City Homicide: articles

Daniel MacPherson

'Being picked off the side of a road and starting out in a soap was the starting point, but the US has always been the end point,' says Daniel MacPherson.

Big ambitions fuelled by will of iron

Daniel MacPherson is not the type to wait for opportunities to come his way, writes Nicole Brady.

DANIEL MacPherson has a pile of half-read books stacked beside his bed. Nothing unusual in that, except that MacPherson is not prone to doing things by halves. In the past eight months, for example, while juggling two full-time television roles, he completed two ironman competitions.

For the uninitiated, an ironman is about the most gruelling event an athlete can do. It involves a four-kilometre swim, a 180-kilometre bike ride and a 42-kilometre marathon. Having set his sights on the Hawaii world championship which, to up the ante even further, unfolds in the humidity, wind and hills of the main island, MacPherson first had to qualify by placing near the top of the field in another ironman event. It took him four cracks before he finally qualified in April in China, finishing first in his 25-29 year age group.

And so, while hosting Seven's ninth season of Dancing with the Stars and co-starring in the network's crime drama City Homicide, MacPherson spent any spare time training for last month's Hawaii event. He finished in good time: swim 56 minutes, cycle 5.15 hours and marathon 4.14 hours. Overall the event took him 10 hours 31 minutes, including transitions. He finished about 520th of 1800 competitors but was in the top 250 until the 8-hour mark where, with 20 kilometres left to run, "my body decided it didn't want to play any more".

While adrenalin partly explains the lure of his sport, there is also the control. Working in an industry where success can often be as linked to externals as to talent and work ethic, athletics is a satisfying counterpoint.

"[Sport] gives me a finite set of results, which is something the entertainment industry doesn't. With [television], people might say, 'that's really good' or 'I didn't like it' or 'it only rated whatever' but you go 10 hours in Hawaii and it's 10 hours - simple as that. Next year I'll work harder and try and make that number smaller and it's up to me, it's not up to viewing habits or a network or marketing, it's a performance that is up to me."

Since being discovered by his manager as a bleached-blond 16-year-old surfer working at a triathlon near his Cronulla home, MacPherson, 29, has never shirked hard work. After finishing school with excellent results he decided against Sydney University and instead headed to Melbourne and a two-year run on Neighbours. He capitalised on the kudos that delivered in Britain by travelling there for a role in the musical Godspell, then landed a two-year part in The Bill.

Returning home he was cast as the host of Ten's The X Factor, winning praise as the only good thing about that lacklustre talent-spotting show, then scored a lead in Ten's one-season drama Tripping Over.

With his star well on the rise, MacPherson (though they both grew up in Cronulla, he is no relation to Elle) found himself being wooed by all the commercial networks and Foxtel. With several offers on the table, he opted to sign as a founding cast member for Seven's City Homicide.

The show wraps its third series on Wednesday with a cliffhanger finale revolving around the implosion of MacPherson's character, Simon Joyner.

"I am incredibly proud of being part of an original cast and a cast that has built and crafted commercial and critical success. But as a young actor I am desperate to do more," he says, explaining his decision to quit the show.

He says City Homicide taught him a lot about acting and he is ready to take the next step towards his ultimate goal: working in the US. This aim has been instrumental in all his career decisions.

"Being picked off the side of a road and starting out in a soap was the starting point but the US has always been the end point, so everything has been judged and chosen along those lines - give or take a couple," he says. "You've got to do a couple of jobs for the money."

While industry eyebrows were raised last year when he agreed to take over from Daryl Somers as host of the then-declining Dancing with the Stars - why risk career ignominy by associating himself with a show that looked to be on the way out? - MacPherson was not recklessly chancing his luck when he signed that contract.

"It was such an appealing proposition to me to simultaneously be part of one of the top dramas in this country and host one of the biggest live variety shows," he says. "I thought probably there weren't too many people who could do that in this country and I thought I'd give it a good crack and see if I could do it. So I come away from that period in my life very satisfied."

With MacPherson at the helm and in a new Sunday-night timeslot, Dancing once again became a ratings winner. He intends to return next year.

With his focus fixed on the US, there is a sense that dream is nearly close enough to touch. Originally aiming for a film career, MacPherson, alive to the purple patch the US television industry is enjoying, is now keen to pursue TV roles as well. He's made four trips to the US in the past two years, most recently after Hawaii, and looks likely to return in January for the pilot season.

"I was there about two weeks ago and met with some of the biggest casting directors in the world and it was very exciting, it was a very positive trip," he says.

With no commitments for the rest of the year, MacPherson is restless. "I'm not good with unemployment," he says. "Freedom," corrects the Seven publicist, who has become such a good mate she was one of the friends and family who travelled to Hawaii as support crew.

For now he's got the stubble on his legs to grow out (legacy from cycling), time to spend with his partner, Kristi Townley, and then those dashed books to finish. Whether he finds the time to nail the two Barack Obama tomes gathering dust in his bedroom is another question. Daniel MacPherson looks certain to remain relentlessly busy, home and abroad, for some time yet.

City Homicide finishes for the year on Wednesday at 8.30pm on Seven.

By Nicole Brady
November 19, 2009
The Age