Squizzy’s flash mob
The tale of Australia’s mob legend Joseph Taylor is told in a new writes
THE underworld is called the underworld for a reason. Many of the people engaging in activities outside the law prefer to keep their profile low and their identity secret so as not to attract the attention of authorities.
But for some crooks, well, the spotlight tends to find them. Or they tend to go searching for the spotlight. And as a result, there are criminals who become both infamous and famous.
When it comes to organised crime, the US had Al Capone. The UK had the Kray twins. And in Australia in the early years of the 20th century, there was Melbourne armed robber and mobster Joseph Taylor, better known by his nickname Squizzy.
He was a master manipulator. A ladies’ man of renown. And a ruthless criminal not afraid of getting his hands dirty in the pursuit of ill-gotten gains.
It is his story being told in the latest instalment of Channel 9’s Underbelly crime saga. Underbelly: Squizzy chronicles 12 years in Taylor’s violent, dangerous, extravagant, eventful and tragic life, following his law-breaking career and his turbulent romantic relationships.
Heading up a cast that includes Susie Porter, Luke Ford, Diana Glenn and Dan Wyllie is Jared Daperis, bringing a cocksure charisma to his portrayal of the short-statured but hugely confident title character.
‘‘He is this big personality,’’ says Daperis, dressed to the nines in Taylor’s traditional finery on the Underbelly: Squizzy set.
‘‘And because of that we were very aware we didn’t want to turn him into a caricature. The rounds of research we did gave us plenty of insight into his public life – because he certainly courted the media – but we also wanted to focus on who he was privately and that really gave me something to sink my teeth into.’’
Taylor’s private life was full of highs and lows – including the heartbreaking loss of his eight-month-old child to Spanish flu – but it was his public persona that really captured the imagination of the Australian public nearly a century ago.
‘‘I think he was driven by how big his ego was,’’ says Daperis of Squizzy’s lust for recognition and fame.
‘‘I don’t think he was necessarily a criminal to make money; I think for Squizzy it was fame over fortune. He made huge amounts of money but he was reckless with it – he certainly wasn’t left with much in the end – and I think that can be traced back to his ego.’’
‘‘He kind of pioneered this; he was the first celebrity gangster in Australia, maybe the first in the world. Criminals and the police and the public had never experienced anything like him; that’s why he remains this legendary figure to this day.’’
Indeed, there’s a kind of appeal to characters like Squizzy Taylor, even if one has to admit it grudgingly.
‘‘He’s not a hero from a moral standpoint; he was a criminal and he was engaged in criminal business,’’ says Daperis. ‘‘But there’s a touch of the Robin Hood about him – a lot of Australia was behind him because of his charm and his charisma. It sort of softened the blow.’’
Underbelly: Squizzy: Sundays, 8.30pm, Nine, NBN.
Jared Daperis and Gracie Gilbert