Why Paul Henry fully embraced the theatrical for The Traitors NZ

Over the next five weeks on your TV, you won't be able to avoid Paul Henry.

The 62-year-old broadcasting stalwart is back on our screens as the host of reality TV series The Traitors NZ and he can't wait to stir the pot.

The new series, which has been adapted from the Dutch series De Verraders for a New Zealand audience, sees 19 contestants deploy a series of mind games as they try to find the traitors within their midst. All the while, the group must work together to build money for the prize pot while secret saboteurs try to shake things up.

At the end of every day, a group meeting will see them trying to work out who's a Faithful and on their side, and who is a Traitor who deserves to be banished.

Amongst it all, dressed in a fedora and brandishing a cane is Henry lording it up - and he can't get enough of it.

"The cane is particularly important. The fedora is great, I've got several of them during the series. The brooch, the kerchief and everything like that, it's all part of the theatre of the game; but then it's also part of the theatre of life," Henry told Newshub.

"But the cane is particularly important. The cane is an extension of me. You know, it is quite a theatrical thing to have. Unless, of course, you have a gammy leg, in which case it's medical," he laughed with that distinctive hyena-like cackle that threatened to derail proceedings just moments into our chat.

"You know, it is an affectation. I wanted a spider monkey..." he said, losing himself in his own thoughts.

For Henry, the chance to be a big part of the show was irresistible.

"It's my game. I run the game. I keep the thing moving, but it's the format that's the star of the show. And it's been so cleverly thought out that you need to buy into it because it deserves that. The whole format is constructed so that the contestants aren't playing a game, they're living a game."

Henry reckons unlike most reality shows that are predominantly led by show producers in the background, The Traitors NZ stands alone.

The Traitors NZ host Paul Henry says he's all about the theatrical for his new show.
The Traitors NZ host Paul Henry says he's all about the theatrical for his new show. Photo credit: Warner Bros Discovery

"It pivots only on decisions that contestants make, and they are out of their control. Sometimes they're almost out of the control of the contestants themselves, their decisions, you know? That's what makes it such compelling viewing that you will form an allegiance in your own mind with one or more of the contestants, and you will watch them make fabulous decisions and survive, or you will watch them stumble and fall because they make great errors."

The mix of celebrities and everyday people makes for a melting pot for Henry to stir - but he believes the fact some people knew each other blurred the lines and didn't help them at all

"Right from the very beginning, they were surprised how out of their depth they were, how taken off-guard they were by the format and by the way it was run. Because the point of the whole thing is you take this group of disparate individuals and you take them out of their comfort zone. You feed them well, you know, you don't starve them. You don't starve them of accommodation or anything like that," Henry said.

"But you take everything they're comfortable with away from them. And particularly you take the framework that they operate within away from. They don't know what's going to happen the next morning. They're woken up. If they wake up, if they're not murdered that night, you know, so the uncertainty is huge.

The Traitors NZ will feature some familiar and some less familiar faces.
The Traitors NZ will feature some familiar and some less familiar faces. Photo credit: Warner Bros Discovery

"Unlike most reality television - maybe unlike all other reality television - once it starts, the ball is rolling and you cannot stop it."

Henry animatedly responded to the suggestion the show demonstrates how quickly society can devolve when trust is eroded

"That is one of the really exciting things about the game. As it goes on, it's not just the change of people's personality but that the level of desperation in their minds increases. It was particularly hard for some of the well-known contestants who knew each other because they knew that they had to be just as frightened of those people, just as uncertain of those people as of the people they'd never met before."

Henry was defiant when asked if he would have been a contestant had he been approached. 

"That's just not my thing. It's just not my thing. It's not really, I'm not a team player, I don't share," he said.

Conversely, the role of the host was one he was born to play, he reckons.

"I wield authority very well. I do. Pressure disintegrates if you only ever go in one direction. So if you just slowly put the pressure on, and then all of a sudden out of the blue, you're a little bit nice almost for no reason, you then catch them again. That's how you build pressure," Henry said. 

"I think that's all part of the cleverness of the show. You know, there are a few moments where I become a little human, and there were many occasions when some of the people would come up and think they could have a casual conversation with me and I wouldn't respond."

Henry believed part of the show's appeal will come from the fact that deep down, we all have a little nagging voice that mostly we choose not to give into - but the devilish side of the show will maybe reignite that in many.

"One of the most valuable tools is lying. We learn it when we're about three. Obviously, people mature at different levels, but loosely, three is the age at which it becomes possible to lie. Lower than three, it is impossible for a human being to lie because it's just not in the mind, the ability to do so."

So had he told Newshub a lie during this interview?

That trademark smirk once again crept across his face.

"No," he said quickly.

"Unless that was a lie..."

The Traitors NZ premieres on Three and ThreeNow on Monday August 7 at 7.30pm.