Bowling over LA
Ten years ago, Grant Bowler got “sick of playing cops” on Australian television, broke the rules and took a shot at making his mark in America.
“Back then the rules were: you don’t go to LA if you’re not invited; you don’t go unless you have a red- carpet film, and you don’t go if you’re over 30,” Bowler laughs.
Then 33, Bowler had none of those things. He did have an unquenchable fire in his belly.
“I thought, ‘Be happy and grateful for what you’re given and shut up. Be satisfied’, but in the end I couldn’t. I had to go find out if I could play with the big boys,” he says. Turns out, Bowler can. He’s now a full-time working actor, with a CV that boasts stints on Ugly Betty and in cult series True Blood, a string of movie credits and a lead role in the upcoming cable sci-fi series Defiance.
But every year, the 43-year- old takes a drama role to bring him back to Australia.
Nine telemovie The Great Mint Swindle was last year’s drawcard.
And for Bowler and co-stars Todd Lasance, Josh Quong Tart, Shane Bourne and John Batchelor,
I had to go find out if I could play with the
it’s a triumph. The movie traces the unbelievable but true story of one of Australia’s most famous gold heists.
On June 22, 1982 the Perth Mint was presented with stolen cheques in return for more than 65kg of gold worth $ 653,000. The gold then disappeared.
The accused were three brothers – Ray, Peter and Brian Mickelberg.
The trio, who had been convicted of fabricating a massive fake gold nugget – The Yellow Rose of Texas – and selling it to tycoon Alan Bond for $ 350,000 ( more than double its real value), were found guilty of the Perth Mint Swindle theft and in 1983 were sentenced to 20, 16 and 12 years in jail respectively.
Leading the investigation was rogue cop Don Hancock ( played with menacing, violent brilliance by Bourne), and his offsider Tony Lewandowski ( a role in which Batchelor shines) – a cop who would later confess to fabricating evidence against the Mickelbergs at a 2002 State Royal Commission.
Their convictions were ultimately quashed.
That epic saga has inspired the telemovie revealing Ray ( Bowler), Peter ( Lasance) and Brian’s ( Quong Tart) fight for justice.
The story attracted the Los Angeles-based Bowler from the outset.
“It’s got everything. It is the story of three brothers, of fighting for freedom, it’s a mystery and it’s true and it’s got that great Australian thing of being utterly, and completely shafted,” he says.
“I knew Josh and Toddy were on board, and John Batchelor who was my best man at my wedding – as I was at his – was playing the evil copper.
“And when I was told Shane was cast, I lit up.
“Because I know Bourne has it in him. Comedy is angry and Shane Bourne is one of the funniest blokes I know.”
Bowler is no slouch himself in the role of oldest brother Ray Mickelberg.
One scene in which Ray, still in jail after years of appeals going nowhere, is told by his wife she has met someone else, showcases the actor at his best.
Bowler plays it beautifully – a dignified, agonising, heartbreaking portrait of a strong man at breaking point, accepting the inevitable.
“That was a tough scene,” Bowler reflects. “It helps when you’ve met the bloke and you see the cost in his real life.”
“Ray got a job in the prison library and in order to keep being a father to his children, he would create textbooks for his children according to what year they were studying.
“He would photocopy things and bind it all into books so they could go through it as a way of ( him) being present as a father.”
Bowler, who split from his wife of nine years, Roxane Wilson, a year ago, knows the importance of that.
Neither has gone public on the split – both vowing their children, Edie, 8, and Zeke, 6 were their priority.
At the time, Bowler made no bones about the fact Wilson was the rock in their family while he pursued work in Sydney and LA.
She acknowledged “it took an enormous amount of sacrifice and sadly, our marriage was one of the things that went along the way.”
A year on, Wilson has relocated to LA to pursue her own career, with the pair’s children, something Bowler says “just happened that way” and has worked out well for all concerned.
“I haven’t spoken about the split and I won’t, except to say we are both committed to our kids and we’re there cheering them on at every performance of every five-minute Japanese presentation and Christmas and Halloween pageant,” he says. “And we do it all as a team. “She’s really happy there and she’s got a great spot and I’m happy with where I’m at and the kids are over the moon.”
He confesses he is “dating”, then draws the curtain on his personal life.
Back on professional ground, Bowler has a busy 2012 in store in LA and is ready to begin shooting Defiance next month, having honoured commitments to a new series of Seven’s Amazing Race and Border patrol.
“Last year I was a blackjack dealer killin’ zombies ( in zombie movie Steve Niles’ Remains), a crazy Australian bomber ( in US drama The Cape), a cartoon character, a Texan fast foods millionaire ( in Good Christian Belles), brother to a gay man trying to get green card in New York ( in movie I Do),” he says.
This year looks similar, but he’ll find time to do his “annual Aussie drama jobbie”.
“I love busy. I’ll do it till I drop,” Bowler says.
“After the apocalypse it’ll be just me and the cockroaches.”