IN­SIDE: Seven days of TV viewing

Fi­rass Di­rani steps into the sun- drenched trop­ics to play a reluc­tant crime fam­ily lieu­tenant, write Deb­bie Schipp and Maria Noakes

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - Front Page - THE STRAITS, ABC1, Thurs­day, 8.30pm

IT was an of­fer Fi­rass Di­rani didn’t need to think twice about – a role in ABC’S first big drama of 2012 and the chance to spend 15 weeks on lo­ca­tion in and around Cairns and the Tor­res Strait.

‘‘ It was an ab­so­lute dream. I could have al­most done it for free,’’ says Di­rani, who shot to promi­nence on Aus­tralian tele­vi­sion screens play­ing colour­ful night­club iden­tity John Ibrahim in Un­der­belly: The Golden Mile, in 2010.

In The Straits, he is Gary Mon­te­bello, one of three adopted sons of Harry Mon­te­bello – a drug run­ner and smug­gler who heads his small em­pire with the help of Gary and his broth­ers.

Set against a stun­ning back­drop of turquoise wa­ters and ex­otic lo­ca­tions, The Straits is a crime se­ries which is as much about fam­ily and loy­alty as it is about drug run­ning and smug­gling.

Fam­ily pa­tri­arch Harry ( Brian Cox) and wife Kitty Mon­te­bello ( Rena Owen), and their adopted chil­dren Noel ( Aaron Fa ’aoso), Marou ( Jimi Bani), Gary ( Di­rani, pic­tured) and Sissi ( Suzan­nah Bayes- Mor­ton) are just like any other fam­ily, ex­cept they live off the prof­its of or­gan­ised crime.

They are mod­ern- day smug­glers, bring­ing drugs into the coun­try and guns and ex­otic wildlife out through the Tor­res Strait is­lands.

When Harry re­veals he is look­ing for a suc­ces­sor to take over the fam­ily busi­ness, a com­plex and bit­ter power strug­gle be­tween sib­lings un­folds.

Di­rani’s Gary is a far cry from the ac­tor him­self.

‘‘ First of all, he’s not very am­bi­tious,’’ Di­rani says.

‘‘ He’s the youngest of the three boys and he’s not re­ally cut out for the fam­ily busi­ness.

‘‘ He’s not a killer. He al­most avoids the sit­u­a­tion.

‘‘ When the s--- hits the fan, he would rather run. I en­joyed play­ing [ Gary] for a change in­stead of the pow­er­ful char­ac­ters.’’

Se­cur­ing the tal­ents of ac­claimed Scot­tish ac­tor Cox was a huge coup for the ABC.

Hav­ing never worked in Australia be­fore, the Brave­heart star says he took a risk and was ‘‘ thrown in the deep end’’.

‘‘ There were no guar­an­tees,’’ Cox says. ‘‘ For me, it was new ter­ri­tory. I have friends who I’ve worked with in­ter­na­tion­ally, like Hugo Weav­ing, but I’d not re­ally spent any time in Australia.’’

The BAFTA award- win­ner was drawn to the project on the strength of the scripts, writ­ten by Nick Par­sons, Blake Aysh­ford, Kris­ten Dunphy and Jaime Browne.

‘‘ There’s a very strong sense of re­al­ity. It’s not as far- fetched as one would think,’’ he says of the stranger- than- fic­tion story lines.

‘‘ It’s some­thing which is very fresh and very new and there’s some­thing dy­namic about it – that’s what I liked about it.

‘‘ I liked that it’s very up­front mul­ti­cul­tur­ally and I just love that as­pect of it – the sort of ra­tio­nal­i­sa­tion of cul­tures. They’re all try­ing to be who they are and, at the same time, deal with things that are Aus­tralian.’’

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