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
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.’’