Matt goes Belly up
Playing an Underbelly drug baron and murderer is helping Matthew Newton focus on what he does best, writes Erin McWhirter
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.’’
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.