All Saints: articles

Chris Vance

John Waters.

Profile: John Waters

There are plenty of actors who try their hand at singing. John Waters is the reverse; a singer and musician who morphed into an actor. Now, at 59, he is returning to his first passion. In what little spare time he has from his "night job" as the narrator in The Rocky Horror Show and his "day job" shooting scenes for the Channel Seven drama series All Saints, Waters is in a Sydney recording studio, preparing an album - his first - that he hopes to release in the middle of the year.

"There's a fair bit on at the moment," says Waters, who has written most of the songs and plays acoustic guitar on some tracks, as well as singing. "I'm probably busier than I've been for years and years."

It's hard to imagine that an actor as well known as Waters is ever not busy but he says the journey from dashing hero roles to older characters takes some adjustment. And he's not ready for the "portly, old-looking" roles.

"I don't want to just play somebody's father or somebody's boss - I keep as fit and active as possible," he says. " I'm quite aware of my physicality being very closely related to the roles I get, that's the nature of this business."

British-born Waters grew up with no illusions as to the glamour of acting. His father, Russell Waters, was quite a well-known and respected actor, whose career was more about queuing for dole payments than limousines and red carpets.

Anyway, Waters jnr wanted to be a singer, not an actor. "Music was everything to me as a teenager and young adult, and that's what I wanted to do. I wanted to be in a successful band."

His teenage band, the Riots, was mildly successful but Waters, at 19, decided to take a cheap two-year holiday to Australia, courtesy of the "assisted passage" scheme. After a stint working on a Queensland sheep station and as a singer and bass player in a Sydney band, he landed a role in the rock musical Hair, in 1969, which proved to be the start of his acting career and of his permanent move to Australia.

"I had started a ball rolling that really needed to be continued," says Waters, who went back to England but returned to Australia after less than a year.

Then came the first of more than 100 episodes as a host of Play School and more roles in rock musicals such as Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar. His big break after guest slots on television series including Homicide and Division 4 was the ABC's goldfields series Rush: Waters played the brooding leading man, Sergeant McKellar.

"It was the first chance I had to make an impact on TV screens on a regular basis," he says.

The other show he nominates as a career milestone is Looking Through A Glass Onion, a solo show about John Lennon that he wrote, produced, acted and sang in.

"It was my way of amalgamating everything in my life so far," he says. "And it got me back into music."

John Waters is the narrator in The Rocky Horror Show, at Sydney's Star Theatre at Star City Casino.


Biggest break: Rush [the ABC television series that screened in 1974]. Without Rush, I might have stayed jobbing around, doing bits and pieces, and guest appearances.

Biggest achievement: Managing to look after children [two adult children from his first marriage and three children under six from his third marriage]. It's one of the hardest things in life to get right. I'm not saying I've got it right but there aren't many men my age looking after small children.

Biggest regret: I'm happy with what's been dealt to me. Maybe I could have gone to America but I prefer to live here.

Best investment: Going out on my own and backing myself with Looking Through A Glass Onion. Not in terms of financial success - it had its ups and downs - but it changed the direction of my life by bringing me back to music.

Worst investment: It's probably the things I didn't do. I remember a parcel of land for $5000 in North Queensland in 1974; it's now part of Port Douglas.

Attitude to money: I haven't respected it enough over the years and it comes back to bite you. I had none as a kid, and that doesn't make you tight, it makes you a bit lavish. I've got the mortgage of a much younger man but I'm happy with my lot.

Personal philosophy: I've tried to respect other people and not let resentments build up in me.

Best advice received: An English teacher advised me to be inquisitive. He said there's nothing worse than contempt prior to investigation - don't knock it if you haven't tried it.

By Lucinda Schmidt
April 09, 2008
The Age