Anthony LaPaglia, actor, 58
You’ve lived in LA for more than three decades but have returned to Australia for films such as Lantana, Balibo and A Month of Sundays. What do you like about independent filmmaking? The kind of thing that gets made in Australia probably wouldn’t be made in the US. The material’s more interesting and gives me options to stretch myself as an actor. When I was younger I’d judge projects on whether they’d be a success, but now it’s all about the material.
Do you have to work at recapturing your Aussie accent? Honestly, when I get back there, two days in and a few beers and I’m [adopts ocker drawl] bloody right to go.
In the TV series Sunshine, you play a basketball coach alongside first-time actors from Melbourne’s South Sudanese community. How well did you get to know the community during filming? When I got to Australia there were a bunch of stories about the Sudanese gangs and the problems they were having. At the same time I was working with the community in outer-west Melbourne and watching a very different picture unfold. I found the Sudanese I worked with to be wonderful, generous, beautiful people. Unfortunately, as with every group, there are people who represent their group badly.
Had your homeland changed while you were away? The Australia I left was slightly more progressive than the Australia I’d come back to. In between the gay marriage debate and the stance on immigration… it’s disturbing to see Australia being so xenophobic and myopic about immigrants considering the country has been by and large based on immigrants.
Your parents emigrated from Italy. Did they find it tough? Those who came to Australia in the 1950s – the Italians, the Greeks, anyone from the Mediterranean – were on the bottom rung of the ladder in society. I watched my father struggle with the language and the culture. It was never pleasant and being the son of an immigrant wasn’t a tremendous amount better.
Your Golden Globe-winning role on the cop series Without a Trace lasted seven seasons. What are the pros and cons of working on a long-running show? You cannot ignore the financial aspect of being on a hit series in the US; it’s very lucrative. The downside is working 13-hour days; it grinds you down. Also, they did too many episodes a season and it’s not possible for the writers to maintain the quality. But it was an international franchise; it gave me so much exposure.
You won an Emmy for your guest role on the sitcom Frasier and recently appeared in the film Annabelle: Creation. Which is more difficult: comedy or horror? Comedy, definitely. It’s about finding a tone and you have to really understand the specific genre: is it a farce, a black comedy or a flat-out sitcom? Because I’m Italian, I can access drama quite easily.
You’ve just played a mafia crime boss in the TV mini-series Bad Blood… It’s the first time I’ve played a mafia guy in 15 years. I started out doing a lot of mob roles but then my career got routed in another direction. It was interesting revisiting it.
Do you have any tattoos? Many. I’ve been getting them since I was in my 20s but I usually cover them up. The first time I really let them out was on [TV series] The Code. Most of them revolve around my 14-year-old daughter, Bridget.
Your brother Jonathan hosts Australian Survivor. How long would you last on his show? Thirty-five seconds. I’d try to get voted off that island as fast as possible.
because i’m italian, i can access drama quite easily
Sunshine premieres on SBS on October 18. LaPaglia also stars in the thriller series Riviera, Wednesdays, 9.30pm on SBS.