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