Damon Herriman on playing history’s baddest bad guy.
Fans don’t often recognise you in public since you’re a bit of a chameleon. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?
Deﬁnitely good. Don’t get me wrong, having people say hi or tell you they like what you do is really nice. But there’s no doubt being able to go about your day as part of the crowd is preferable to being instantly recognisable the moment you walk out the door. That would be tough.
You have a small but pivotal role as Charles Manson in Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming ﬁlm Once Upon A Time... In Hollywood. Sum up the on-set atmosphere in ﬁve words. Fun. Exhilarating. Relaxed. Egoless. Unique.
You gave an award-winning performance as a trans woman in the ﬁrst season of Foxtel’s Secret City, but since it aired in 2016, dialogue around who should or shouldn’t “play trans” has shifted. What do you make of it now? It hasn’t come up a lot – at least not to me directly – but I’ve certainly thought about it many times. I auditioned for that in February 2015, and it’s amazing how much has changed in four years. At the time, the concern was more about making sure they’d done an extensive casting search to try and ﬁnd a trans actor. Now that wouldn’t be enough.
I certainly wouldn’t play that role now, and it’s highly unlikely a non-trans actor would even be asked to play that role.
Your new TV show Perpetual Grace, LTD deals with a pastor and his wife, played by Ben Kingsley and Jacki Weaver, who scam followers out of money. How did you keep the atmosphere light when you weren’t shooting? Nearly all of my stuff in the show is [actually] with a wonderful actor called Jimmi Simpson. It was very easy keeping the atmosphere loose working with him because he’s such a funny, down-to-earth guy. It was like working with another Australian.
You’ve banked a huge array of accents across your career. What’s one you’ve yet to nail? Probably one I haven’t had to do yet. I think a New Zealand accent would be hard, maybe because it’s so close to ours. And apparently Welsh is particularly tricky. But I am always up for the challenge.
Some YouTube sleuthing unearths a clip with an adorable 12-year-old you in the 1982 Australian soap opera Taurus Rising, which was meant to be our answer to Dallas or Dynasty. What do you remember of that time? My only memories are how fun it was. I feel like I had a dozen ﬁll-in parents on set who wanted to make sure I was looked after. My own parents were living in Adelaide for most of the time I was acting as a kid, so all the cast and crews of those Sydney and Melbourne shows really stepped up in a wonderful way to keep an eye on me. Taurus Rising was especially fun because my character was a rich kid. So I had all these incredible toys to play with!
Plenty of young actors go oﬀ the rails, but you’ve stayed the course – and at 49, are more in demand than ever. What do you chalk it up to? A large part of it was my parents. My dad used to drill into me that being an actor was nothing special, and that bragging or big-noting yourself was an absolute no-no. “Don’t get a big head,” was often said in our house. I think he must regret it a bit now because it’s so drilled into me that half the time I won’t even let him post stuff about me on Facebook out of fear it’s too braggy. I’ll say, “Remember what you taught me, Dad?”
Perpetual Grace, LTD airs on Stan, with new episodes from 7pm every Monday.
“Dad drilled it into me that being an actor was nothing special”