Where did your
television career begin?
Id just come down to Melbourne from
Brisbane and was finding it difficult to get any work. I got a stage job, and I was going
to see directors every week, hawking myself around, not having a great deal of success. I
was doing the occasional spear-holding job for the ABC: no words, no lines, no nothing,
just spear-holding! Then I did an audition for Crawfords, and I was getting substantial
repeated guest roles, lead roles actually, but I was still only holding spears for the
ABC! After a little over a year of that Crawfords offered me Hunter.
In one of your Homicide roles your
character killed Sgt. Bronson.
Yes. I shot him out of the series and gave Les
Dayman the opportunity to take his place!
Did they give you the role of Kragg as a result
Dorothy Crawford seemed to take a shine to me at
my audition, and Ian Jones was quite enthusiastic to give me a part. Although Ian did say
when I played the Ryan character in Homicide he had somebody else in mind, but he
was happy how it turned out. So I guess that was why they started to use me a lot, and
then they made the Hunter offer. It was actually rather funny - on the first day of
shooting Hunter, while I was waiting on location a blind person came to the side of
the road, and so I helped him across. Then Ian turns up, and heres his villain
helping a blind person cross the road! I suppose I could say, in a sense, that as far as Hunter
was concerned as a baddie I was a failure, because they changed me over to a goodie! It
was a very weird sort of thing, because there I was playing this baddie, killing people
left right and centre, and every now and again I remember the experience of a tram load of
children going past and yelling out "Hey, Kragg, yeah, yeah!" And I thought
Whats the world coming to, Im supposed to be a villain, not a
Kragg didnt come across as an out and out
baddie, but rather as a misguided idealist.
Yes, with some degree of confusion. Mind you, I
always tried to play villains, I enjoyed playing villains, I enjoy their truth, their
confusion - theres more to explore. We could get on to a whole philosophical thing,
but I have a very deep soft spot for people who go off the rails.
Kragg was right up your alley then.
Kragg was a support role, which became a co-lead
that viewers enjoyed - the baddie-come goodie character almost took the show over.
I think one of the reasons for it was that Ian
Jones created the character, because Ian is such a devotee of Ned Kelly, and is able to
write with an empathy for those sorts of characters. Otherwise, who would have predicted
it? Now the industry has developed that way, and I heard it stated only recently in an
interview for a new show: You have got to have an evil person for the show to be a
success. Look at J.R. in Dallas, or Pat The Rat in Sons And Daughters.
To me, from a psychological point of view, I think that is because of the percentage of
people in the population who never win, and they like to see somebody from their position,
with their resentments, etc., doing what they wouldnt be game to do themselves, and
wouldnt be able to get away with in real life. Having somebody do it, I think, has a
therapeutic value. Now it seems to me that therapy has the opposite effect - it now turns
out to be an encouragement for anti-social behaviour, by setting up a role model for
people to copy-cat. Even when I was in Division 4 it worried me quite considerably,
because I had at least two policemen say to me We know what the bulk of MOs
will be for any particular week, because we can look at the MOs that were
established in Division 4. But one of them added Dont worry about
it, because those people would have committed a crime anyway; all you did was channel
It probably made them easier to catch because the
police knew what they were going to do!
But I still didnt feel quite right about
But Kragg was different because he believed in
what he was doing - he wasnt a nasty type who hated children and beat up old ladies
and stole their handbags.
He was a misguided goodie.
The way Kragg developed made his defection seem
almost inevitable. Even as early as the third episode Kragg seemed reluctant to kill
people; you were showing the soft side of Kragg which came out later with Georgie Savage.
Well, maybe thats why Im a failure
as a baddie. Because from within myself I see the pathos of the person who has gone off
the rails, and the misdirection of what is basically a desire in everybody, and that is to
put things right, but it just becomes misguided.
After Tony left the show did it feel like it had
lost its reason for existing - Hunter without Hunter?
Well, it was a bit of an embarrassment. They
tried to make it work by putting me in that role in the organisation, I was playing a sort
of co-Hunter role with Rod Mullinar who went on to play Ryan, but it was a bit
difficult, it didnt really work. The other alternative was to change the name of the
show because they wanted to keep me going, and keep a spy show going.
A spin-off called Kragg? Doesnt
have the same ring to it, does it?
Ha ha! Oh well, I dont know! I think it
had possibilities, because you could have included that evil background. That was one of
the successes of having Kragg on the goodies side, because you never quite knew whether he
was trustworthy, there was always that little niggling doubt. I think it could have
created, well not created but contributed towards, a genre if they had gone that
way - it was a possibility. But they decided to go another way - with Division 4.
And I was quite happy with that because it meant playing a different character.
You were in Division 4 for six years. Why
did you decide to leave?
There were all these things happening around me,
it was like I was wandering through a maze and being pointed in this direction and being
pointed in that direction, I didnt know where I was. It was not what I came into the
industry for, I came into the industry to, hopefully, be a well worked character actor.
Not to play leads, except maybe occasionally, but basically just to play character
roles, and be well worked and earn a living. I came down here form Brisbane to see if I
could earn my living as an actor, and after Id been in the business for some time
with Crawfords, for eight and a half years, I still hadnt proved to myself that I
could earn my living as an actor, because Id been under the umbrella of Crawfords
playing the two characters. To me an actor is somebody who plays many characters, and I
was becoming an institution almost, so I wanted to move on and see if I could earn my
living as an actor on my terms. So I tried to get out, and it wasnt easy to get out
- it ended up being a whole political scenario when Division 4 finished, because of
the political aspects of the TV: Make It Australian Campaign. I had a direct confrontation
with Kerry Packer because I wanted to leave, and there was a lot of hidden agenda going on
that I wasnt even aware of, so I just did the best I could. But I finally got out
and found that I could just maybe struggle by making a living as an actor!
Division 4 was the first of the Crawford
police series to go, and many believe it was no coincidence that Matlock and
followed shortly afterwards.
Kerry Packer said if I left Division 4 he
would cancel the show. I tried, I gave it another six months in the hope that some
resolution could be found, and John Stanton, who had been employed to replace me, could go
ahead and do the job. But it didnt happen.
So its all your fault!
Its all my fault! Exactly! But seriously,
I tried to do the right thing by everybody, but in politics thats not necessarily
going to be successful, because youve got hidden agenda around you. Weve got a
little bit of a problem here because were getting close to libel; the trouble is, I
suppose, if you touch upon it then it leads to this and it leads to that, and before you
know it youre embroiled in all kinds of suppositions. Not that I knew everything
that was going on, Im politically naive as a personality, and I was wandering
through this scenario totally naive, a boy from the bush basically.
So there was all this political stuff happening
around you, and all you wanted to do was be an actor?
Well I was happy to be an activist re 'TV: Make
It Australian' despite my political naivety. I learned a lot. But also I wanted to look
after myself as an actor, by playing different parts and so forth. Over the years I
approached Crawfords and said I would like to do something different. It took a while to
explain that to them, they kept thinking Oh you want more money, and I said
No, I dont want more money, I just want to spread myself as an actor,
and they said Oh, you want to be seen more on the screen, and I said No,
So eventually they said We havent got a new show for you, but
in the meantime well put you on The Box until we have. Which
didnt happen - Nine objected because it was a rival station. I felt trapped, there
is an enormous amount of pressure, youve got this whole organisation that is relying
on you, that is a big pressure, a really big pressure. It seemed to me a reasonable
transition for John Stanton to take over the role gradually. Kerry Packer owned TV Week,
and all you had to do was put the photograph of the one you wanted to become more popular
on the cover of TV Week, and it would have worked. I personally didnt feel that I
was the star of Division 4, to me it was an ensemble production, but I was being
made a fuss of, and that always seemed to me to be incorrect. I see myself as a pawn in
that whole scenario, and I didnt really know what was going on around me. I felt I
was giving everybody a chance, it seemed like a fair offer - I agreed to do another six
months, after they had already accepted my resignation and arranged for Stanton as the
replacement. I felt sorry for John as he was also caught up in this whole thing.
It was reported that Seven told Homestead Films
that if you werent in Tandarra they werent going to buy it.
Really? I didnt know that! Good heavens! I
did a guest role in the last episode of Cash & Company, and then they continued
it on. But it only went for the one year. I think people tried to capitalise on that
popularity that I gained, but I dont think the box office was as responsive as they
expected. I think the public were able to cope with me going from Hunter to Division
4, but another change again I think was too much, because people associate you in a
role so much.
Towards the end of your Division 4 run you
had a part in Rush. It was a bit unusual for Crawfords to let one of their actors
appear in another production.
That was part of Crawfords deference to me, as I
was constantly trying to express this need to play more than one character, and so they
allowed me to do that.
At the time of the 'TV: Make It Australian
Campaign', the networks were arguing against Australian content regulation. However, while
Nine had you in Division 4 and it was rating well they were happy for it to keep
going, but they werent really interested in continuing the series with John Stanton.
Rather, theyd prefer to stop Division 4 and buy some cheap soaps and cheap
From a business point of view, there was no
question: if you have to pay the ratio, which at that time was $40,000 an hour for an
Australian drama compared to buying an hour of American television for $4,000, this was
not good business. The networks were faced with the fact that Australian production was
becoming more and more popular, so the only thing they could do was try and discredit
Australian production. So money was actually invested into shows like Lukes
Kingdom, and then they werent shown for two years - and when they were it was at
11 oclock at night.
Production standards dropped - we went from
to Cop Shop and The Restless Years.
All done on video and with a soapie format.
If they were forced to have local production then
they were going to have it as cheap as possible.
Exactly. But then, at the other end of the
scale, we had big success with the mini-series, which, I could be wrong, but I think it
was Australia that introduced the concept of the mini-series in television.
Everyone credits the U.S. series
the first. But if you think about the concept, why not go back to the 1960's with
Petrel, My Brother Jack, and You Cant See Round Corners.
Yes, of course. And into the 70s with
shows like Power Without Glory. An enormous amount of origination comes out of
Australia which it doesnt get credit for. The Mad Max genre for film - the
Yanks started copying that - and are still copying it!
Dinny OByrne in the Against The Wind
mini-series must have been a great character for you to play.
Yes, it was just fantastic. I really loved it.
Was the Irish accent relatively easy after
Tandarra wasnt Irish - it was Northern
Irish - Belfast. Dinny OByrne was Southern Irish - County Wicklow. Actually that was
a really big fluke, I just guessed what a Wicklow accent might be, and Mary Larkin
actually told me that it was bang on for a Wicklow accent - it was a total fluke!
Youre not supposed to say that -
youre supposed to say you spent hours researching it, etc.!
Ha ha! No, it was a fluke! Ive always enjoyed
the Irish characters - Harry Power in The Last Outlaw, etc.
In a Hunter episode it mentions Kragg as
being an Irish name.
Was it? I thought it was sort of Slavic. It was
invented - purely invented. I think Ian said he discovered there was a Slavic name Kragg.
It was never revealed what country Kragg came
from, or even if he did come from another country.
Which was another part of the mystery. Maybe he
was an alien! Ive always wanted to play an alien!
Did the character of Frank Banner offer you more
of a creative challenge as an actor?
I think Crawfords did the right thing in killing
my wife off in the first episode of Division 4, because I had established myself as
a loner in Hunter, and when they later started getting into the characters personal
life I dont think it was a success, I dont think it worked. It would have been
better, I felt, if they hadnt explored that so much, but explored more of the
interrelationships between Banner and the criminal world. They started that in the
beginning, and I think that was successful, that was the way to go. Perhaps there was some
confusion brought on by my request, because after a while that initial relationship
started to dwindle, and it became more of a Cop Shop approach. When I made my
appeals to Crawfords I think it was misunderstood - they believed that I felt I
wasnt being involved in that level, but what I was really after was going back to
that earlier level.
Did you have any part in the decision making
process of cancelling Hunter to make way for Division 4? You werent
given the choice, for example, to continue on with Hunter and then move on to
something else later?
No, no. They made the offer to me of course, but
the idea was all theirs. Ive never taken that sort of position in the industry. Mind
you, there were those who would say that I could have if I were that sort of
person, but Ive never been into power or anything like that, or even of taking a
high degree of charge of my own life. My philosophy is to relate to my environment as it
wants to occur, and relate to that rather than make things happen. When I try to make
things happen it tends not to work! Look at the appeals I made to Crawfords - that was an
attempt to take charge of my life, but it didnt work!
When Kragg became a goodie were you still happy
playing him, or did you feel the character had been robbed of everything that made him
Oh no, I really enjoyed that interaction between
the goodies and the baddies, because that was an extension of where I was coming from. I
explored that also as the Banner character, of understanding where the crim was coming
from but at the same time realising you were representative and protector of the public.
The degree of success I managed that is not for me to say, but that was my aim if you
Did you prefer playing Banner to Kragg, or vice
Thats very hard. People ask me what is my
favourite character that I have played - its a very, very hard question. Its a
comparison of apples and oranges. I liked them both for different reasons.
In Hunter and Division 4 you were
required to do your own stunts.
Ah yes! That was great, that was great.
It didnt concern you at all?
Oh no. I found it exciting. I think this is
where it comes from: at the age of seven I spent a year living on the premises of a
theatre school, and all the traditions of the show must go on and the
show is the all important thing got into my psyche, as a kind of conditioned reflex.
You wouldnt be allowed to do your own stunts today.
Like animating a dead shark while Tony fought
Yes - underneath it, with these great jaws and
my head almost inside them!
Why were you doing that particular stunt, which
had nothing to do with your character?
I think I volunteered! I have an absolute phobia
of sharks - absolute phobia. On another occasion for Hunter I was required to jump
fully clothed, with boots on, into the water right between the Sydney Harbour heads -
which is shark infested water. And there I was, standing on the bow of this boat thinking
How am I going to do this? But as soon as they said Action! -
something just snapped and in I went!
That could have been your last role!
It could have been! The director said I only had
to swim 25 yards, well it actually ended up being 50 yards. And when I got to the
fibreglass runabout, which was very rounded, I couldnt get out of the water, and I
was thinking I wont have any legs by the time I get in!
Did you see any sharks while you were doing that?
No. They promised me that there would be some
spear fishermen in the water. Then I was standing on the bow thinking Where are
these spear fishermen?! But that was a particularly insensitive director, who
actually fired real bullets at us at one stage.
Tony said there was a director, whom he
didnt wish to name, who was firing bullets after you both as you were running up a
Yes, it was the same director. We were doing the
scene, and I was carrying this wounded fellow, and as we were going up the stream I saw
these flicks in the water beside me, and I thought Thats very effective! - I
wonder how theyre doing that? As soon as they said Cut! I looked
over, and there he was emptying the rest of the bullets from the gun.
You took over the airport in
I did that for 18 months, and again it was the
business of Oh yeah, well put Gerard into this role, it will be good box
office. But I dont think it worked. I dont think that I was inherently
good box office material in that kind of role.
I dont think anything could have saved
There is only so much you can write about an airport.
Yes. And it was basically a soapie. I remember
it was difficult to make work. I always had good scenes with Tina Bursill, they were good
conflict scenes, but that was all, it wasnt enough to keep it
After Against The Wind, with ten million
Logies on your mantelpiece, did you ever consider leaving television and only working in
No, although I always wanted to do film as well
as television, and even though I grew up with that theatre tradition thing, I
was never satisfied with theatre. The screen offered a great deal more opportunity to
suspend peoples belief system to a greater degree, with close-ups and all that sort
of stuff, and the fact that you didnt have projection techniques getting in the way
of what might be a highly intimate low level thing. In fact, I think that was what Dorothy
Crawford liked about my work, because she was always upset at the fact that stage actors
would come in and be projecting, and that was one of the reasons she found my work
In the early Homicides some people were
acting as if for the benefit of a bloke sitting in the back row of a hall.
Yeah, whereas I was trying to be as natural
as possible. Its a funny thing actually, nowadays there seems to be a movement in
the other direction. American performances were over-the-top acting, and that seems to be
the trend now in our productions, to try and go for more than is actually there in the
script. That influence we associate with Americans - I mean, we see Americans in real
life as over-acting! As a comparison, Ive never been to Ireland, so my Irish
characters have tended to be larger than life, but still trying to keep them within a
region of believability.
Was your crew cut adopted for the Kragg role, or
did you have one anyway?
I had a crew cut up in Queensland for a while,
and then I let it grow. So when they asked me to have a crew cut again, the reason was
that my hairline was so similar to Tonys, and they wanted some kind of contrast.
And of course it carried on into
because there was no time to change it.
Yes - we were doing both shows at the same time
for about three weeks. We were doing the video (interiors) for Hunter and the film
(exteriors) for Division 4 in the one week for three weeks. I found that quite
good, an interesting challenge, as part of the challenge of being an actor is playing many
Did you find you were stereotyped as Banner?
Oh yes. You cant help that sort of thing.
Although when I look back I think I did fairly well, mind you I deliberately avoided
playing policemen for some time. Its only in more recent times that Ive
allowed myself to play a policeman. One part I played was Winchester, the police
commissioner who was murdered - that was interesting to do. Playing actual people in
history is very interesting.
Do any episodes of any of the series stand out as
favourites - not necessarily because they were better than others, but simply because you
liked them for any particular reason?
No, not really. Its like the question
before, making comparisons is very, very difficult. Its more the characters, rather
than just the episodes themselves. The Irish characters I always found to be interesting,
and I found it really interesting playing the mad preacher in Mango Tree. I nearly
got a part in an American film because of that role - it was to be a two-hander with Jack
Palance. But I think it was a bad idea, because his gravelly voice and my gravelly voice
together would have been a little bit too similar. But as it turned out he wasnt
able to do it.
Gravelly voices didnt stop
and Raw Deal with yourself and Gus Mercurio.
No, but then Gus is probably even further down
the gravelly track than Jack Palance!
In the last episode of Cash & Company
you were brought in as Ryler, the bounty hunter who tracks down Cash and Brady, only to
have that theme wrapped up in the first Tandarra episode. Its like you did a
Kragg again, changing sides, this time going from bounty hunter to farmer.
Thats true. I never realised that
actually. They did the same thing again.
Tandarra didnt do as well as
probably because it lost a lot of its intrigue - the theme of innocent fugitives
from the law became adventures on the farm.
It was probably another reason why my box
office appeal waned gradually. Again, Ryler was low key. Homestead did try to remedy
that in Raw Deal, but Raw Deal was a film that was misunderstood by the
They married you off in your last episodes of
Division 4 and Tandarra.
And I got married in Skyways! I
havent had a great deal of success as far as the romance side is concerned, I have
never really felt comfortable playing romantic scenes. I think there is a reason for it,
but its a bit personal, and I think it was a wise move as a result to always keep it
as a potential rather than taking the mystique out of it - its always been more
successful on the basis of something that doesnt actually happen but might.
Its like violence, violence is much more effective if you dont actually see
Being uncomfortable would have worked in
with Kragg and Georgie Savage.
Oh yes, it worked in that case. And I think
Crawfords were wise to follow that through.
Whereas in Division 4 with Margaret
Stewart and Frank Banner it was always just simmering.
Exactly. When they gave Banner a girlfriend,
played by Diane Craig, it didnt really have any great impact. That potential was
exposed, and it is no longer a mystery, its gone. Of course with a soapie you have
to explore it, but Divvy 4 wasnt a soapie.
Some of your scenes with Chuck Faulkner in
4 were very good.
Chuck was unbelievable at his ability to handle
lengthy speeches and remember his lines. He was incredible! He was very good with words.
There was another aspect of Division 4 that was somewhat ironical: years ago,
before I was an actor, I applied to join the police force, and they knocked me back - but
as Frank Banner I went on to become one of the most well-known policemen in Australia!
Looking back, despite any difficulties, did you
enjoy your time with Crawfords?
Actually I feel
privileged to have been a part of the exciting
times in the historical development of the industry, and I feel quite nostalgic about
working with those people, particularly in Division 4, for so many years. I
certainly enjoyed working for Crawfords all those years, it was like the early Hollywood
contract days, being a part of the Crawford "family".