All in the EYES
Ray Martin on why he decided to host Look Me in the Eye
RAY Martin was sceptical about Look Me in the Eye, which uses the counselling technique of non-verbal communication to reconnect estranged people.
It is a fair call. After all, “social experiment” is the buzz word in reality-TV circles and has been used to justify exploitative “couples in crisis” shows including Married at First Sight, The Seven Year Switch and The Last Resort.
But Martin insists Look Me in the Eye is different.
Viewers are party to what happens when five minutes of face-to-face eye contact – without conversation – is used to heal old wounds.
Will participants want to speak to one another or will it end badly with someone getting up and walking away?
Martin studied psychology during his university years but that didn’t mean he was quick to sign on when SBS approached him. “I am very sceptical of psychiatrists and psychologists,” the one-time A Current Affair host and Gold Logie winner says.
“The good ones are fantastic and the ordinary ones are very ordinary. So I wasn’t sure about this so-called social experiment.”
Luckily for the producers, Martin is at an interesting stage of his career.
He was won over by the network’s pitch. He had recently hosted First Contact to acclaim and was curious to find out more.
“At this stage of my life I am … doing what I want to do rather than what I have been told to do,” Martin says. “The impact of looking into someone’s eyes – especially if they have been through estrangement – is amazing.
“I wouldn’t want to do it myself and I wouldn’t have liked the concept before now but all the people we spoke to (who took part on the show) had a positive experience.”
The first episode focuses on two stories: Sue, who is desperate to reconnect with Gary, her husband of 33 years, after a separation; and Ayik, a former boy soldier from Sudan who comes face to face with his torturer.
Later segments include country girl Shelley, who confronts Mick, the father who walked away from the family when she was 10, and siblings Taylor and Tynan, whose relationship fell apart when their parents divorced.
Martin interviews the participants before and after the attempt at reconnection.
“It was one of the most emotional things I’ve ever done,” he says. “We had to engage them and get their trust. It helps if you are an old shoe like I am and they know who I am.”
Psychologists were on hand to help those who have serious issues to work through. Martin says that gave him a new appreciation of this form of counselling.
“For the two Sudanese guys, we had security there (as well) if they did, in fact, decide to go for each other’s throats,” he says.
“I seriously thought that they could turn violent.
“We dropped one of the stories, of a couple who came together, because we thought it could have ramifications later, and it wasn’t worth the risk involved.
“It was probably our second-best (story) but I’m glad SBS had that sense of a duty of care. In anyone else’s hands it might have been a different story.”
LOOK ME IN THE EYE
WEDNESDAY, 8.30PM, SBS
Worth a look: Look MeintheEye host Ray Martin with Sue and Gary, who separated after 33 years of marriage.