City Homicide: articles

Peter O'Brien, Nadine Garner

Worst imaginable ... Peter O'Brien (pictured with Nadine Garner) will play one of the show's most dangerous criminals.

Man behaving very badly

Playing the hero on screen is always a good way to get yourself into the limelight, but ask any actor where the real challenge is and they'll agree - sometimes it's good to be bad.

Whether they're the bad guys with an evil laugh or the beautiful but scheming vamp luring the innocents to their doom, playing the villain presents an irresistible challenge to actors - how do you make an audience care about someone who really isn't that nice?

"It's definitely a challenge and something you really have to be careful with," says Peter O'Brien, who from this week joins Nadine Garner, Daniel MacPherson, Shane Bourne and the rest of the City Homicide team as one of the worst imaginable bad guys, a criminal whose crimes have affected children.

"And I was just discussing that with friends this week, because I know that once you have children yourself, there's a real difference in perception. Anything bad that happens to children is very, very difficult to see so there's this huge challenge [as an actor] to give a storyline and a character some accessibility.

"You can't change who they are and what they have done, but at the same time you have to present it to an audience in a way that is intriguing so they follow you rather than just pigeonhole you."

Fortunately, O'Brien said, the whole City Homicide team had taken up the task of presenting his character's story, with the traditional cop-show format abandoned for the next few episodes. The result is crime from a completely different point of view.

"I'd never seen City Homicide so before I took the role I watched a few DVDs and already thought this was some of the best cop stuff I'd seen in a while," O'Brien said.

"And then with this particular story it's different again. They've broken part of their format and are telling things from a different point of view. The director has layered things in a way that's not the standard 'here's a cop, here's a bad guy, let's solve the crime' format and I really enjoyed it."

O'Brien also enjoyed the fact that, for the time being at least, he was working back in Australia. Both he and wife Miranda Otto had been in the US working on various projects (notably Gossip Girl and Cashmere Mafia respectively) when the US writers' strike cut things short.

"There's that old expression that if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans," O'Brien said. "I just think that's what happens. While you're heading in one direction you start making inroads in other areas and other opportunities open up."

O'Brien's busy hands

If there's one thing Peter O'Brien has learned, it's that he doesn't have a high boredom threshold.

Happiest when he's busy, O'Brien took advantage of the recent US writers' strike to enrol in New York University's filmmaking course - and topped his class with three short films.

"I'm now putting in for funding to make a couple of other shorts and we'll see how that goes," he said. "It's all with the intention of working towards getting a feature [film] up. That's what I'm geared towards."

City Homicide, Monday, 8.30pm, Seven.

Scott Ellis
July 27, 2008
The Sun-Herald