City Homicide: articles

Damien Richardson

Damien Richardson, City Homicide, is surprised by how much there is to learn about acting in series television.

Arrested emotions

DAMIEN Richardson used to have a "superiority complex" about long-running series television. Having worked either in film (The Jammed, Noise), or in guest roles on TV (The Secret Life of Us, Blue Heelers), he had not experienced the time constraints of the genre, nor the relentless nature of playing the same character for months, maybe years on end.

All that changed with City Homicide. Not only did Richardson find himself in a "straight" role after a string of "crazies" (his stalker on The Secret Life of Us scored him an AFI nomination), but with the second season well under way, he has a newfound appreciation for the likes of series veteran John Wood.

"I've never really experienced a workload like this for such an extended period of time," says Richardson, during a break from shooting. "We don't really rehearse. Any rehearsal happens in what is often a camera rehearsal as well. So it's real cut-and-thrust. It's given me a much deeper understanding and appreciation for the rigours of making this sort of television. Whereas in the past I might have been perhaps a little judgemental, thinking how good I would be in series TV, and of course you still strive to be the best that you can be, but there are times when you have to rely on the rest of the team and the editor and, something I would have thought I would have hated to have to ever rely on, ADR (audio digital recording in post-production) … My joke is I'm going to be the John Wood of City Homicide."

Richardson is, by his own admission, the least known of the fictional crime unit's four young guns (which include Nadine Garner, Aaron Pedersen and Daniel McPherson). Directors often forget his name, instead addressing him by his alter ego, Matt Ryan. It was a role that initially wasn't even his. In the series pilot, which never aired, Richardson played a minor part — "a cop with less protocol than Matt". So enthusiastic was the test audience's reaction to him, he was called back to screen test for the core cast.

"When I auditioned for the role of Matt, I thought, 'Do I mention the pilot?' because it was a different director but obviously the same project. But they had noticed and a lot of the feedback that was pretty strong was about the other character I had played. That was the difficulty in finding where to pitch Matt Ryan. There was some pressure (from network executives), I felt at times, to try and keep an essence of the character I'd first played. That didn't work, it just wasn't there in the writing. It wasn't servicing the story."

The morally upright Detective Senior Constable Matt Ryan has had his share of dramatic conflict, most notably during the climactic storyline about his murdered mother which concluded season one. In the second series, he has taken more of a supporting role to the others' personal troubles. Directors are constantly urging him to "pull back" on his emotional investment.

"Sometimes you can walk away from this set and you don't get the pay-off that you get in a normal acting gig. With other types of work there are so many more personal things at stake for a character, so you get an emotional pay-off for playing a scene for a real emotional truth. In police investigation drama, in some respects, you need to deny that emotional truth."

Richardson says the series' writers John Hugginson and John Banas set themselves a difficult task creating three similar leading roles.

"They've written three young men, somewhere from 24 to 35, so in some respects, it's a pretty tall order. They're all cops. It's very difficult for the writers to differentiate them in a specific way. I've talked with them and with MaryAnne (Carroll), the producer, extensively about that, so we can find some moments of levity, because your journey could really flatten out and become the same, just a cop that investigates."

While the "luxury" of regular work could not have come at a better time for Richardson (his wife is pregnant with their third child), he is using caution about aligning himself too closely with one role, or indeed one network. He says he would never agree to cross-promotional appearances on network shows like Dancing with the Stars.

"You're just an actor for hire," he says.

"There's no reason why, when this job finishes on October the 24th, if Nine started shooting the second series of Underbelly in the three months before we start again, if we go to third series, that I or any of the other actors couldn't appear in that.

"Having said that, there's a crossover where you're seen on Seven all the time, so Seven might want to try and use you for different promotions.

"But you want to be a little bit circumspect about that because at the end of the day, you don't want to finish on Channel Seven and Channel Nine or Ten don't want to use you because you're so synonymous with Seven … there's a difference between being an actor on a show that happens to be on Seven and being Sonia Kruger."

By Bridget McManus
July 24, 2008
The Age