‘It nearly killed me’
The accident that changed Sullivan Stapleton’s life, and the hit US show that turbo-charged his career
“I WOULDN’T say I almost ‘killed myself’ because that would be suicide,” Aussie actor Sullivan Stapleton says of the skull fracture he got falling from a tuk-tuk in Thailand during filming on Strike Back last year. “But yes, the accident nearly did kill me and it changed the way I viewed the world. It makes you appreciate the opportunity to learn and live and enjoy the people who are close to you.”
The Melbourne actor, who stars in US conspiracy thriller Blindspot, has been a familiar face on Australian screens with roles in everything from Blue Heelers and Neighbours through to MDA and Underbelly.
But it was the worldwide success of indie crime drama Animal Kingdom in 2010 that propelled him to fame in the US (along with Joel Edgerton and Ben Mendelsohn).
His first big break was scoring the role of wisecracking special-ops hero Damien Scott in the second season of action series Strike Back in 2011, and he’s spent the past four years “living out of a suitcase … flying all over the world chasing bad guys”.
The 38-year-old’s cracked cranium delayed production on season five by six months, and the final episodes of the show have just aired in the US and UK.
Stapleton, who also starred in 300: Rise of an Empire (2014), is eager to reprise the TV series on the big screen. “I would love to do a Strike Back film,” he says of mooted plans to film a feature in South Africa next year.
His rising profile made Stapleton one of the most sought-after actors at the last US pilot season.
He was drawn to the role of Special Agent Kurt Weller in Blindspot because of the premise: a naked amnesiac woman (Jaimie Alexander) is found in Times Square, covered in tattoos – and one of them has Weller’s name on it. The FBI realises each tattoo is a vital clue to help stop another major crime.
More than 10 million Americans tuned in for the first episode. That’s more than the combined audience of its competitors NCIS: LA and Castle – and another six million saw it within days.
Executive producer Martin Gero revealed recently he had three seasons mapped out – in part through necessity as they needed to work out what all the tattoos meant.
That grand plan comes as welcome news to Stapleton.
“That’s awesome, that’s the first time I’ve heard that,” he says, revealing he deliberately avoids learning more than his character.
“I don’t push to know that stuff … (it) can affect your performance on the day.
“I’m quite enjoying looking at it day by day, taking situations as they arise, because that’s how it would be with these cases.”
Stapleton is looking forward to his four-month break at the end of the season and hopes to return home.
Despite his success, it sounds like he has no intention of becoming an American permanently.
“No, no. This is for an Australian newspaper, isn’t it?” he asks. “Don’t say that because I don’t want them to kick me out, I’m only on a visa. But no, I don’t think so. I don’t want to give up my Australian-ness because it’s who I am.”
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