Always Greener: articles

Young and famous

IF THE Wachowski brothers, creators of The Matrix, had seen Clayton Watson a few years ago, they may have formed a different impression of him.

The actor was then delivering pizzas in a VW Beetle well beyond roadworthy condition. It had "no reverse, no indicators, no brake lights and I couldn't afford to fix it—I was eating two-minute noodles every night," Watson says.

"Every time I had to reverse I would do this Flintstones move and push myself back."

How things have changed.

These days 25-year-old Watson has two Hollywood films under his belt—The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revisited—an American agent and manager, a regular gig on Australian television, an Australian Film Institute award for Best Supporting Role in a Television Drama, and another feature film role.

"It kind of all happened in the past year," he says, modestly. "It's been good but it's been a really steep learning curve. You just have to concentrate on keeping your feet on the ground, smiling at the whole thing and focusing on what's important."

Watson is helped in that respect by his down-to-earth upbringing on a South Australian sheep station, to which he often returns to keep himself grounded.

Despite his rural background, Watson began acting early. He first performed at 12, but did not realise it was his "calling" until he turned 16. Then living on the Gold Coast, he studied at Queensland's Australian Film and Television Academy.

When his mother and stepfather started a blues and jazz club, he took up a management role in it for 18 months before moving to Melbourne where he says he "started getting work straight away".

His big break came in a children's show called High Flyers. "It was basically about a group of kids that make this kids' circus and so I had to learn to walk the high wire and juggle and do tumbles," he says. "We trained with the Fruit Fly Circus for six months."

Watson also landed guest spots on television shows including Pacific Drive, Blue Heelers and Flipper, and delivered pizzas in the aforementioned car wreck and was a bartender in between acting roles.

"It wasn't a dream start," he says. "It took a few years to start getting regular work and I was doing whatever I could to support myself until I could get a job in front of the camera, but every actor has to do that to realise how lucky they are to be working in this industry."

Luck struck when he auditioned for the role of 16-year-old Mickey Steele in Always Greener. Asked if he had prepared a song for the audition, which he had not, Watson used his acting skills to lie in the affirmative. Thankfully, previous auditions had prepared him for the task.

"At the time I had got down to my third callback for (the stage production) Mamma Mia! and so I thought I'd do Easy—the Lionel Richie song—and they loved it," he says.

Since winning his Always Greener role, Watson's character has been through great upheaval. After losing his mother at the age of 10, Mickey's father also died last season. But he does have a semi-adopted family in the Todds, who live next door, and new housemates from their extended family, the Taylors.

Mickey is searching for his love interest, Shelley, who disappeared after his father died, racked with guilt about the part she may have played in it.

Watson has received acclaim for his supporting role in the drama series, capped off with the AFI win late last year.

But breaks from the series have allowed him to follow his ultimate goal—film work.

Landing a role in the two Matrix sequels was a major coup and saw Watson take his first working trip to the US for "a few weeks of filming" in San Francisco, before finishing the rest in Sydney.

The role, he says, "opened doors for me that a lot of actors will never get a chance to walk through".

Following the completion of filming, Watson flew back to America for post-production and completed about 17 auditions in one week.

One agency even flew the actor to New York to sing three songs for Spike Lee—part of an audition for his film version of the theatrical play Rent.

Watson was awestruck by the trip, which yielded several surprises.

"I was driving down a New York street in a cab when I spotted Woody Allen and Soon-Yi," he says excitedly. "So I got the cab to pull over and got out and chatted to him for a few minutes and said I was a big fan and told him why I was here and asked if he would consider casting me in one of his movies. He said 'Yes, you're a kind Australian gentleman, we'll see'. "

Watson plays an intrinsic part in the final two films of the Matrix trilogy. His character is called The Kid and is one of the last survivors of the human race.

"All he wants to do is join the crew, he wants to be alongside Neo and Trinity and Morpheus the whole way and he becomes a bit of a pain in the backside," Watson says. "But as the story progresses he becomes someone who will be quite a force."

Without giving too much away, Watson says: "If they do a Matrix 4, 5 and 6 it will be myself and Jada Pinkett Smith (Niobe) who continue through."

With the second series of Always Greener going to air and the cast on a six-month break, Watson has lined up more feature-film work, this time closer to home.

He plans to star in Under the Radar, a movie about gang warfare to be filmed in Queensland. The film will be directed by Evan Clarry, director of the recent Schoolies film Blurred.

It is all part of Watson's plan to be working in films, whether in Australia or overseas, but he admits he does not have a complete career blueprint.

"It's too hard to plan these things," he says. "I think it's best to just float from one thing to another and have faith in what you're doing and be thankful for the fact you're getting to do something you love."

Always Greener, Seven, Sunday, 7.30pm

The Matrix Reloaded is due to open in Australia in May.

By Jennifer Dudley
February 27, 2003
The Courier Mail