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
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: http://bit.ly/TWAK82 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,
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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.