Alan and my Acting Career

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 15th May 2012.

I discovered two things last week. Firstly, my brother likes to search through the funeral notices online in his spare time. Secondly, my agent had passed away.

In the mid-eighties, one of my classmates at Castle Hill Primary School landed himself a role in a movie. I still remember Bradley on the cover of the local paper relaxing in a chair with his feet up. The headline was a dodgy pun about him “sitting pretty” (obviously a Fairfax publication).

The film was an adaption of the then popular school text, Fortress, in which a teacher and students at a remote school are kidnapped by three thugs wearing rubber masks. Eventually the teacher and kids fight back, which is bad news for Father Christmas, Dabby Duck and Pussy Cat who are all dispatched in various gruesome ways.

I’m not entirely sure how this tweener fiction book by Gabrielle Lord was appropriate for children. I guess it was the predecessor of the Tomorrow, When the War Began series or even The Hunger Games books.

I was really keen to find out about moviemaking and straight away befriended Bradley. I quizzed him on every aspect of the filming process on the steps of a demountable classroom one lunchtime and within weeks, I was attending drama classes with him on Saturday mornings.

These classes were run by a Maltese gentleman by the name of Alan Gauci. By sheer coincidence, he had been the principal of the Johnny Young Talent School back in 1980 when my parents sent me to singing, dancing and acting lessons for a term or two.

Alan remembered me, perhaps for my stunning renditions of various versions of Twinkle Twinkle on the violin, Suzuki Method style, at the end of year concert. By stunning, I mean fingernails running down a chalkboard.

The drama lessons were run out of Alan’s house in a converted garage. I remember being really impressed because he owned a video camera, a very expensive high tech item at the time, which was used to film student scenes. Every class would end with a review of our work on TV. Alan, cigarette ever present, would saunter out of his office to comment on our (over)acting.

Alan represented most of his drama students as a talent agent and before long, was my agent too. He’d phone every few weeks with audition details and I’d look forward to hearing his raspy, heavily accented voice because it potentially meant a new adventure and possible some time off school.

My parents were happy to drive me around to auditions and eventually I landed a few small TV roles and then graduated to commercials, lead roles in TV shows and some theatre work. As a kid, the money was fantastic. Alan took ten percent commission, of course. I purchased my first car, a brand new Barina, when I was eighteen, with my child acting career savings.

I’m not entirely sure how Alan influenced my life but I know that he left an impression. I still love the performing arts but not necessarily as a way to make a living. I still hate to watch myself on video. Selling the Barina helped pay for my move to the UK ten years ago. And I wisely gave up the violin in high school.

Thanks for everything Alan. I will always remember your advice and tell everyone that I can ride a horse, even if I can’t, so I have a better chance of landing an acting gig.

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Published in: on May 16, 2012 at 12:15  Comments (1)  
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“Jim from Neighbours” – The Busiest Actor in the World (perhaps)

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 3rd January 2012.

A long time ago, in an Erinsborough far, far away, the beloved Neighbours character Jim Robinson suffered a major heart attack and passed away on screen, right before a commercial break. This was way back in 1993, when people actually watched Neighbours and on-screen deaths were rare. Most departing characters simply moved to Brisbane to live with Scott and Charlene.

After eight long years of service to Grundy Television, Kiwi actor Alan Dale was departing the soapie, and a regular income, with his dignity intact and no embarrassing attempts at singing to speak of. Well, there was the dreadful 1989 Christmas With Your Neighbours album but being a Christmas album, it was meant to be dreadful (I hope).

Typecast as “Jim from Neighbours”, Dale found it difficult to get work in Australia. With nothing to lose, he relocated his family to the USA where there was potentially a need for fresh faces in the mature actor niche.

The rest, as they say, is pretty interesting. “Jim from Neighbours” managed to overcome the spectre of Australian typecasting and went on to appear in almost every US television show going as the “serious looking authoritarian figure with something to hide.”

He was Caleb Nichol, a serious looking authoritarian figure with something to hide in the hit series that introduced the world to talent vacuum Mischa Barton, The O.C. After his character was killed off with a heart attack, he went on to star in Ugly Betty as Bradford Meade, a serious looking authoritarian figure with something to hide. After his character was again killed off with a heart attack, Dale went on to feature in the brain bending Lost as Charles Widmore, a serious looking authoritarian figure with something to hide but no known cardiac history.

There really was no stopping “Jim from Neighbours.”

Whenever you switched on a television, there he was in a guest role. His credits are pretty much the contents of my DVD shelf. E.R., The X-Files and its spinoff The Lone Gunmen, Torchwood, Entourage, NCIS, The West Wing, JAG, Californication and The Practice have all been graced by the authoritarian and secretive presence of Alan Dale.

He was even the Vice President of the USA in seven “hours” of the rather silly but fun 24. As Jim (not from Neighbours) Prescott, an authoritarian VP with something to hide, he mistakenly placed President Palmer under house arrest, based on false evidence. Playing the third most powerful man in the world (behind the American President and Batman) may seem  an honour until you realise that two years later on the same show, Vice President Mitchell Hayworth was portrayed by Aussie ex-pat and “actor” Cameron Daddo.

Not limited to the idiot box, Dale’s career has also expanded to the silver screen. Last week, I popped the sci-fi vampire action thingy Priest into my VCR to find “Jim from Neighbours” playing his usual character, but in a silly robe, in eye popping 3D.

Most impressive to geeks everywhere, Dale was also cast in two iconic film franchises. He pops up as General Ross in the mediocre Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and plays the Romulan Praetor Hiren in the so-so Star Trek Nemesis. OK, so they weren’t the best films in the series but how many Star Trek and Indiana Jones movies have you been in?

He even has his own trading cards. That’s right, on ebay there is brisk trade in Alan Dale signature cards from his Lost, Star Trek and Indiana Jones and the Blah Blah Blah appearances.

Later this month, Dale will appear on Aussie cinema screens as Detective Isaksson in David Fincher’s remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

This year, all Australians (and New Zealanders) should celebrate the amazing career of “Jim from Neighbours” and his remarkable body of work, playing the authoritarian figure with something to hide, since shaking off the stigma of typecasting way back in 1993 when Jim Robinson of Ramsey St met his maker.