HAN­GIN’ TOUGH

Af­ter play­ing a crook on Un­der­belly, Les Hill is on the right side of the law in Nine’s Res­cue Spe­cial Ops. Guy Davis spoke with Aus­tralian TV’s new action man.

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Back in the early ’ 90s, there was no es­cap­ing Les Hill. Cast as re­bel­lious teenager Blake Dean on Seven’s pop­u­lar soapie Home and Away, Hill – still a teenager him­self at that stage – quickly be­came one of the show’s most high-profi le per­form­ers.

Leav­ing the se­ries af­ter three years, how­ever, Hill found his act­ing ca­reer stalling some­what – a few guest ap­pear­ances on var­i­ous pro­grams aside, he pretty much dis­ap­peared from the pub­lic eye for a while.

“ Things might have been quiet act­ing-wise but I wasn’t sit­ting idle,” said Hill, who tack­led var­i­ous diff er­ent chal­lenges while away from the spot­light – among other jobs, he worked as a chef, a land­scape gar­dener and a bouncer, not to men­tion a stint in the Aus­tralian De­fence Force.

But a cou­ple of years ago, Hill came blaz­ing back with his com­plex, com­pelling per­for­mance as Mel­bourne mob­ster Ja­son Mo­ran in Nine’s mas­sively suc­cess­ful crime drama Un­der­belly. The in­ten­sity he brought to the role made him hot prop­erty again, and he’s now landed a lead role in Nine’s action-packed new drama Res­cue Spe­cial Ops.

Fo­cus­ing on the work of a res­cue spe­cial op­er­a­tions team that is called upon to un­der­take searches, res­cues and sal­vage op­er­a­tions or ba­si­cally con­tend with the af­ter­math of any nat­u­ral or man-made dis­as­ter, it’s white-knuckle stuff .

Hill’s char­ac­ter Dean Gal­lagher is the leader of the team in the fi eld, over­see­ing the likes of Gigi Ed­g­ley, Hill’s Un­der­belly co-star Daniel Amalm and Katherine Hicks as his col­leagues. Re­cent NIDA grad­u­ate An­drew Lees plays Chase Gal­lagher, Dean’s younger brother and an­other mem­ber of the team.

While the on-screen re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two broth­ers can get com­bat­ive at times, Hill points out that off - screen he and Lees bonded quickly.

“ I think peo­ple will see that An­drew and I get along very well,” he said. “ He’s a good guy and I’ve got a lot of time for him. It wasn’t re­ally nec­es­sary for me to take him un­der my wing, so to speak, be­cause he has a grounded, pro­fes­sional ap­proach to what’s he’s do­ing.”

Im­pressed with the en­sem­ble cast as­sem­bled for Res­cue Spe­cial Ops ( which also in­cludes Libby Tan­ner and Peter Phelps), Hill was mostly taken with the qual­ity of the scripts and the na­ture of his role as Dean.

“ I’d never re­ally played the typ­i­cal hero, so that was some­thing I took into con­sid­er­a­tion,” he said. “ But ini­tially what at­tracted me was when I read the fi rst two scripts and I found my­self in­ter­ested by the ap­proach the writ­ers were tak­ing to the sto­ry­lines and where they were tak­ing things. For episodic tele­vi­sion, it’s very well-writ­ten.”

Hill’s un­der­stated per­for­mance goes a long way to­wards mak­ing Dean a be­liev­able team leader, some­one his col­leagues would im­me­di­ately trust and fol­low into any sit­u­a­tion. And the ac­tor didn’t fi nd it diffi cult cap­tur­ing the char­ac­ter’s quiet confi dence.

“ The re­al­ity is that you ei­ther know what you’re do­ing or you don’t,” he said. “ And Dean is some­one who knows what he’s do­ing. There’s no need for him to stake his claim or mark his ter­ri­tory.”

Of course, the fact that Hill en­joyed a lit­tle rock-climb­ing and ab­seil­ing dur­ing his down­time also helped in mak­ing his por­trayal of Dean a lit­tle more au­then­tic. “ I’m a rea­son­ably ac­tive in­di­vid­ual, so a lot of this wasn’t a big step for me,” he smiled.

Hill also drew in­spi­ra­tion from a real-life res­cue offi cer who works as a con­sul­tant on Res­cue Spe­cial Ops. “ He strikes me as the epit­ome of what th­ese peo­ple are like – they are pa­tient and selfl ess, an amaz­ing bunch of peo­ple,” he said. “ To go to work ev­ery day and deal with what they have to deal with, while main­tain­ing a good and pos­i­tive out­look on life, is some­thing that re­ally de­serves praise. It’s a hard job.”

Act­ing is not ex­actly an easy job ei­ther, with some­one who’s the cen­tre of at­ten­tion one mo­ment out in the cold the next.

“ I’ve tried to walk away a num­ber of times but it never re­ally ends up that way,” laughed Hill, who has worked on fi lm crews and es­tab­lished his own pro­duc­tion com­pany.

Right side of the law: Les Hill has gone from play­ing gang­land fi gure Ja­son Mo­ran in Un­der­belly ( inset)

to good guy Dean Gal­lagher in Res­cue Spe­cial Ops, along­side costars, from left, Daniel Amalm, Gigi Ed­g­ley, Libby Tan­ner, An­drew Lees,

Peter Phelps and Katherine Hicks.

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