Aaron’s been a bad boy
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 throw- away 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 ever 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 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 boosted his stocks as an actor. The New Zealand- born actor 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.
He also had a stint as a Kings 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. But before agreeing to play Alex Ryan in the long- running 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 his 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 circuitbreaker 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.’’
UNDERBELLY: BADNESS, WIN, Monday, 8.30pm NEIGHBOURS, Eleven, weeknights, 6.30