Belly of the beast
Gyton Grantley stacked on 13kg to portray gangster Carl Williams, writes Darren Devlyn
IT’S HARDLY surprising jailed gangster Carl Williams is less than happy about how he’s portrayed in Channel 9’s controversial drama Underbelly.
Williams, serving three life sentences for organising the murders of Jason Moran, Lewis Moran and Mark Mallia, has allegedly written in letters to his mother: ‘‘I don’t mind them telling the truth about me, but telling lies and painting me out like some kind of d---head who is brain dead — well that’s just bulls---.’’
Actor Gyton Grantley, who plays Williams in the $13 million gangland series, is amused Williams disapproves of his work.
‘‘All I can say is that if Carl is in prison and he was able to see the show when it was banned (a Supreme court ruling last week opened the way for Nine to screen an edited version of the first five episodes in Victoria), then there’s something wrong with the legal system,’’ Grantley says with a laugh.
‘‘If he’s seen it, and that’s the way he feels, then fair enough. I played a character given to me in a script and I’m proud of what I did.
‘‘I really did want to meet Carl. You feel some obligation to do that, but I wasn’t able to meet him for legal reasons.
‘‘Most (criminals portrayed) in the show are dead or in jail. I did meet many who claim they rolled with Carl and that certainly gave me an insight into that world.’’
The cast of Underbelly was driven to bring brutal authenticity to its telling of a wellknown story — a gangland war that led to the loss of 33 lives.
The determination to portray violence as realistically and forcefully as possible meant there were rough days on set for all cast — including Grantley, Vince Colosimo (who plays standover man Alphonse Gangitano), Les Hill (Jason Moran) and Callan Mulvey (Mark Moran).
When the Guide visited the Underbelly set last winter, it was Grantley’s turn to be knocked about.
A bone-chilling southwesterly was whipping across Port Phillip Bay.
When the director called ‘action’, Grantley, as the pudgy Williams, loped through a Williamstown park.
In an altercation with men who would become his enemies in the drug trade, a cowering Williams was punched and kicked to the ground. Grantley’s face was pressed hard into a gravel-laced footpath.
Asked about the punishing he took in the scene, Grantley offers a shrug.
‘‘As actors, we were very safe and comfortable with each other so we were able to play it a bit rougher,’’ Grantley says.
‘‘We are blokes. It probably wasn’t any harder than going out and playing a game of football.’’
Though Grantley offers some comedic relief in the portrayal of Williams as a dope in early episodes, the role was a demanding one because it required the actor to show gradual character transformation. Williams is seen as someone who, initially, is incapable of the cunning required to be a gang leader.
‘‘He called himself the Commissioner, but everyone else called him Fat Boy,’’ Grantley says. ‘‘When we meet him, Carl’s a s---kicker, a gofer.
‘‘You get that element of the bullied child and you get a chance to see determination in his eyes and what he will eventually become.’’
WHEN Williams begins to assert authority, it’s not so much out of revenge, but a desire to prove he’s not as useless as his criminal colleagues presumed him to be.
‘‘It’s like he’s saying, ‘I’m gonna stand up and show you who I really am’,’’ Grantley says. ‘‘That power that he gets, that’s intoxicating. It’s very seductive.
‘‘It (opportunity to make easy money illegally) was there and he took it.
‘‘These guys couldn’t get a job on a factory floor. They’d rather trade a life in the suburbs for a short time living the high life.’’
Grantley feels his physical resemblance to Williams is a reason he was cast in the role.
The likeness to Williams became stronger as the beginning of filming approached.
Grantley had visited a dietitian who devised a plan for him to put on weight for the role.
He stacked on 13kg, achieved by slowing his metabolism (stopping exercising) and loading up on carbohydrates.
‘‘Every time I got in the shower I’d think, ‘Geez I’m fat’,’’ Grantley says.
‘‘Problem is, when you’re not exercising you can get depressed. It’s because you are not producing endorphins. I had to remind myself why I was doing this (being fat). There were times I felt very depressed.’’
Grantley also studied video footage and pictures of Williams to nail his mannerisms.
‘‘The way he walks is distinct,’’ Grantley says of Williams. ‘‘He’s a bit like a gorilla. He holds his weight back and his arms forward. And the costume helps. He wore a vast array of tracksuits.’’ Underbelly, MA Channel 9, Sunday, Tuesday, 8.30pm Gangland drama Duration: 1 hour
In character: Gyton Grantley as Carl Williams (opposite page) and a scene from Underbelly (left), which has been edited for screening in Victoria.