On the high way to Hill

Life af­ter Un­der­belly has be­come a high-risk busi­ness for Les Hill, writes Dar­ren Devlyn

Herald Sun - Switched On - - Out Of The Box -

LES Hill, on the fringe of a Wil­liamstown park, was stand­ing in the shadow of a gi­ant eu­ca­lypt, his shoul­ders hunched and hands in his pock­ets in a fu­tile bid to beat the cold.

When the di­rec­tor called ‘‘action’’, Hill straight­ened his back and fixed his sear­ingly in­tense gaze on Gy­ton Grant­ley. Like a sud­denly det­o­nated ex­plo­sive, Hill, in the guise of Un­der­belly’s Ja­son Mo­ran, ap­proached Carl Wil­liams (Grant­ley) and, without warn­ing, flew into a fright­ful, vi­o­lent rage.

It was a piv­otal mo­ment, con­firm­ing Hill’s come­back to act­ing af­ter years out of the spot­light was fi­nally go­ing to stamp him as an elite per­former.

Un­der­belly proved one of the great, if not the great­est, drama in the his­tory of lo­cal tele­vi­sion. Be­cause it was so in­deli­bly etched into the pub­lic con­scious­ness, it be­came ap­par­ent Hill had to choose fol­low-up roles very care­fully.

He was keen to main­tain ca­reer mo­men­tum, but Hill, who in his teens found fame play­ing Blake Dean in Home and Away, needed to find char­ac­ters that of­fered him the chance to break new ground.

An op­por­tu­nity to do just that came in the form of the Chan­nel 9 tele­movie Scorched, in which Hill played an ad­viser to Ge­orgie Parker’s cor­rupt politi­cian.

He also filmed a role in the $200 mil­lion Tom Hanks-Steven Spiel­berg war epic, The Pa­cific.

That has opened doors with cast­ing ex­ec­u­tives in the US, but Hill’s im­me­di­ate con­cerns are here.

A lot is rid­ing on his Nine drama Res­cue Spe­cial Ops, and Hill is do­ing ev­ery­thing in his power to en­sure its suc­cess.

The stakes are high for Nine be­cause it’s in­vest­ing heav­ily in a se­ries ex­pected to ride the re­cent resur­gence of Aus­tralian drama.

On a per­sonal level, Hill is des­per­ate for Res­cue Spe­cial Ops to work be­cause he be­lieves so strongly in the char­ac­ter he’s play­ing and be­cause cast and pro­duc­tion crew have been pour­ing their hearts and souls into the se­ries.

Hill plays unit leader Dean Gal­lagher, a man de­scribed as bright, prac­ti­cal and ath­letic, but who has in­her­ited his fa­ther’s (Gary Sweet) trait of keep­ing his own coun­sel.

Hill, 36, who stars along­side Libby Tan­ner, Peter Phelps, Gigi Ed­g­ley and Un­der­belly’s Daniel Amalm, says the show aims to bring an au­then­tic­ity to its look at the life of paramedics.

‘‘Ev­ery episode there are at least two stunts or very high-risk sit­u­a­tions that our team has to deal with,’’ Hill says.

‘‘I’ve found my­self on the edge of cliffs and ab­seil­ing down a drop in the Blue Moun­tains. Last week I climbed a Fer­ris wheel to the top and ab­seiled back down. There has been the oc­ca­sional in­jury, but noth­ing worth cry­ing about.

‘‘I have a stand­ing agree­ment with the stunt co-or­di­na­tors that if they can get a stunt ap­proved for me to do and I don’t do it, I will buy them a case of beer. No cases have been pur­chased at this point,’’ he adds with a laugh.

‘‘I think the writ­ers have done a sen­sa­tional job. It’s not al­ways happy end­ings, as in the real life of res­cue. You can’t al­ways save the world and you can’t fluff this show up with un­re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions of its res­cue crew.

‘‘I’ve done a lot of re­search. There are tragic things to deal with and dark places res­cue guys have to go, but I’ve learnt you’ve got to main­tain a sense of hu­mour oth­er­wise you couldn’t face that kind of work. That (mix of hu­mour and tragedy) makes this dif­fer­ent to other things we’ve seen in Aus­tralian TV.’’

When film­ing ends on the first se­ries next month, Hill will head to the US.

He has se­cured an agent in Los An­ge­les and hopes to score a TV guest role or two.

‘‘I’ll see if I can do that, but I’m ex­pect­ing to be back early next year to work on a sec­ond se­ries of Res­cue,’’ he says.

If one thing’s cer­tain, Hill won’t be tak­ing act­ing jobs purely for the sake of work­ing. He’s proven in the past he’d rather not act than com­mit to a show or film he’s not pas­sion­ate about.

In his time away from act­ing, he’s mowed lawns, worked as a stone­ma­son, pulled beers in pubs and had a gig as a bouncer in Syd­ney’s Kings Cross.

‘‘The more ex­pe­ri­ences you have, the more lay­ers you cre­ate in your own per­son­al­ity,’’ he says. ‘‘I spent a bit of time with the de­fence force. I won’t go into great de­tail on that. It was a very in­ter­est­ing pe­riod for me be­cause it changed the way I look at my­self. What we think is hard work, out­side of that realm, is not re­ally hard work.

‘‘I was in an in­fantry-based reg­i­ment for about 2½ years when I was 29.

‘‘Noth­ing is hard af­ter in­fantry train­ing, I can tell you.’’

Res­cue mis­sion: Les Hill with Res­cue Spe­cial Ops co-star Libby Tan­ner. Pic­ture: JIM TRIFYLLIS

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