Blackjack: articles

Colin Friels

Colin Friels in the police drama series Black Jack.

Jumping Jack's dash

There are times, Colin Friels admits with a smile, that he shares a feeling of kinship with his latest on-screen persona.

As Detective Jack Kempson in the third instalment of the semi-regular series of BlackJack TV movies this week, he plays a cop with years of experience and a wealth of knowledge, surrounded by young, eager faces all out to replace him.

It’s not a totally different world to the one he inhabits as an actor, he says.

“[Acting] is such a youth market,” Friels said, “and a lot of older actors don’t last because it’s such a difficult place to survive.

“I’ve been lucky in that I’ve been able to work over a broad section of the business, from theatre and radio to television, and I’m lucky to be back here with such a great character.

“Jack’s a middle-aged fella like me and I’m having a great time playing him.”

It’s not hard to imagine Friels is doing just that, with a role that is worlds away from the stereotypical staid old “cop solving crimes from behind a desk” scenario usually reserved for characters and actors in their 50s.

This time around, Jack’s still jumping over fences chasing the bad guys—Friels relates with glee how he’s just finished a scene that involved him rolling about on the bonnet of a speeding car—and he gets himself a girlfriend.

And even more interestingly, it’s not the predictable “old cop falls for younger partner” scenario common to the genre. Jack’s romance is far more realistic.

“I did actually say to the writers, ‘look this guy’s got the sex life of Harry Potter, it’s ridiculous. He’s got to have something going on’,” Friels said. “So they came up with something, which is good; a man’s not a camel.”

But thankfully, he said, Jack wasn’t paired off with his young partner, Detective Sam Lawson, played by Marta Dusseldorp.

“No, you couldn’t have that! It’s just obscene!” Friels said, not quite hiding a smirk.

“As if they would [get together], that’s just a joke! The love interest Jack finds is a different thing, it’s a good one.”

With little fanfare, and almost against both of their wishes, Jack falls for lawyer Christine Vallis, played by Doris Younane. It is, to put it mildly, a conflict-filled relationship.

“They fight,” Friels said, “but they do have a genuine affection for each other.”

It’s another example of how seriously Friels takes the idea of making his character a realistic Aussie bloke living in a realistic world.

“He’s the same age as me—he’s got to be because I’m playing him. And, you know, it’s great to get rid of that ageism.

“You don’t have to be 22 years old to be a cop, or an actor. [Robert] Redford’s still working, [Clint] Eastwood’s still working, Morgan Freeman’s still working, and when you see older actors still out there you think, ‘Ah, I can still keep going’.”

And BlackJack, he said, was the ideal place to do it.

In In The Money, Kempson and Lawson again discover new evidence which may solve a crime buried in the unsolved cases department they inhabit.

Years before a woman had been murdered and a killer sent to jail, but new evidence suggests the police might have arrested the wrong man.

The more Kempson looks, the more suspects he turns up and the less anyone wants him to continue.

“Jack gets knocked around the edges a bit more this time,” Friels said, “but he’s a rough old bastard like me and as a character there’s enormous scope for him.

“He’s got this great humanity to him and that’s what I love as an actor more than anything.”

With the green light for a further three TV movies in the series announced last week, it seems Friels isn’t the only one enjoying Detective Kempson.

“I’m looking forward to getting back into Jack because I’ve realised that I’ve missed him and haven’t finished with him yet,” Friels said.

“Life does things to you all the time and I’m looking forward to putting more of that back into him. I think he’s going to get more rounded as we go on.”

BlackJack: In The Money, Channel Ten, Sunday, 9.30pm.

By Scott Ellis
September 12, 2005
The Sun-Herald