Damon Herriman has found his niche playing bad guys, writes Kathy McCabe
DAMON Herriman calls the decision of his career “regret insurance”.
After starring as a regular presence in Australian film and television – kicking off in the iconic The Sullivans when he was six – the actor decided 15 years ago to try his luck in Hollywood.
“I didn’t want to be in my rocking chair at 85 thinking, ‘Why didn’t
I go to America?’” Herriman tells Watch.
“I was about 34 at that point and thinking I was getting on in terms of an actor breaking into a new country.”
Herriman scored a role in the 2005 American horror film House of Wax and continued to get in an episode here and there, splitting his time between Los Angeles and home.
Then, his casting as white supremacist Dewey Crowe in Justified at the turn of the decade was followed by a string of chilling and game-changing roles as an epic bad guy.
That trend has reached its zenith in the past two years – hired to play criminal cult leader Charles Manson not once (in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time In Hollywood), but twice (currently starring in Netflix series Mindhunter).
He also featured as a ruthless priest in Foxtel’s Lambs of God and describes his role as a corporal in the controversial new Australian film The Nightingale as his most “hideous character”.
That pattern continues when Herriman returns as nightclub boss Freddy, the man who assigns Scott Ryan’s hitman Ray Shoesmith his jobs in the acclaimed black comedy series Mr Inbetween.
The series is the love child of Ryan, developed from The Magician, a film he made more than 15 years ago.
It follows the exploits of Shoesmith, as he juggles his violent occupation with raising a daughter and maintaining a romantic relationship and friendships.
Ryan said writing the second series with the cast, including Herriman, offered him wide scope to develop the characters his co-stars now inhabited.
“I had no idea Damon was going to play the part of Freddy when I wrote season one,” Ryan says.
“If I had known that I would have written a bigger part for Freddy.
“Damon is so great and I can’t just have him in the show and not utilise [him]. The actors come along and imbue these characters with their own characters which helps flesh them out to a certain degree and makes my job easier and a lot more enjoyable.”
Ryan hints the second
Mr Inbetween season will reveal more of the “human side” of both
Shoesmith and Freddy.
“As a writer, my approach is to show their human flaws without losing the audience because these guys can be horrible,” he says.
For Herriman, Freddy’s kind of villainy is “a lot of fun” compared to playing Manson or Lambs of God’s nasty Father Bob. He immediately appreciated the efforts of the cast (including Brooke Satchwell and Justin Rosniak) in helping develop this unique, darkly funny drama.
“Scott has found all the bits that worked in season one and expanded on those which means now we’re all a little bit more defined than before,” he says. “The changes I’ve noticed with Freddy are circumstantial stuff; Scott’s written scenes that are purely there to see Freddy get frustrated about something. A scene where Freddy and his girlfriend have an argument about toilet paper was brilliant writing.”
Herriman is naturally effusive about his experience working with the Inbetween team, which includes director Nash Edgerton.
But you can’t blame him for being disproportionately stoked about getting his moment to shine in Tarantino’s orbit.
In the final cut, he has just one scene as Manson in Once Upon a Time In Hollywood; but there’s a lifetime of stories from his time on set.
Like the secret gin and tonic tradition.
“I have a feeling this is something he’s done on every movie; a secret tradition,” Herriman explains.
“So there was a 25-minute break and all these snacks and gin and tonics come out and everyone’s clapping. So I start clapping, I guess it’s a good thing and I have no idea what’s happening.
“Someone later explained this just happens every 100 rolls of film. I’m standing there thinking, ‘This just gets better’.
“I asked what happens if the 100 rolls of film comes up at 7am and they said ‘Then we have drinks at 7am!’ I’m glad I was wrapped when the drinks came out because I was feeling tipsy.”
As an in-demand actor who has almost equally divided his time between Hollywood and Australia over the past decade, Herriman is well-placed to observe the “purple patch” of quality homegrown, local productions happening right now.
“Every time I speak to a friend who is an actor, they seem to be in a mini-series; I don’t remember so much drama being made at one time,” he says.
“In terms of quality, I think we’ve seen an upward trend since productions like Love My Way. I think that was such an incredible piece of drama which truly showed what Australia can do and put us in the international leagues.”
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Damon Herriman as nightclub boss Freddy in Mr Inbetween; below, co-star Scott Ryan as hitman Ray Shoesmith.