That uncomplicated approach stands in stark contrast to the minefield humour can be in the age of social media. But despite the barbs occasionally aimed at the 1970s TV shows that made him a star in this country before Crocodile Dundee made him a megastar globally, Hogan has no interest in being dragged into the trenches on the side of the “political correctness gone mad” brigade. Despite what you may have read elsewhere, his response is measured and moderate.
“I understand it to a certain extent,” he says of the pushback on jokes and sketches that once seemed acceptable but are now deemed offensive. “Racism is a disgusting trait, stupid. But otherwise I don’t know what there is to be sensitive about half the time.
“It depends on the intent. I don’t have any need to apologise or feel guilty because I did comedy without malice. It wasn’t to humiliate some person who was less fortunate; usually I was the butt of the joke.”
That’s certainly the case in The Very Excellent Mr Dundee, in which Paul Hogan plays “Paul Hogan”. The two share plenty of traits, including a fondness for cryptic crosswords and post-prandial afternoon naps (a habit he first developed while working as a rigger on the Sydney Harbour Bridge), but he’s clearly playing a fictional version of himself. “I’m probably looking at an Oscar for my performance,” he deadpans.
Wayne Knight (Seinfeld‘s Newman), Chevy Chase and John Cleese similarly ham it up in delightful cameo appearances. But despite his years in Hollywood, Hogan had never met any of these comedy legends before the film, and when Murphy approached Cleese’s management with the offer, that didn’t look likely to change.
“They said, ‘Oh no, he won’t do comedy unless he’s involved in the creation of it or has control of it’,” Hogan recalls. “And a day later Dean got the call, ‘He loves it; he wants to be in it’.”
Cleese flew to Melbourne – where the bulk of the movie was shot – to film his scenes as a manic Uber driver over three days. “He was fabulous,” says Hogan, who regards Basil Fawlty as one of the great comic creations because “he’s offensive to everyone, an awful, obnoxious character and very funny and that’s why we love him”.
(It’s mutual, it seems. Cleese recently told this publication: “I love Paul, it was a very happy experience. I thought the script was super because Paul is sending himself up absolutely ruthlessly.”)
The running gag of The Very Excellent Mr Dundee is that Hogan is coaxed out of retirement by the Queen’s desire to honour him and the studios’ desire to relaunch the Dundee franchise, but a series of unfortunate events involving the hapless Australian – who essentially plays the role of bemused straight man – sends his stocks plummeting.
“It’s got a nice commentary to it – ‘no good deed goes unpunished’,” Hogan says. “Just cop it. Go with the flow, like he does. He never really gets upset, the principal character.”
Hogan’s own stocks have ebbed and flowed over the years, especially over allegations he had been evading taxes due in his homeland. And though that matter was settled a decade ago without any action taken against Hogan, it still rankles.
“I don’t want to go on about it but I went out of my way to pay tax in Australia, even though I didn’t have to because I was living in America,” he says. “When I did my live tour [2013-15], there would be someone in every town who’d say, ‘Oh yeah, he must be broke because the tax people took all his money’. That annoys me because I was never, ever charged. The Crime Commission paid my legal fees. It was an ugly time.”
He still has an Australian passport, not a US one, and the idea that he lives in America because of the tax stuff is a furphy, he insists. He’s there because he has a 21-year-old son, Chance, who is a “Yaussie, a Yank-Aussie … more American than Australian and I can’t leave him here yet”. Were it otherwise, he adds, “I’d give a couple of teeth to be back there now”.
The truth of the matter is, Hogan has plenty of options, and he need never work a day in his life thanks to Dundee, which still brings him regular royalty cheques.
The 1986 film cost less than $10 million to make and grossed $US328 million worldwide at the box office (and plenty more through video, DVD and ancillary sales since). The 1988 sequel didn’t do quite so well, but still took around $US240 million on a $14 million budget. As Hogan wryly notes, “I’d like a miserable failure like that every time I make a movie”.
There have been genuine duds too, all of which get a knowing nod in the new film: Almost an Angel, Flipper, Lightning Jack, Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles (a film so unwatched and unloved, we are meant to believe, that the very same idea is pitched to Hogan by a group of studio suits).
Clearly, Hogan can laugh at himself. And just as clearly, he can afford to.
“I often say I was a one-hit wonder, but it was a mighty hit, and it came out of nowhere and I’m eternally grateful for it,” he says.
And if, like the new movie’s Paul Hogan, he will forever be confused with his most famous character, well, he can live with that too.
“Had I been a 28-year-old actor who’d gone into that movie and come out of it typecast I’d have been worried about my career,” he says. “But I wasn’t a 28-year-old actor, I was a 47-year-old comedy writer who wrote himself a movie and invented a character that outlived me. That’s all a plus.”
The Very Excellent Mr Dundee is available on Amazon Prime Video from Friday.
Karl Quinn is a senior culture writer at The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.