Matt goes Belly up

Play­ing an Un­der­belly drug baron and mur­derer is help­ing Matthew New­ton fo­cus on what he does best, writes Erin McWhirter

Herald Sun - Switched On - - Tv Guide -

MATTHEW New­ton is a re­formed man. He has grown up, recog­nised the mis­takes of his past and is more grounded than any time in his life.

The 31-year-old is busy film­ing Un­der­belly: A Tale of Two Cities on a warm De­cem­ber day in Syd­ney. He plays mur­derer and heroin king­pin Terry ‘‘Mr Asia’’ Clark in the crime drama. Syd­ney Hospi­tal dou­bled for the Mel­bourne Mag­is­trate’s Court ear­lier in the day but tonight, with New­ton, it will be­come a Bris­bane po­lice sta­tion/lock-up.

Scene ti­tles give a flavour of what’s to come — ‘‘Bob’s bag man with bad news’’, ‘‘Terry and Andy (bag man Andy Ma­her played by Da­mon Gameau) dis­cuss their op­tions’’ and ‘‘Terry gets a farewell bash­ing from the cops’’.

It’s good to see New­ton do­ing what he does best— act­ing. It’s easy to for­get, amid the swirling con­tro­versy of the past cou­ple of years, what a good ac­tor he is. Easy to for­get that in 2002 he was nom­i­nated for a Sil­ver Lo­gie for Most Out­stand­ing Ac­tor for his por­trayal of POW David Collins in Changi, or that he shone as sexed-up mag­a­zine journo Nick Driscoll in Stupid Stupid Man.

New­ton turned down the chance to play hit man ‘‘Mad’’ Richard Mladenich in the first Un­der­belly, cit­ing film­ing com­mit­ments to the sec­ond se­ries of Stupid Stupid Man, but he’s on board for the pre­quel.

‘‘Get­ting to this age I sup­pose there’s a level of hon­esty where you can’t be both­ered play­ing a game any more,’’ New­ton says be­tween scenes.

‘‘Over a pe­riod of time I’ve dis­cov­ered just who you are is OK. I feel that about the peo­ple I love in my life as well. The things you judge and crit­i­cise are the things that make me love them. Hope­fully, they are things that make you love your­self.’’

New­ton’s trou­bles be­gan in late 2006 when he sim­u­lated sex acts on Chan­nel 10’s New Year’s Eve show The Big Night In with John Fore­man.

Things turned ugly in Jan­uary 2007 when he was charged with as­sault­ing his for­mer girl­friend, Brooke Satch­well, in a bit­ter break-up row.

The of­fences al­legedly occurred at the cou­ple’s Syd­ney home af­ter Satch­well ended their five-year re­la­tion­ship. New­ton re­port­edly punched Satch­well and pushed her into a wall.

The charges had im­me­di­ate ram­i­fi­ca­tions — New­ton was sacked from his new role at Nova ra­dio, which had re­port­edly signed him for up to $200,000 a year, to co-host a show with co­me­dian Ak­mal Saleh.

In June 2007, New­ton pleaded guilty to the as­sault of Satch­well, but his lawyer Chris Mur­phy said his client was suf­fer­ing from an undis­closed emo­tional and psy­cho­log­i­cal con­di­tion at the time of the as­sault and was reg­u­larly see­ing a doc­tor to help ad­dress his prob­lems. Three other charges were dropped. He was con­victed of as­sault and put on a 12-month good-be­hav­iour bond.

Out­rage greeted a court rul­ing the next month that quashed the as­sault con­vic­tion, with cam­paign­ers against do­mes­tic vi­o­lence warn­ing that women had been sent a dam­ag­ing mes­sage and fewer might now pur­sue their tor­menters.

New­ton said out­side the court: ‘‘I sin­cerely ap­pre­ci­ate the op­por­tu­nity to put a very dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion be­hind me.’’

Since then, New­ton has kept his head down. He has writ­ten, di­rected and starred in fea­ture film Three Blind Mice about three naval of­fi­cers on shore leave be­fore they go back to the Mid­dle East. He also por­trayed the cen­tral char­ac­ter in Tom Stop­pard’s play Rock ’n’ Roll.

New­ton says the past year has been one of his best pro­fes­sion­ally— ‘‘a fan­tas­tic ride’’.

It has been a ride of a dif­fer­ent kind play­ing Clark, the ruth­less head of a New Zealand drug syn­di­cate im­port­ing heroin into Aus­tralia in the 1970s.

‘‘To think this re­ally hap­pened makes you think,’’ he says. ‘‘Af­ter this guy had shot some­one dead he would ring his wife to cook him a roast. His line in the sand is at a very dif­fer­ent point to most of ours.’’

Con­tem­plat­ing his life in the past two years has brought New­ton some sense of in­ner peace. He hints that turn­ing 30 has played a ma­jor part in turn­ing things around.

‘‘A lot of my con­tem­po­raries have hit that point where you start to feel good in your own skin and make dis­cov­er­ies,’’ he says.

‘‘Mis­takes of your 20s, pro­fes­sion­ally or what­ever, you just come into your own a lit­tle bit in your sense of un­der­stand­ing.’’

City slicker:

Matthew New­ton has put per­sonal prob­lems be­hind him and is loving his role (be­low) as Terry ‘‘Mr Asia’’ Clark in Un­der­belly: A Tale of Two Cities.

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