.
“She’s been a very good sport about it,” he says.
Sainsbury uses a Snapchat app that transposes Bennett’s face onto his own, but it’s channelling a certain kind of character that makes it work he says.
“With Paula my character has branched away from who she actually is. When I first started I would listen to her interviews or watch her and look at her nuances and turn of phrases.
“She’s like a sassy auntie that a lot of people have in their lives, like these forthright stroppy women exist so it’s more like channelling an archetype in New Zealand culture rather than specifically going for Paula Bennett.”
A turn of phrase or word triggers the impressions, he says.
“It’s really good to get a phrase that puts your mouth into the right position to be able to talk like them."
Simon Bridges is a really good one because you just say 'Soimon Brudges' and you’re there.”
Bill English is modelled on his own father.
“I like how he is quite staccato.
"Judith Collins is more …. her voice is quite soft, when I approach her it’s more kind of like this arch villainess - I channel more like a Disney villain.”
The youngest in his family, Sainsbury started creating when he was very young on the farm.
“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.
“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. I remember doing that before I went to primary school even.”
Later, schools plays and the Matamata dramatic society planted the theatrical seed.
I saw The Pied Piper of Hamlin in Matamata, the king of the rats was played by the local dairy owner, he was so was villainous it was amazing.”
Sainsbury then entered a competition for young playwrights.
“I wrote a play and looking back my whole soul cringes about the quality of it. I was up till 2am writing it and I sent it off - I think two people entered and I got second.
"Then I was invited up to Auckland to have it work-shopped and I was illuminated to this world of making theatre.”
Since then he has been busy writing, directing and acting in the theatre - and has also picked up TV and film work he has learnt the business by doing, he says.
“I guess you learn your chops by doing it, I’ve acted in so many theatre shows now and made my own web content.”
The popularity of his Snapchat spoofs has opened up other sources of income too, he says.
"I’ve had quite a bit of MC work which pays the bills.”
He has also been nominated for the Bill T comedy award which means he’ll be busy doing stand-up.
And he says he doesn’t see his creative well running dry any time soon.
“I feel like the finite idea of creativity is quite a negative thing - I’ve come to the conclusion that creativity can keep going: there’s an infinite amount of people to inspire you, or scenarios to inspire you.”