A nat­u­ral sur­vivor

Ja­son Dono­van em­braces the ‘rain­bow crowd’ as a judge on Chan­nel 10’s lat­est tal­ent search, writes Holly Byrnes

Herald Sun - Switched On - - Front Page -

EVEN with a rain­bow of feather boas and se­quined drag queens danc­ing around him, Ja­son Dono­van can be a se­ri­ous beast. Back in Aus­tralia to judge the Priscilla Queen Of The Desert tal­ent search se­ries, I Will Sur­vive, is as fab­u­lous an op­por­tu­nity to make a lo­cal come­back as they get.

Af­ter years of liv­ing and work­ing in Lon­don, ex­pe­ri­ence has clearly been a sober teacher for the for­mer Neigh­bours star, who to­day ap­pears more stiff up­per lip than Aussie lar­rikin.

But get him talk­ing about the fun he’s had on the road with this Chan­nel 10 pro­duc­tion and his face soft­ens into the boy­ish grin the world first fell for in his role of Scott Robin­son on Neigh­bours.

His un­likely part­ner-in­crime this time is Priscilla cre­ator and di­rec­tor Stephan El­liott, who is as un­pre­dictable as his work.

Criss-cross­ing Aus­tralia — and the US in the last few weeks of film­ing — Dono­van and El­liott emerge as a mod­ern ver­sion of The Odd Cou­ple.

Be­fore this in­ter­view El­liott re­minded Dono­van he’d just done a load of the ac­tor’s wash­ing and wasn’t pre­pared to have the ges­ture go un­recog­nised.

Be­tween stops on the IWS trail, Dono­van has re­cip­ro­cated by play­ing driver, with hi­lar­i­ous re­sults.

‘‘ Four hours in a car. Me driv­ing too fast, scar­ing the s--out of him,’’ Dono­van tells Switched On.

‘‘ We just spent those hours talk­ing about stuff, life. I’ve had some re­ally great laughs. Some of the best times I’ve ever had.’’

It’s gen­uinely touch­ing to watch them in­ter­act — two blokes whose tal­ents pro­pelled them to in­ter­na­tional fame and who both strug­gled to cope with the in­ten­sity.

Now they’re rel­ish­ing the chance to dis­cover Aus­tralia’s next triple threat: a singer, ac­tor, dancer, cho­sen from 12 hope­fuls, who wins $250,000 and the chance to make their mark on Broad­way.

This is the first time the pair have worked to­gether di­rectly, de­spite Dono­van be­ing con­sid­ered for the film and later com­ing close to star­ring in the With friends: Ja­son Dono­van is back on Aus­tralian TV with UK pro­duc­tion of Priscilla, the mu­si­cal.

At the time, Dono­van was em­broiled in a court case over his sex­u­al­ity with The Face mag­a­zine, which had used his im­age in a mis­guided cam­paign to out gay celebri­ties.

Ac­cept­ing the role of a drag queen was a risk not worth tak­ing, he says.

‘‘ I didn’t quite know what type of film it was go­ing to be. I didn’t want to take that risk . . . con­fus­ing the mes­sage.’’

At peace now with that le­gal drama, which un­doubt­edly scarred his ca­reer as it peaked in the early 1990s, his new TV role brings all of that wis­dom to the ta­ble.

‘‘ It’s a very het­ero­sex­ual ex­pe­ri­ence, this show,’’ Dono­van mocks.

‘‘ It’s a big mas­cu­line mo­ment in my ca­reer. What’s hap­pen­ing to me? It’s all that rain­bow crowd.’’

El­liott ar­gues the ‘‘ gay ex­pec­ta­tions’’ on this se­ries, which had TV ex­ec­u­tives ner­vous be­fore it was com­mis­sioned, dis­solve af­ter the first frock show.

‘‘ From the be­gin­ning this came with the weight of men, or gay men. It’s a po­lit­i­cal state­ment. But the sec­ond those boys put those frocks on and go into a full pro­duc­tion num­ber, ev­ery­body just breaks into a smile. It’s gold, it’s hys­ter­i­cal, it’s daggy, it’s warm, it’s meant to be funny,’’ El­liott gushes.

Be­sides Priscilla, Dono­van has taken on sev­eral re­al­ity for­mats: as a con­tes­tant on I’m A Celebrity . . . Get Me Out Of Here! (2006) and Strictly Come Danc­ing (2011), the UK ver­sion of Danc­ing With The Stars.

Be­fore Priscilla, he be­gan film­ing a role as judge on the An­drew Lloyd Web­ber cast­ing se­ries, Su­per­star (‘‘most peo­ple take a life­time to find Je­sus, we’ve got six months.’’)

Cri­tiquing other per­form­ers sits hap­pily with the man who has weath­ered his fair share of harsh feed­back.

‘‘ I’m pretty com­fort­able with it, I’m one of them. I’m not sit­ting as a col­lared ex­ec­u­tive of some record com­pany or cast­ing agent who sits back and de­cides that per­son is too small, or short. I can bring to the ta­ble all that ex­pe­ri­ence.’’

Be­ing bru­tally hon­est is much bet­ter than be­ing lied to like some stage mother.

‘‘ Some days I’ve got up there on stage and been crap, then I’ve read my tweets and they ain’t been good. You’ve got to be hon­est. Peo­ple re­spect hon­esty even if they don’t nec­es­sar­ily agree with it.’’

And he doesn’t al­ways agree with El­liott, who shocks even open-minded Dono­van (urg­ing one con­tes­tant to ‘‘ open a vein’’ and metaphor­i­cally ‘‘ bleed all over’’ the stage).

‘‘ We come from dif­fer­ent places, but that’s what makes it colourful. We spend far too much time to­gether. He’s a cre­ative force, he’s wild and fiery. He’s wrong, he’s right,’’ Dono­van says. I Will Sur­vive, Chan­nel 10, tonight, 7.30pm

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