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