Aaron’s been a bad boy

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - TELEVISION - 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 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

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