Talent on tap
Joel Jackson dazzles as Peter Allen, writes
amateur hoofing, couldn’t be heard over the flight path noise.
By emulating the kind of resourcefulness and unshakable self-belief which took Peter Allen from talented boy from the bush to the bright lights of Broadway, you can’t help but think Jackson would be getting a nod of approval from the man he plays in Channel 7’s impressive new telemovie, Peter Allen: Not The Boy Next Door.
With the ghost of Allen only a You Tube click away, not to mention the immense shadow cast by Todd McKenney and Hugh Jackman — who became household names on the back of playing the same part — it says something of Jackson’s star quality that he welcomed the chance to “step up and into the pressure” now inherent in the role.
Taking the same academic approach to his character as he did when playing war correspondent Charles Bean in Foxtel’s Deadline Gallipoli, Jackson studied hours of archival footage of Allen’s concert and TV performances; looked for clues to the rhythms of his dance numbers in “that chalk guy (Dick Van Dyk) in Mary Poppins”; and even put himself on a strict diet of just MGM musicals for the duration of filming the two-part Endemol Shine production.
Then there were his own life touchstones: drawing on the years he’s spent on the road gigging in dusty country pubs; or busking with his trusty guitar for the money to fund those musical ambitions.
But within minutes of arriving on set to see the West Australian perform Rio, a scene recreating one of Allen’s earliest appearances on Countdown, it’s clear Jackson’s arduous Boy From Oz boot camp has paid off.
He seems possessed by the spirit of the singer-songwriter: shrugging his shoulders to the steady beat of that metronome, while his limber legs put on another show of their own under the baby grand piano.
While the crowd of teenage extras — most of whom would never have heard of Allen and definitely not Jackson before — were directed to go wild at his feet, they seem genuinely captivated by each take.
Watching the scene in playback, Jackson admits even he was dazzled by his performance. “There’s like a vitality there and so many moments in the first episode where I surprise myself with laughs and intonations just like Peter,” Jackson says, “and I’m like ‘wow!’”
“His shoulders were always doing something different to the rest of his body. It’s not just one thing as he’s coming in and out of a movement,” he says, swinging his torso forward and back while seated.
If he’s impressed himself, his co-stars were even more taken by the NIDA graduate’s preparation; earning the respect of his more experienced co-stars, including Sigrid Thornton (who plays Judy Garland) and Rebecca Gibney (as Allen’s mother Marion Woolnough); while setting an incredible benchmark for his younger co-stars Sara West (Liza Minnelli) and Ky Baldwin (who shines as the young Peter).
Thornton relished being “part of Joel’s starting point,” predicting great things for him.
“He embodied and performs the role extremely seriously, but doesn’t take himself seriously,” Thornton says, adding “that’s a magic combination.”
The bond between Gibney and her on-screen son was particularly close, with Jackson describing the Packed To The Rafters matriarch as “my surrogate mum.”
“Peter and Marion were so damn close,” Jackson says, “so it was important to me and Bec that we became close … and, it’s the best, I can see it in the performance.”
“I surprise myself with laughs and intonations just like Peter ... and I’m
like ‘wow’.” JOEL JACKSON ON HIS ROLE