Michael Ca­ton knew he’d found a worth­while pro­ject when he did a script read­ing for Last Cab to Dar­win that brought him to tears

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - PLAY MOVIES - FIONA PUR­DON

For more than 45 years Michael Ca­ton has been a favourite lar­rikin fam­ily mem­ber on tele­vi­sion shows such as The Sul­li­vans and Packed to the Rafters and movies such as The Castle.

Now at age 71, Queens­land­born Ca­ton has taken on the role of his life – as a gritty and emo­tion­ally com­plex taxi driver who is ter­mi­nally ill yet finds hope and love when he thinks all is lost – in film Last Cab to Dar­win.

Ca­ton stars as Rex McRae, a Bro­ken Hill cab­bie who de­cides to drive 3000km to Dar­win where he will be able to die on his own terms.

In­stead, he re­alises how much he loves his neigh­bour, Polly, dur­ing an ad­ven­ture in which he meets colour­ful char­ac­ters and has sev­eral ad­ven­tures driv­ing through the North­ern Ter­ri­tory.

“It’s a ca­reer role,” Ca­ton en­thuses. “Can you imag­ine some­one trust­ing you with this role? To go two-thirds across Aus­tralia, I’m sur­prised they got in­sur­ance for it.

“My Packed to the Rafters role (Ted Tay­lor), it was a bit of a se­ri­ous role, my char­ac­ter was suf­fer­ing from Alzheimer’s … while there were emo­tional mo­ments in The Castle … but this role is far from that and ev­ery­thing else I’ve done.

“I’ve al­ways had it in me, but it’s great a lot of peo­ple have backed me to do this.”

Di­rec­tor Jeremy Sims says as soon as he thought of Ca­ton to play Rex, he knew he would best epit­o­mise the spirit of the cab­bie, who is based on a re­al­life Bro­ken Hill cab driver who set off to Dar­win to take ad­van­tage of pro­posed eu­thana­sia laws al­low­ing vol­un­tary lethal in­jec­tion.

“He’s a coun­try Queens­land boy and, like a bolt of light­ing, I knew he was the one,’’ Sims says. “The more we thought about it, the more it made sense, be­cause Michael has all the sto­ries that some­one like Rex would have, hav­ing grown up in Cen­tral Queens­land. He has done out­back jobs, he has talked to coun­try peo­ple and has learnt to say noth­ing, when there is noth­ing to be said.

“Hope­fully, this will be his ca­reer-defin­ing role. He is ev­ery­thing – wise and funny – and there’s a love story.’’

Ca­ton and Sims worked to­gether on the risque TV se­ries, Chances, from 1991- 92.

Sims says Ca­ton has en­deared him­self to the public with many roles, in­clud­ing Un­cle Harry in The Sul­li­vans (1976-77). And no one will for­get the ac­tor’s iconic line, “This is go­ing straight to the pool room’’ as fa­ther Darryl Ker­ri­gan in The Castle (1997).

“You get a whole bunch of qual­i­ties with Michael. Ev­ery­one knows him from The Castle. He is so quintessen­tially Aus­tralian. I’ve known he could be se­ri­ous if he needed to be. He’s a screen crafts­man. He is some­one who works in front of the cam­era so well.

“He is a tech­ni­cally gifted ac­tor. When he first read the role in a public script read­ing at Dun­gog you could hear a pin drop; ev­ery­one had tears in their eyes.”

Ca­ton, who was born in Monto and grew up in Lon­greach in western Queens­land, where he still has rel­a­tives, says he knew he should take the role when he did the script read­ing at Dun­gog Film Fes­ti­val. “I cried,” he says.

Ca­ton co-stars along­side Jacki Weaver, who plays Dar­win doc­tor Ni­cole Farmer, Nin­gali Law­ford-Wolf as the colour­ful and gen­uine Polly, Emma Hamil­ton as feisty back­packer-nurse Julie and Mark Coles Smith as a tal­ented in­dige­nous football player from Ood­na­datta.

The film was adapted from an award-win­ning play, star­ring Weaver, which toured the na­tion 12 years ago.

Pic­ture: SFF

Michael Ca­ton plays taxi driver Rex McRae in Last Cab to Dar­win.

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