‘I WAS PINCHING MYSELF’
THE MAN FROM SNOWY RIVER STAR OPENS UP ABOUT HIS BIG ROLES – AND MEETING NICOLE KIDMAN
With blockbusters such as The Man from Snowy River and Phar Lap under his belt and acting credits that have seen him share screen space with the likes of Carrie Fisher and Kirk Douglas, Tom Burlinson has had an enviable career.
The showbiz triple-threat takes New Idea on a stroll down memory lane, and through four decades of stage and screen success.
THE MAN FROM SNOWY RIVER, 1982
When Tom signed on to play the lead role of Jim Craig, he had no idea that his life would change forever.
In a drama where horses feature centre stage, however, there was one big setback: Tom couldn’t ride. Producers had to hire a trainer to teach him. And while Tom was new to the big screen, he was starring opposite a Hollywood legend – Kirk Douglas.
“This was my first movie,” Tom continues. “But for him it was perhaps his 60th. I admit, I was daunted at first.”
Kirk recently passed away and Tom has only fond memories of the legend.
“I ran into him one last time,” he recalls. “It was in a restaurant in Beverly Hills and
I was wearing a suit – so looked very different out of my Akubra hat from the movie! I went over but he didn’t recognise me. He said: ‘Tom! I didn’t recognise you – you look so dapper!’”
PHAR LAP, 1983
Chosen to take on the main role of the great racehorse trainer Tommy Woodcock, when Tom signed on for Phar Lap, he would add a second consecutive big-screen hit to his résumé.
“I had to learn to ride jockey-style,” he says. “But I didn’t have as much riding to do as I did in Snowy River.
“I also had the opportunity to meet with Tommy – who was still alive at that time
– and the film is really a great tribute to him.
“Both my first two movies were so well made and so successful, I suppose I was pinching myself. And after all this time they’re still loved.”
A genre switcheroo saw the actor take on the lead role of a wealthy windsurfer for this 1986 romcom.
“All of the other movies I had done had been set in the past,” says Tom. “So I was glad to do something modern. Though it was much harder to learn to ride a windsurfer than a horse!”
Playing the female lead in the romantic comedy – and
starring in her first grown-up movie role – was Nicole Kidman. “She’d been in a couple of other movies, such as
BMX Bandits,” says Tom. “I remember thinking that it was clear that she was very talented and was going places.”
THE TIME GUARDIAN, 1987 Going from the past, to the present, to the future, Tom made his sci-fi debut in this time-travelling flick opposite the late Carrie Fisher and Quantum Leap star Dean Stockwell.
“While the movie had an international cast, it was actually shot in Adelaide,” reveals Tom.
“It didn’t have the budget to compete with big-budget American movies of its kind. Why Carrie Fisher agreed to do it … I really don’t know.
“She was a naturally very funny person and we got on well. I saw her years later when I visited her in LA.
“I was very saddened by her early death.”
FRANK – THE SINATRA STORY, 1998
A huge Frank Sinatra fan since his childhood, when acting work became leaner for Tom in the 1990s, he turned his attention to an as-yet unexplored talent: singing
– and invested in his own Sinatra stage show.
“It was a big risk at the time,” he admits. “I took a mortgage out to finance it.
“Then, two weeks before we opened, Sinatra died. It was sad, but it meant that there was a huge amount of publicity around him, and consequently my show.
“I sent Frank’s daughter Tina a tape of it and she was very supportive.”
What was meant to be just 12 shows turned into an ongoing production that continued for years.
“It was far more successful than
I ever imagined,” says Tom of the experience.
AUSTRALIA’S GOT TALENT, 2007
One of the original judges – alongside Dannii Minogue and Red Symons – for three years, Tom helped launch the careers of singers including Mark Vincent and Bonnie Anderson.
“I was cast as the ‘nice judge’ in accordance with the way these shows usually go!” he says, laughing.
“The show was a big success and I loved working with Dannii Minogue – we became good friends.”
• Due to the coronavirus crisis, Tom Burlinson has had to postpone his Swingin’ the Great Standards shows until October. Check his website tomburlinson.com.au for more information.