Blackjack: articles

Sharp act

KATE Beahan describes her character in BlackJack as “quite acerbic… prickly and very guarded”.

It is a description that begs the question: Is Beahan a method actor? The description also fits the Australian actor, who is extremely wary of and icy towards the media.

She bluntly refuses to answer questions of which she does not approve, nor will she describe her beginning in the acting field, other than to say she began theatrical acting in Perth seven years ago before studying the craft at university.

An interviewer would be wise to avoid mentioning any past projects lest she disapproves of her part in them (telemovie Seconds to Spare is definitely off-limits), and don’t even think about asking for her age (“I don’t think that’s relevant,” she’ll answer in clipped speech).

If you accidentally veer down a disapproved path, she will terminate your questions with a sentence like “I don’t think there’s any point in pursing that line of questioning”, pronounced as if serving an arrest warrant on your thoughts.

But despite her fractious manner in interviews, Beahan is an obviously talented actor who is often compared to Australia’s Oscar-nominated export Cate Blanchett.

The NIDA graduate already has shown great promise in a series of high-profile Australian productions, including the film Chopper, in which she played murderer Mark “Chopper” Read’s troubled girlfriend, and the ABC series Love Is a Four-Letter Word, for which she was nominated for an AFI award for best actress in a leading role in a television drama series.

Other roles include stints in The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course, The Matrix Reloaded and the upcoming Channel 10 mini-series After the Deluge, in which she plays a violinist.

Perhaps, in the face of this resumé, her difficult manner can be temporarily excused.

Beahan’s latest role is in the soon-to-be released Channel 10 telemovie BlackJack, a police drama penned by comedy writers Shaun Micallef and Gary McCaffrie (Fast Forward, BackBerner).

Producers are hoping to make the one-off production into a series of telemovies in the format of Halifax fp and with a style similar to the UK series Cracker, starring Robbie Coltrane.

Producer Sally Ayre-Smith says Cracker’s anti-hero is reminiscent of what they wanted to create with BlackJack’s lead character, played by acting veteran Colin Friels.

“(Cracker’s main character) was fat and alcoholic and had poor relationships but he was sexy on the inside; in his head he was sexy because he was much more interesting than someone who’s got a brand new suit on and his hair blonded but nothing’s going on up top,” she says.

“Colin can portray that—he’s fantastic.”

Ayre-Smith, who helped create television history with her last TV project SeaChange, says she and executive producer Nick Murray were determined to cast an older actor in BlackJack’s lead role, despite pressure to cast a younger actor.

“We were all determined not to make just another cop show,” Ayre-Smith says.

“There’s so much cop stuff on television. We wanted to make something much more character-driven. We wanted to explore the journey of a man who had baggage and you don’t have baggage at 30.”

Friels was a perfect fit for the part, Ayre-Smith says, as with his battle with cancer “he’s been to the edge and back and he brings some of that to this guy, Jack Kempson”.

BlackJack’s Detective Jack Kempson is a man interested in justice, who is demoted after he refuses to overlook corruption within police ranks and blows the whistle on his colleagues.

Relegated to supervising data entry into a computerised crime-tracking system, he quickly sees his chance to right past wrongs using the new system.

He manages this with the help of Beahan’s character, Senior Constable Julie Egan, who had been managing the project until Jack arrived.

Beahan says Julie initially resents Jack’s entry to the police IT department.

“When Jack comes down having his reputation as a whistleblower precede him, I think my character judges him quite severely initially and she also has some sort of resistance and harbours resentment towards him because she sees it as a sign her superiors don’t trust her or don’t have faith in the work he’s doing,” she says.

“At their initial meeting they just establish a relationship and get on with it.”

Though mutually antagonistic towards one another at first, the pair soon grow to depend on each other. She helps him find information on unsolved crimes, he helps animate dry facts she enters into the database.

“She’s quite rigid in the way she approaches it and she doesn’t really think about the facts and he helps humanise it,” Beahan says.

Together the pair try to solve a 30-year-old kidnapping case, in which a seven-year-old boy was taken from his lottery-winning parents.

But finding the culprits creates moral questions about whether an otherwise law-abiding citizen should be punished for a crime committed 30 years before.

Beahan says she took on the role in BlackJack based on the strong script and its well-drawn characters and unusual humour—given the serious subject matter.

“(Writers Micallef and McCaffrie) are quite diligent about putting humour in there and it’s just the kind of texture you’d find in everyday life,” she says.

“We’re not all that serious all the time—in fact I’d say Australians don’t tend to take things too seriously all the time, they make light of it—so the script works really well.”

Another selling point for Beahan was the opportunity to work with director Peter Andrikidis, acclaimed for his work on Grass Roots, My Husband My Killer and Wildside, and Colin Friels “in big bold letters”, she says.

“I’ve always loved watching him and have always enjoyed his work and he’s just a fabulous human being,” she swoons.

“He’s really funny and such a keen intellect and he’s great to work with. He made it a really enjoyable experience.”

Ayre-Smith hopes to recreate that experience and has her fingers crossed “that it will go to a series now”, potentially making three telemovies per year.

With this in mind, Channel 10 already has commissioned the show’s production company to develop three further BlackJack telemovies.

Beahan, when asked about whether she would commit to another BlackJack, replies in typically guarded style: “I’d have to talk about that later on.”

The final outcome, however, will depend on whether audiences will take a gamble on BlackJack.

• BlackJack, Ten, March 16, 8.30pm

By Jennifer Dudley
March 06, 2003
The Courier Mail