ONCE UPON A CRIME
Matthew Newton burns up the screen as a baby-faced assassin in Underbelly, writes Erin McWhirter
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.’’
(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.