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Interview


Ernie Silk, who invited us to come and talk to the class about radio and then he got us to invent little radio plays and we did all this in our English class. And had Owen and I not been caught nattering to each other at the bottom end of the classroom and if Owen had been keen on stamp collecting, I would have been a stamp collector. He was older than I, and whatever he did, I did. So, you know, radio was a very glamorous thing back in those days, it was like telly was when telly started. And Owen talked me into taking part in some radio acting competitions, one of which got me one of the lead roles in a big posh radio serial starring Jack Davey, who was one of the great, huge names of that period. That period was about 1939/40. I was still at school when being a radio actor so I started good and early.


Radio was all the go, wasn’t it, be- fore television came in? Yeah, it was marvelous because you didn’t have to look at it. That meant the scenery was fabulous and the people were so handsome, the girls were beauti- ful. It was great, radio was great. I just listen to Radio National these days and get some of the interesting stuff from the ABC. A lot of people don’t realise this but we rehearsed the film ‘The Castle’ exactly like a radio play for four days.


We interviewed (The Castle star) Michael Caton a few months ago... Yeah, sure, he’s doing ‘Priscilla’.


Yeah, he lives down at Bondi... Yeah, he upstaged me by talking about Bondi whenever I talked about Coogee!


Who’s the best actor or actress you’ve ever worked with? Right up near the top is Julia Blake with whom I did a film called ‘Inno- cence’ and she’s stunning. I played the male lead, she played the female lead and we’ve got about, I don’t know, nine or ten interna- tional awards for that. I even got one in Europe. And we were offered an Academy Award nomination for that but the director, Paul Cox,


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had to turn it down because it’s bloody expensive. If you accept a nomination for the Academy Awards you’ve got to buy, provide or steal something like 5,000 videos or DVDs of your film. They go to the members of the Academy. I was playing Susan Sarandon’s father in a film a couple of years ago and she came out here and she said that it keeps an awful lot of really classy American films out of the running for Oscars because they too can’t afford $100,000 just to provide a lot of videos for the members. So yeah, Julia Blake is one of the very best I’ve ever worked with and, well, Su- san Sarandon is an acknowledged one, Meryl Streep I’ve worked with and when I was working in England I worked with the great Dame Margaret Rutherford. I did four Ag- atha Christie stories with her called ‘Murder She Said’.


What about your favourite actor? Me by far - by far. I was impressed by my performance the other day when I was watching these 1961 movies that I did and I thought, “Shit, I knew how to do it.”


You’ve done ‘Breaker Morant’, ‘Charlie the Wonder Dog’, ‘In- nocence’, ‘The Castle’, what’s your favourite role? ‘Charlie the Wonder Dog’ is at the top (laughs).


Is that your favourite role? Well, I’m always telling students and young actors, “For god’s sake be careful what you turn down!” It doesn’t mat- ter a bugger what you do because even if you win the Academy Award they’ll forget that you’ve won it two years later. But if you turn down even a tiny role, it might be that role that introduces you to a great direc- tor or a fabulous script or a great production company or something. I try never to turn anything down unless it’s unfair to accept it.


You once turned down a 7-year contract in the States, why was that? Oh, yeah, but that was easy to do.


Was it because you wanted to be in Australia? Oh well, yeah, but I was a fairly busy radio actor and I found


out if I accepted this 7-year contract I would have made about $4 a week more in Hollywood than I was in Sydney. It was dollars then and quid for us but no, I already had the lead in two or three Aussie movies and a couple of guest sort of roles in overseas films being made here.


What advice do you have for young people looking to make a career out of acting? Oh, get into the local amateur theatre. If you haven’t gone to a drama school, if you can’t get into the good ones like NIDA, VCA, WAPA, and there are quite a few others, then get into any good amateur theatre group and for God’s sake, forget about want- ing to be a star. Try and learn your craft and if you’re lucky enough to get a role in ‘Neighbours’ or ‘Home and Away’ grab it, because if you can get a few weeks work or a few months work in one of those shows and you keep your head screwed on properly, you’ll finish up knowing technically a vast amount of screen work disciplines and that can apply to big movies or little tellies. But nearly every good amateur group needs somebody at some stage. It may just be to help sweep the stage but that’s how all of my generation started.


If you hadn’t got into acting what do you think you would have done? Well my dad wanted me to be an accountant and I did do a few months at Smith, Johnson & Co, a very posh accountants in Sydney, but I failed the elementary exam a few months later and so Dad said, “Well you better give radio a go,” and he was very good about that. So I got a job as a radio announcer. I was interested in writing for a while. I wrote a short story which was published in one of the Sydney papers when I was about 21 or 22 or something and I’ve had a hankering to write ever since a bit and I’ve got a few credits on the screen for be- ing, you know, co-writer of things.


You were a reconnaissance pilot in World War II, did you have any hairy moments when you thought you might not make it home? What


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