ONCE UPON A CRIME

Matthew New­ton burns up the screen as a baby-faced as­sas­sin in Un­der­belly, writes Erin McWhirter

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GOOGLE Terry Clark and web­sites for an in­no­va­tive hair de­signer and a fe­male coun­try mu­sic singer ap­pear as the top hits.

But search a lit­tle fur­ther and nes­tled among web­sites point­ing to Terry Clark, a pi­o­neer in Chris­tian mu­sic, is the pro­file of a man so bru­tal it makes the skin crawl.

Ruth­less mur­derer Terry Clark, head of the New Zealand il­le­gal drug syn­di­cate bring­ing in the big bucks in the late 1970s and early ’80s, is one of the cen­tral char­ac­ters of the much-an­tic­i­pated Un­der­belly pre­quel.

On screen his pres­ence is in­tense and Matthew New­ton por­trays Clark with an im­pres­sive mix of chill­ing men­ace and charm.

It’s a tough line to bal­ance as an ac­tor, but the 32-year-old pulls it off al­most ef­fort­lessly, along with a be­liev­able Kiwi ac­cent.

‘‘He (Clark) is in­tense,’’ New­ton, 32, says from the Syd­ney set of Un­der­belly: A Tale of Two Cities.

The ac­tor, who is film­ing a scene where Clark has just been beaten up, says: ‘‘I did a lit­tle bit of re­search on the in­ter­net be­fore and I couldn’t find much about him be­cause ob­vi­ously he was very good at what he did. He’s one of those blokes who will go and blow some­one’s head off and then sit down to a roast with his wife.’’

It was Clark, along with cor­rupt coun­ter­part Robert Trim­bole (played by Roy Billing) who changed the face of or­gan­ised crime in Aus­tralia from 1976 to 1987.

This is the pe­riod in which Un­der­belly: A Tale Of Two Cities is set. Against the back­drop of a po­lice force cor­rupted by more bad cops than good, money-hun­gry gam­blers, drug smug­glers and drug-fu­elled par­ties in some of Syd­ney’s most ex­trav­a­gant man­sions, the sec­ond sea­son be­gins with the bloody and mys­te­ri­ous mur­der of Grif­fith an­tidrugs cam­paigner Don­ald Mackay.

For fur­ni­ture-shop owner Mackay, Grif­fith be­ing recog­nised as ‘‘the pot cap­i­tal of Aus­tralia’’ had to stop.

He be­gan a mis­sion to put a stop to the drug syn­di­cate and the mob dam­ag­ing the town’s rep­u­ta­tion. Trim­bole has Mackay in his sights and the Mackay fam­ily isn’t go­ing to get away un­scathed.

Based on real events, Un­der­belly: A Tale Of Two Cities has the grimy essence of the orig­i­nal se­ries, and is a grip­ping story in its own right.

‘It’s crazy that this ac­tu­ally hap­pened,’’ New­ton says, shak­ing his head. ‘‘You are con­stantly re­minded that the peo­ple you are play­ing are real peo­ple — real vic­tims and real crime. All the de­ci­sions Terry made changed the face of or­gan­ised crime in this coun­try. It’s a huge re­spon­si­bil­ity to be play­ing th­ese events.’’

New­ton’s ma­jor con­cern was keep­ing his por­trayal of Clark as real as pos­si­ble.

View­ers will switch from watch­ing Clark the cold-blooded mur­derer, hack­ing peo­ple into pieces and throw­ing them into freshly dug graves, then head­ing home to his part­ner and child.

Clark cra­dles the child in his arms, seem­ingly brim­ming with love and pride. It’s hard to be­lieve he’s slaugh­tered some­one min­utes ear­lier.

‘‘By all ac­counts he was a great fa­ther,’’ New­ton says of Clark.

‘‘He is a great lover, a great part­ner, who ended up do­ing all this stuff. I spoke to a few peo­ple who knew him in­ti­mately and one of the things they all say is that the side of Terry they knew was de­light­ful. It’s the clas­sic ‘he was such a quiet guy who lived next door for 15 years and never would I have guessed there were 35 bodies in his cel­lar’.’’

Un­der­belly: A Tale Of Two Cities, show­cases a who’s who of lo­cal tal­ent.

Peter O’Brien, Asher Ked­die and Peter Phelps have key roles, and new­com­ers Anna Hutchi­son, Jenna Lind and Nathan Page are cer­tain to make an im­pact.

Da­mon Gameau, who has spent the past three years in Hol­ly­wood and Bri­tain, where he starred in a

se­ries play­ing an an­gry gay chef, re­turned home for the role of Un­der­belly’s Andy Ma­her.

Ma­her seems a happy-go-lucky Scots­man work­ing in Europe and Asia with Clark to im­port heroin into Aus­tralia.

For Gameau, star­ring in Un­der­belly of­fered a re­union with his Na­tional In­sti­tute of Dra­matic Art class­mate New­ton.

The pair stud­ied there to­gether and have been firm mates since grad­u­at­ing al­most 10 years ago.

‘‘The first cou­ple of scenes we had, he (New­ton) had this New Zealand ac­cent and I had this Scot­tish one so we were try­ing to get through the scene without crack­ing up,’’ Gameau says.

‘‘Not to men­tion this hairdo,’’ he adds, point­ing to an afro — all his own hair.

‘‘It makes a dif­fer­ence when you know them (co-stars) be­cause you trust each other and can play more.

‘‘There are amaz­ing sto­ries (in the script) of how th­ese guys got their drugs in and how clever they were.

‘‘The cops hadn’t caught up with them yet and they were mak­ing a buck­et­load of money. They got greedy and they didn’t know when to stop.

‘‘They could have had all the money in the world, but sud­denly peo­ple had to start dy­ing for it. That’s what brought down the whole op­er­a­tion in the end.’’

Im­pres­sive:

(above) Matt New­ton pulls off a cred­i­ble Kiwi ac­cent and an air of men­ace as drug king Terry Clark. Shady deal­ings: (left) Da­mon Gameau, who plays a Scot­tish drug courier, is re­united with friend Matt New­ton.

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