Still Strictly available
Paul Mercurio, despite a glittering past, struggles for acting roles, writes Siobhan Duck
PAUL Mercurio took up cooking to kill time between acting jobs but in recent years, with roles frustratingly few and far between, he has found his repertoire of dishes becoming more expansive than his acting CV.
He even plans to write a cookbook.
Now Mercurio has found a way to blend his two loves — food and performance— with his new series for Channel 7, Mercurio’s Menu.
As the host of the show, Mercurio has travelled round Victoria and Tasmania in search of hidden culinary treasures.
But he hasn’t given up on acting and says he will keep banging on doors, if that’s what it takes to get an audition.
You would think with Mercurio’s long list of credentials, not to mention his Logie nomination for his work in The Day of the Roses, that he wouldn’t find himself hard up for work.
But becoming known for his role as Scott Hastings in Strictly Ballroom and now a judge on Dancing With the Stars has proven to be a double-edged sword.
The dancer-turned-actor and TV presenter says he is often overlooked for roles because he is so well-known for his past and present work.
As a judge on Dancing With the Stars, Mercurio says people mistakenly assume he is a Channel 7 star, when in reality he is not contracted to the network.
He was thrilled to play a guest role in City Homicide last year and would love more TV series work — on any network — in between recording Dancing With the Stars and Mercurio’s Menu.
‘‘As a working actor it makes it tough,’’ he says.
‘‘I am not contracted to Seven, but Nine and Ten don’t want to know about me.
‘‘I have been banging on doors and making calls.
‘‘ Underbelly? I would have loved to have been in that.
‘‘Or The Pacific. I just would like a chance to audition.’’
In the years after Strictly Ballroom, Mercurio purposely chose parts that were completely different to his work in the Baz Luhrmann movie, to prove he had range as an actor.
He made the bondage comedy Exit to Eden with Dana Delaney, the biblical epic Joseph with Ben Kingsley and the erotic film The First 9½ Weeks.
For a short time after Strictly Ballroom’s release he based himself in Los Angeles where, Mercurio says, American producers were more willing to accept him as an actor rather than a dancer who turned to acting.
Australians were not as open-minded, he says.
Mercurio finds it strange that performers have to be pigeon-holed as either actors, dancers or musicians and are rarely accepted for being able to do more than one thing.
‘‘ People think Strictly ( Ballroom) was my first acting job,’’ he says.
‘‘But I’ve been acting on stage since I was 12, just as a dancer.
‘‘People want to delineate between dancers and actors.
‘‘They can’t accept that it’s all just storytelling.
‘‘We all tell stories, whether it’s through dance, song, mime or performance.’’
The idea of raising his family in America held no appeal, so he returned to Australia with the hope of commuting between Melbourne and Los Angeles for work.
He says a story on the evening news about the local airport offering use of its X-ray machines to scan children’s Halloween lollies for razor blades shocked him and convinced him to return home to the comparative safety of Melbourne.
Mercurio has returned to America to work as an actor and choreographer. Most notably, he worked on the film, I, Robot, starring Will Smith, for which he created the movements of the animated robots.
As for dancing, Mercurio says his dancing days are over. These days he prefers to leave that to Dancing With the Stars contestants.
Paul Mercurio’s culinary travels have taken him round Victoria and Tasmania.