DONNA WALKER-MITCHELL

“Com­ing from Ade­laide, I thought you’d have a bet­ter chance of be­com­ing an as­tro­naut for NASA than be­com­ing an ac­tor.”

The Saturday Paper - - Front Page - An­thony LaPaglia

An­thony LaPaglia is the ac­ci­den­tal ac­tor – a man who has achieved huge acclaim in Aus­tralian and Amer­i­can film, the­atre and tele­vi­sion, but whose suc­cess has sur­prised him­self more than any­one.

“This ca­reer was not planned. Far from it. I did not come tap-danc­ing out of the womb,” LaPaglia, 58, says in his trade­mark raspy voice with his inim­itable dead­pan de­liv­ery.

Famous for his roles in crit­i­cally lauded Aus­tralian films such as Lan­tana and Bal­ibo, a star­ring role in the Amer­i­can TV drama se­ries With­out a Trace and a Tony Award for Best Ac­tor in Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge on Broadway, LaPaglia’s ca­reer is widely ad­mired within the in­dus­try.

In his lat­est ef­fort, he plays for­mer toy maker

Sam Mullins in the su­per­nat­u­ral hor­ror film Annabelle: Cre­ation, op­po­site fel­low Aus­tralian Mi­randa Otto.

To­day, LaPaglia is look­ing sharp in a dark navy blue suit, with a white shirt, no tie and his dark hair slicked back as he sits down for an early lunch in West Hol­ly­wood, just south of Sun­set Boule­vard.

Af­ter he gives his or­der – a turkey club sand­wich and a wild berry smoothie – LaPaglia looks out the large win­dows to the stun­ning view over the city he calls home, still seem­ingly mar­vel­ling at how his ca­reer has evolved.

Grow­ing up in Ade­laide and at­tend­ing Nor­wood High School, the son of Dutch model Maria Jo­hannes and Ital­ian auto me­chanic and car dealer Ge­dio “Ed­die”, LaPaglia never gave act­ing a sec­ond thought, pre­fer­ring to fo­cus his at­ten­tion on his beloved sport of soc­cer.

“I hated drama class and I’d duck it as much as I could just to go and play soc­cer,” he says. “You see, com­ing from Ade­laide, I thought you’d have a bet­ter chance of be­com­ing an as­tro­naut for NASA than be­com­ing an ac­tor. Then, af­ter I started to be­come suc­cess­ful, some­one went back to my drama teacher at Nor­wood and asked her about me. She said, ‘You could have picked any kid in my class who was go­ing to go into act­ing and I would have thought, ‘Okay, but not him.’”

Re­flect­ing on his child­hood, in a “very blue col­lar” en­vi­ron­ment, LaPaglia spent his teens dream­ing of some­thing big­ger than his Ade­laide sur­rounds. He moved to Syd­ney when he was 19.

At 20, he dab­bled in act­ing, a move he thought might im­press a po­ten­tial girl­friend.

“That’s when I got in­tro­duced to it a lit­tle bit,” he says. “Usu­ally you do some­thing like that be­cause you want to date some­one, and that was me. This per­son was very in­ter­ested in the­atre so I kind of got an in­tro­duc­tion to it in a small way.”

Still not sure of what he wanted to do with his life, LaPaglia packed his suit­case in 1982 af­ter he de­cided he was go­ing to move to the Big Ap­ple. “I re­ally had no idea what I was do­ing, but I thought, ‘Why not?’”

LaPaglia em­braced life as a twen­tysome­thing in New York City.

“When I first started out in New York, I was ba­si­cally a bar­tender who went to act­ing classes. I didn’t re­ally think about act­ing ca­reer-wise,” he says, shrug­ging.

How­ever, some­thing in the young LaPaglia was chang­ing and he be­gan to like act­ing more and more.

“I was re­ally en­joy­ing my­self and then I started go­ing to classes more of­ten just be­cause I wanted to. Not that I ever re­ally con­sid­ered mak­ing a liv­ing out of it and, to be to­tally hon­est with you, I didn’t care. I was in my 20s, I was in New York and hav­ing so much fun. I mean, I wasn’t get­ting any sleep and I was do­ing, well…” His voice trails off a lit­tle. “I was do­ing what you do.” He laughs.

In 1987, LaPaglia landed a role in his first off-Broadway pro­duc­tion, Bounc­ers.

“That’s when I started think­ing, ‘Okay, maybe I can do this.’ Then I started do­ing more the­atre and that led to movies. Back then, there was very much a sep­a­ra­tion be­tween movies and TV. Of course, my as­pi­ra­tion was to do the­atre and movies. Do­ing tele­vi­sion back then was like the poor sec­ond cousin. That has to­tally turned around now.”

While the young LaPaglia was find­ing some suc­cess in his new-found pro­fes­sion, it wasn’t ex­actly smooth sail­ing. Try­ing to land roles in the highly com­pet­i­tive film in­dus­try, he went to mul­ti­ple au­di­tions, never se­cur­ing the elu­sive call­back.

“I made the mis­take of go­ing in with an Aus­tralian ac­cent,” he says mat­ter-of-factly. “You have to re­mem­ber this was around the time of Paul Ho­gan [and Crocodile Dundee] and it was a big thing, all of this shrimp on the bar­bie type of stuff. So I’d have to do 20 min­utes of Paul Ho­gan and then I’d read and then I never heard back.

I got quite frus­trated. Then one day, I went in and they said to me, ‘Where are you from?’ I said, ‘Brook­lyn.’ They said, ‘Great, let’s read’, and I got that job. That taught me not to be Aus­tralian,” LaPaglia says.

Un­like now, where Aus­tralian ac­tors are a dom­i­nant force in­ter­na­tion­ally, LaPaglia says there were very few ex­pats go­ing to au­di­tions in New York and LA.

“There weren’t any other Aus­tralians when you went to au­di­tion. Ac­tu­ally, no,” he says, quickly stop­ping to cor­rect him­self mid-sen­tence, “there was one. In my trav­els, I met De­borra-Lee Fur­ness some­where way back then. Maybe there were a cou­ple of oth­ers, but I never met them, just De­borra. It was a dis­ad­van­tage to be Aus­tralian back then, so from that point on, I was ei­ther from New York or Brook­lyn, and it made my life as an ac­tor much eas­ier.”

LaPaglia notes how much the land­scape has changed since those early days in New York in the ’80s, in terms of Aus­tralian ac­tors try­ing to make it big in the United States.

“Now, es­pe­cially, I look back and I think you go to a dif­fer­ent coun­try – and I know Amer­ica is West­ern, but it’s a dif­fer­ent cul­ture to Aus­tralia, it re­ally is. I kind of liked that. I ac­cepted the cul­ture of Amer­ica and I re­ally dove into it. The dif­fer­ence I see now with Aus­tralian ac­tors who come here, they tend to cling to each other a bit more, you know, safety in num­bers. They don’t seem to get out there with Amer­i­cans that much and I think they prob­a­bly should. I mean, they call it the Aus­tralian mafia now. I was here be­fore all of that, so I’ve never re­ally been part of that. I built my ca­reer here, not there,” he says.

LaPaglia’s ac­cent is an au­then­tic blend of Amer­i­can and Aus­tralian, although he sounds more like the lat­ter ex­cept for an oc­ca­sional rolling of his “r’s” and in his de­liv­ery. Forth­right and hon­est, LaPaglia loves the lux­u­ri­ous life suc­cess in the US has af­forded him, but that doesn’t mean he is blindly ac­cept­ing of ev­ery facet. Take the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal cli­mate.

“Oh boy, where do we start?” he says, laugh­ing loudly then shak­ing his head.

He points to a nearby tele­vi­sion that has the vol­ume down but is tuned to CNN and fea­tur­ing a story on Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump. “The most de­press­ing re­al­ity show I’ve ever watched,” he says, not skip­ping a beat. “We don’t have enough time, be­cause hon­estly we’ll be here un­til af­ter dark.”

As his speech picks up pace, he adds: “Don’t think it can’t hap­pen in Aus­tralia ei­ther. Pauline Han­son is still there, and in fact she’s em­bold­ened by all of this.

“Look, what hap­pened with Trump get­ting elected is a re­flec­tion on how bad pol­i­tics and politi­cians are here. I think peo­ple got so fed up with this back­spin ev­ery time you ask them some­thing. This is why I think Aus­tralia bet­ter be care­ful. Politi­cians need to just stop an­swer­ing a ques­tion with a ques­tion. When you get asked a ques­tion, an­swer the damn thing!” he says, rais­ing his voice sev­eral deci­bels. “You are rep­re­sent­ing the peo­ple. Politi­cians now are only in­ter­ested in get­ting elected or re-elected so they’ll say and do any­thing to have that hap­pen.”

LaPaglia, hav­ing lived in New York for many years, says he is fa­mil­iar with Trump’s ways. “I’ve known of Trump since I moved to New York in 1982. He’s al­ways been this per­son. He’s al­ways been an id­iot and, to be hon­est, a rep­re­hen­si­ble human. He is what you think he is and he’s not smart. I hate that they keep say­ing, ‘He’s a great com­mu­ni­ca­tor.’ If you like two-syl­la­ble words, he’s a great com­mu­ni­ca­tor. You re­alise how fed up peo­ple get with politi­cians and how lit­tle they trust them, and for good rea­son. You can’t look at Trump. You’ve got to look at the cli­mate that al­lowed him to even get a foot in the door.”

Clearly, it’s a sub­ject LaPaglia is pas­sion­ate about. He chuck­les when he re­calls an in­ter­view with CNN news an­chor An­der­son Cooper and Trump sup­porter Jeffrey Lord when Cooper said the pro-Repub­li­can com­men­ta­tor would apol­o­gise for Trump un­der any cir­cum­stances.

“An­der­son Cooper goes, ‘You would apol­o­gise for Trump if he took a dump on his desk.’ I thought, ‘This is it! This is the mo­ment I have been wait­ing for. Some­one to call this shit out’,” LaPaglia says. “This is a guy who cares about one thing and one thing only – Trump. The thing is, he doesn’t even like be­ing pres­i­dent. You can see it. It wouldn’t sur­prise me if he walked away him­self.”

In fact, LaPaglia has been so dis­mayed by the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal cli­mate he has pon­dered mov­ing home to Aus­tralia.

“This is the first time in the 30-plus years I’ve lived here that I’ve con­sid­ered not liv­ing here. I never thought I would, but I might. It de­pends if he does a sec­ond term.”

Re­cently, LaPaglia spent time back in Aus­tralia film­ing the crime thriller mini-se­ries Sun­shine.

“I’ve spent a lot of time in Mel­bourne lately,” he says. “I’ve been work­ing there. I just fin­ished Sun­shine for SBS, which was re­ally good. It was great be­ing in Mel­bourne and I had an amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence there.”

An­other bonus of be­ing in Mel­bourne is it’s the home town of his fi­ancée, Alexan­dra Henkel. The ac­tor made head­lines in April when he an­nounced he was en­gaged to 28-year-old Henkel. LaPaglia split from his wife of 17 years, ac­tor Gia Carides, in 2015. The cou­ple have a 14-year-old daugh­ter, Brid­get.

Speak­ing of his most re­cent trip to Aus­tralia, LaPaglia smiles be­fore tak­ing a sip of his smoothie.

“[Alexan­dra] is from Mel­bourne and her fam­ily is there so she has a wide knowl­edge of the city. One of the things I love most about Mel­bourne is it has so many great restau­rants per square foot. It’s in­cred­i­ble. But while I was there, it wasn’t like I was do­ing any­thing ex­otic. I was just kick­ing around, meet­ing friends I have there and catch­ing up. That’s the main thing I like to do when I go back,” he says.

As for when the wed­ding day will be, LaPaglia says the cou­ple haven’t de­cided on a date.

“I don’t know,” he says. “One thing at a time. Get­ting the en­gage­ment part was enough. I’m tak­ing a break for a minute.”

One thing he’s not tak­ing a break from, though, is his ca­reer. Look­ing back, LaPaglia says he’s had “ex­tra­or­di­nary luck in the stuff I’ve got­ten to do”.

Although the fi­nal de­tails are still be­ing worked on, LaPaglia will prob­a­bly re­turn to Mel­bourne soon, this time to take on his first di­rect­ing role in the adap­ta­tion of the The Rug­maker of Mazar-e-Sharif.

“Steve Bas­toni in­tro­duced me to the book and then asked me if I wanted to di­rect it and I said, ‘You know what? I ac­tu­ally do.’ ”

LaPaglia re­alises it will be a chal­lenge to di­rect, but it’s a chal­lenge he’s ea­ger to take on.

“For some­one who didn’t ever think about mak­ing a liv­ing out of this, 35 years later, just the fact that I’m still do­ing it is in­cred­i­ble to me,” he says. “There’s a tonne of stuff I’ve just been very for­tu­nate through­out the whole of my ca­reer to do, and you know what the

• great­est thing is?” LaPaglia smiles. “It con­tin­ues.”

DONNA WALKERMITCHELL is an Aus­tralian jour­nal­ist based in Los An­ge­les.

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