A FATHER’S LOVE
A young woman’s tragic death and her father’s quest for justice are the foundation for a new telemovie. Guy Davis spoke with Garry McDonald, star of A Model Daughter: The Killing of Caroline Byrne.
RATED M CAST Garry McDonald, Cariba Heine, David Lyons
FSUMMARY After Caroline Byrne fell to her death from an ocean cliff in eastern Sydney in 1995, it was her father’s efforts which, after 13 years, exposed the truth and brought her killer to justice.
or more than a decade, the death of Caroline Byrne intrigued and mystified Sydney. In June 1995, the body of the 20-year-old model was found at the base of the cliffs at The Gap, an area notorious as a suicide spot.
Her boyfriend, Gordon Wood, chauffeur and personal assistant to flamboyant financial whiz Rene Rivkin, claimed that Caroline took her own life, stating that she was suffering from depression.
But Byrne’s father Tony knew that it wasn’t the case. He was aware that his daughter had struggled with depression but he was convinced that her death was the result of foul play … and that the ambitious, amoral Wood was the man responsible.
With a lack of evidence and a lack of resources to properly pursue the case, the police were initially willing to accept that Caroline Byrne took her own life. But they didn’t count on her father’s diligent efforts to see the truth uncovered and justice finally served.
Eleven years after Caroline’s death, Gordon Wood was charged with her murder. Two years later, he was convicted of the crime and sentenced to a lengthy prison sentence.
Now the story has been dramatised by the makers of Underbelly in the Ten telemovie A Model Daughter: The Killing of Caroline Byrne. Based on the book by Sydney Morning Herald journalist Robert Wainwright, it follows the case from Caroline’s disappearance through to the final verdict against her killer ( who has launched an appeal against his 17-year jail term).
More than simply a crime tale, however, A Model Daughter is the story of Tony Byrne’s determination in the face of overwhelming odds to see the stigma of suicide lifted from Caroline’s death and the true culprit brought to justice.
Heading the telemovie’s cast, which includes Sea Patrol’s David Lyons as Wood, Frontline’s Tiriel Mora as Rene Rivkin, Underbelly’s Gyton Grantley as Caroline’s first love Andrew Blanchette, Cariba Heine ( from H2O: Just Add Water and soon to be seen in the epic miniseries The Pacific) as Caroline, and Garry McDonald as Tony Byrne.
McDonald is, of course, well-known for creating the iconic comedic character of Norman Gunston and for his lead role in the much-loved sitcom Mother and Son but his credentials as a dramatic actor are rock-solid, earning him a number of awards for his stage and screen work.
He joined the cast of A Model Daughter late in the game, doing a screen test on a Monday before filming his first scenes a few days later.
Indeed, he had already shot a few scenes before he got his first chance to meet face-to-face the man he was portraying.
“ That was kind of strange,” McDonald said with a laugh. “ Luckily, I hadn’t done much.”
Upon meeting Byrne for coffee, McDonald says he was initially amazed at how calm and dispassionate the man seemed to be. It wasn’t until later that he discovered the torment Byrne had been through during the 10 years in which he waged a campaign to uncover the truth behind Caroline’s death.
“ I didn’t find out until halfway through the shoot that he’d had two pretty bad years,” said McDonald. “ He kind of fell apart after the murder, and we do allude to that a little bit in A Model Daughter. He saw a psychiatrist and was prescribed medication because, as he said, he just couldn’t function.”
It wasn’t until Byrne discovered meditation, which McDonald also practises, that he was able to find some peace of mind. “ He does that three times a day,” said the actor.
McDonald describes the process of playing a real-life figure, particularly one who’s still alive, as challenging and, in some ways, frightening.
“ There’s such a sense of responsibility. What I gathered from reading Robert Wainwright’s book and talking to journalists who’d got to know Tony very well was that he was a really nice guy. So I had to be very careful that I wouldn’t fall back on what I would automatically do in such a situation, which would be to rant and rave.”
Putting on a brave face: Garry McDonald and Cariba Heine portray Tony and Caroline Byrne.