Initially notable as a musician and founder of 1970s ensemble Blerta, he went on to well-regarded roles in several major films. His television work included starring in 1990s era Australian satirical series Frontline.
Born David Charles Lawrence in Worthing, West Sussex, England, he migrated with his family to New Zealand in 1946, settling in New Plymouth before moving to Wellington in 1948.
Lawrence spent most of his life in New Zealand, but also worked extensively in Australia. He was a renowned jazz and rock drummer, playing drums in many bands, including 2 years with Max Merritt & The Meteors in Sydney, Quincy Conserve, Blerta, and The Crocodiles. His last recording was with Bernie McGann, Larry Gales and Jonathan Crayford on "Jazz at the St. James" in 1989. A remarkable show, it was repeated in 1990, this time with Vince Jones on vocals, Dave Addis on saxophone, Jonathan Crayford on piano, Rolf Stube on bass and added the New Zealand String Quartet.
In the early 1970s, Lawrence founded Blerta ("Bruno Lawrence's Electric Revelation and Travelling Apparition"). The multi and theatrical co-operative toured New Zealand and in parts of Australia. Blerta saw him performing alongside many people he would work with later as an actor, including director Geoff Murphy, and actors Martyn Sanderson and Ian Watkin.
Lawrence began acting in short films in the late 1960s. He won his first acting award, for television play Time Out, in 1971, although at this point music took up the majority of his time. By the late 1980s he had become one of New Zealand's most recognised actors on his own soil. Between 1981 and 1986 he was a much loved feature of many local films; he continued to act in occasional NZ productions through until 1993.
Lawrence's breakthrough movie role was relationship drama Smash Palace (1981). Playing the former race car driver who leaves with his daughter after the breakdown of his marriage, Bruno won an award at the Manila Film Festival, and acclaim from American critic Pauline Kael. Further acclaim came with his leading role as the lone scientist in Geoff Murphy's end of the world tale, The Quiet Earth (1985), for which Bruno also helped write the script. He had earlier acted in Murphy's Utu (1983), about the land wars of the 1860s, and cameoed in his breakthrough film Goodbye Pork Pie (1981). The Los Angeles Times compared his work in 1984 drama Heart of the Stag to that of "a young Brando".
Bruno's Australian roles included Anthony Hopkins movie Spotswood (aka The Efficiency Expert), Colleen McCullough adaptation An Indecent Obsession (playing a blind man), and 1986 miniseries The Great Bookie Robbery (playing gun loving robber Cracka Park). His last and, at least in Australia, best-known screen role was as devious, golf-loving TV producer Brian Thompson in 1990s satirical TV series Frontline.
In 1994 while enjoying the success of the Australian television series Frontline, Lawrence was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. He died in Wellington, New Zealand on the 10th of June 1995 at the age of 54.
A biography, Bruno: The Bruno Lawrence Story by Roger Booth, and television documentary Numero Bruno (2000, directed by Steve La Hood), cover his life and work. Lawrence is also featured in compilation documentary Blerta Revisited (2001, directed by Geoff Murphy).
This is a selection of notable appearances.Goodbye Pork Pie (1980) – Mulvaney
Smash Palace (1981) – Al Shaw
Race for the Yankee Zephyr (1981)
Warlords of the 21st Century aka Battletruck (1982)
The Quiet Earth (1985)
An Indecent Obsession (1985)
Pallet on the Floor (1986)
Grievous Bodily Harm (1987)
The Delinquents (1989)
Jack Be Nimble (1993)
Time Out (1971)
The Great Bookie Robbery (1986)