Fire in the Un­der­belly

Aaron Jef­fery packed on 15kg and turned to go­ril­las for in­spi­ra­tion for his role as a volatile po­lice in­for­mant, writes Dar­ren Dev­lyn

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PEO­PLE keep ask­ing me, ‘ What evil lurks in you to play such bad char­ac­ters?’ There is no evil in me, I just wear tight un­der­wear,’’ the late ac­tor Den­nis Hop­per said.

Hop­per’s tongue may have been planted firmly in his cheek, but the Blue Vel­vet star’s throw­away line draws at­ten­tion to the process an ac­tor goes through to bring dark­ness to the screen.

Play­ing bikie-turned-po­lice in­for­mant Frank O’Rourke in Un­der­belly: Bad­ness pre­sented Aaron Jef­fery with a mon­ster chal­lenge.

Jef­fery, who in ad­di­tion to Un­der­belly has been film­ing a con­tro­ver­sial role along­side Jordy Lu­cas in Neigh­bours, has an im­pres­sive set of act­ing tools.

He’s shown depth and ver­sa­til­ity in pro­duc­tions in­clud­ing Blue Murder (ar­guably Aus­tralia’s best TV pro­duc­tion), McLeod’s Daugh­ters and the fea­ture films Beau­ti­ful, The In­ter­view and X-Men Ori­gins.

But his per­for­mance in Un­der­belly is some­thing else. Like jelly crys­tals in wa­ter, Jef­fery ap­pears to dis­solve into the role.

O’Rourke is like an un­det­o­nated ex­plo­sive — a tightly coiled, im­pa­tient in­di­vid­ual who can throw ver­bal grenades and, with­out warn­ing, fly into phys­i­cal rage.

Jef­fery was so de­ter­mined to bring au­then­tic­ity to the role he re­sorted to junk food to stack on 15kg.

‘‘ I based Frank on a cou­ple of things,’’ Jef­fery says.

‘‘ I made this de­ci­sion that Frank was a sil­ver­back gorilla. And a nephew kept com­ing into my mind, so I based Frank on a com­bi­na­tion of my nephew and a gorilla. And I’m sure my nephew will FULLY SICK When Syd­neysider Chris­ti­aan Van Vu­uren was locked in hospi­tal quar­an­tine for tu­ber­cu­lo­sis, he set up a YouTube ac­count to doc­u­ment his ex­tended stay. The for­mer pa­tient has turned his ex­pe­ri­ences into a film, and the trailer com­bines fan­tasy, video games and an­ti­sep­tic. WATCH: love that, be­cause he’s a real hard case.

‘‘ Once I made the de­ci­sion to put on weight, I stopped train­ing and started eat­ing. It’s funny — once I told my body that I was go­ing to stack it on, boom, it just hap­pened.’’

A week be­fore film­ing, Jef­fery spent time with the show’s make-up depart­ment to add ex­tra di­men­sion to Frank — in­clud­ing a mul­let and fake tat­toos.

‘‘ He’s a char­ac­ter who is not afraid of any­thing,’’ Jef­fery adds.

‘‘ He is at a point in his life where he wants to change, he wants to be re­spon­si­ble. It’s a huge thing for him to do. He clearly has a lot of trust is­sues in deal­ing with the po­lice.’’

There is lit­tle doubt Jef­fery’s real-life ex­pe­ri­ences have helped boost his stocks as an ac­tor.

New Zealand-born Jef­fery had a trou­bled ado­les­cence and was penniless when he ar­rived in Aus­tralia at 17. He slept on the streets or on fac­tory floors be­fore find­ing his feet in Sydney.

Jef­fery had a stint as a Kings

I based Frank on a com­bi­na­tion ofmynephew and a gorilla

Cross bouncer, where he car­ried a gun, al­beit with­out bullets.

‘‘ Ab­so­lutely, that ex­pe­ri­ence, do­ing door work for seven years, helped in­form the role of Frank,’’ he says.

‘‘ Frank, though, has got way more en­ergy than I ever had. Yes, I had the ‘ piece’ (gun), thought I was Don John­son, but at the end of the day I was a big teddy bear.’’

Jef­fery grad­u­ated from the Na­tional In­sti­tute of Dra­matic Art in 1993, then scored roles in Wa­ter Rats, Fire and Blue Murder. Be­fore agree­ing to play Alex Ryan in McLeod’s Daugh­ters, Jef­fery had a break from act­ing to study the­ol­ogy and work as a farm­hand.

He wasn’t afraid of toil, lug­ging hay bales, re­pair­ing fences and work­ing farm ma­chin­ery. He was so suited to farm life that work­mates dubbed him ‘‘ the hu­man trac­tor’’.

He felt he needed time in the bush to rec­on­cile a dif­fi­cult past, in­clud­ing child­hood sex­ual abuse. Act­ing, he be­lieves, was his sal­va­tion. ‘‘ Act­ing was a huge cir­cuit-breaker for me be­cause it en­abled me to ex­press feel­ings I didn’t un­der­stand and to let some steam out of the valves. Af­ter go­ing to act­ing class, I would feel much bet­ter be­cause I had some form of re­lease.’’

Asked how he dealt with the trauma of abuse, Jef­fery says: ‘‘ I re­ally be­lieve they (those who do wrong) will have their own jus­tice. I’ve lived on the planet long enough to see it hap­pen time and again. Ul­ti­mately,


you get to a point where you see that no mat­ter how hor­rific your child­hood was, you have much more in­sight and depth be­cause of the pain you’ve been through.

‘‘ Ther­apy has al­ways been a re­ally im­por­tant part of my life. Ther­apy and act­ing, they bleed into each other. We are all hu­man, all of us fal­li­ble. As you get older, you grow and learn. I’ve al­ways been in­quis­i­tive, wanted to know why I was the way I was. A lot of great act­ing coaches tell their students they have to do ther­apy, be­cause as an artist you have to know who you are to tell a story, know about the dark­ness inside your­self to bring it out in a char­ac­ter.’’

Jef­fery’s char­ac­ter in Neigh­bours may not arrive with the force of a Frank O’Rourke, but the ac­tor has rel­ished the chal­lenge of play­ing a man who is not all he seems.

Bradley Fox is a jour­nal­ist who makes an in­stant im­pres­sion as a news­pa­per deputy ed­i­tor in Erins­bor­ough.

‘‘ When Bradley comes in it’s all roses, but there are a few things that hap­pen that send things pear-shaped,’’ Jef­fery says.

In con­trast, Jef­fery’s life is set­tled and he’s never hap­pier than when play­ing dad.

The fa­ther of Ella-Blu, 9, and 10-week-old Sophia loves life on the NSW coast and says he’s loath to take on act­ing work that will keep him away from his fam­ily for an ex­tended pe­riod.

‘‘ At the end of the day, fame and money don’t re­ally cut it with me,’’ he says.

‘‘ None of that mat­ters if you can’t be around for your chil­dren.’’ Un­der­belly: Bad­ness, Chan­nel 9, Mon­day, 8.30pm Neigh­bours, Eleven, week­nights, 6.30pm Sys­tem: Xbox 360 Out: Oct 23 Forza Hori­zon takes the leg­endary rac­ing se­ries off the cir­cuit and on to the open road. Play­ers com­pete in the fic­tional Hori­zon fes­ti­val along an ex­ten­sive net­work of Colorado high­ways. The game world prom­ises to be enor­mous, with di­verse land­scapes and truly epic vis­tas. Cru­cially, the han­dling is an­chored in sim­u­la­tion so there’s a pal­pa­ble dif­fer­ence be­tween the game’s many cars but it re­mains ac­ces­si­ble. Good thing too, be­cause Hori­zon has dozens of road sur­faces to test your met­tle, in­clud­ing full-blown dirt rac­ing. PC/PS3/360, $13 ★★★ Leviathan expands on the events of Mass Ef­fect 3, delv­ing into reve­la­tions about the ori­gins of the Reapers. Fans will love the new en­vi­ron­ments and ob­jec­tives, from un­der­wa­ter ex­plo­ration to crime-scene in­ves­ti­ga­tion. The com­bat feels a lit­tle samey but there’s plenty to like in this three-hour ad­ven­ture. Out now. PSN/XBLA, $20 ★★★★ Rock Band Blitz ditches the plas­tic in­stru­ments and fo­cuses on high scores. Play­ers are still press­ing but­tons in time with each song but now they’re switch­ing be­tween mu­si­cal lanes, try­ing to build and main­tain their score mul­ti­plier. The game comes with 25 tracks but is com­pat­i­ble with all pre­vi­ous songs. Out now. iPad 2/New iPad, $5.49 ★★★★ Ac­tion role-play­ing gem Bas­tion makes its iPad de­but and it’s as stun­ningly pre­sented as ever. The gor­geous world lit­er­ally forms be­neath the player’s feet, while the pro­tag­o­nist’s ev­ery ac­tion is nar­rated — a lovely touch. The con­trols make good use of the touch­screen, sig­nif­i­cantly chang­ing the feel of the game­play but not to ill ef­fect. Hugely com­pelling. Out now.

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