If the HAT fits

A gift from Molly led to the role of a life­time for Sa­muel John­son

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - TV Guide - - Front Page - By CAMERON ADAMS

COUNT­LESS Aus­tralians grew up watch­ing Molly Mel­drum on Count­down. Sa­muel John­son was not one of them.

“I was raised with­out a tele­vi­sion,” John­son says.

“Dad was a bit of a book­worm and treated TV as an un­wanted nar­cotic.”

John­son, 37, first saw Molly on Hey Hey It’s Satur­day in the late ’80s when he’d go to friends’ houses.

Cut to 2016 and John­son is Molly Mel­drum in Seven’s twopart minis­eries Molly.

The ac­tor, best known for The Se­cret Life of Us and Rush, spent most of last year ei­ther por­tray­ing or re­search­ing the Aus­tralian mu­sic and TV icon.

Friends with John­son’s father and the whole fam­ily for years, Mel­drum was watch­ing John­son em­bark on his uni­cy­cle jour­ney around Aus­tralia in Fe­bru­ary 2014 to raise money for breast can­cer (his sis­ter Con­nie is bat­tling the dis­ease) when the seed was planted for the cast­ing.

“I told Sam’s other sis­ter Hilde they’d just started work on this minis­eries about me,” Mel­drum re­calls.

“She asked who was play­ing me, I told her they hadn’t cast it yet and she said, ‘What about Sam?’ That made to­tal sense to me.”

Mel­drum’s vote wasn’t enough to green­light John­son, who au­di­tioned for the role.

“And my au­di­tion was ter­ri­ble,” he ad­mits. “Most of my au­di­tions are. Nerves get the bet­ter of me which means I’m not present with the char­ac­ter, which means I don’t get the role!”

That didn’t stop John­son fight­ing to be cast.

“Ob­vi­ously hav­ing Molly in my cor­ner was es­sen­tial to me get­ting the role. I’ve known Molly for a long time. I wanted some­one who knew Molly to play him. We share many be­liefs, we have a sim­i­lar sense of hu­mour and we’ve both got a mis­cre­ant within us. I didn’t have to search too far.

“(But) as vo­cal as Molly was in sup­port of me we still did need net­work ap­proval. Thank­fully that came.

“It’s weird to think if I had never em­barked on that uni­cy­cle ride I would never have been gifted the role. It’s a nice piece of syn­chronic­ity for me.”

Once cast, John­son knew one wardrobe item was cru­cial – the cow­boy hat. Luck­ily he al­ready had one of Mel­drum’s hats in his own wardrobe.

“Molly had given me a hat years ago, way be­fore I even got the role, way be­fore this tele­movie even ex­isted. For six months I’d sit in front of a mir­ror, in that hat, copy­ing Molly as I was watch­ing him on You Tube on Count­down.”

John­son says it was im­por­tant his Molly wasn’t a par­ody.

“When­ever an ac­tor plays a real per­son you have to tread a fine line – I didn’t want to mimic Molly, I wanted to rep­re­sent him. If I was just copy­ing him it would prob­a­bly come out like a Fast For­ward sketch. And it wasn’t easy. Act­ing is in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult with­out the pres­sure of play­ing a na­tional icon.”

While he’s been busy fundrais­ing (he re­ceived an Or­der of Aus­tralia medal last week for his ef­forts) and do­ing his voiceover work, John­son is hop­ing Molly will re­mind au­di­ences and the in­dus­try he’s an ac­tor.

“Hope­fully this sig­ni­fies the end of the plateau in my ca­reer. Hope­fully I’ll get some work off the back of this.”

Trans­formed: Above, Sa­muel John­son por­trays the Aussie TV icon in Molly; right, Molly Mel­drum.

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