Dangerous: articles

Joel and Brooke

Joel Edgerton (left, with Brooke Satchwell), returns to Australian drama in Dangerous.

A career of living dangerously

To Joel Edgerton, street cred matters more than star cred, writes Paul Kalina.

JOEL Edgerton throws me the keys to his car. Almost as an after-thought, he asks if I have a driver's licence.

What was intended to be an interview on the set of the action series Dangerous has taken an unexpected turn. Several weeks after the extraction of a wisdom tooth, Edgerton's jaw has begun to swell. He fears his jaw has become infected (to the relief of all, it hasn't).

An army of minders swings into action. A chauffeur-driven car is standing by to speed him from Sydney's outer suburbs, where Dangerous is being shot, to a dentist in the city. The shooting schedule has been rejigged so the crew doesn't sit idle while the leading man is absent. But just to add to the troubles, there's the writer who has flown to Sydney for the day to watch the shooting of a pivotal scene.

Unlike his minders, Edgerton isn't flustered. A change of clothes in one hand, coffee in the other, a bottle of water clenched in his elbow, he is shepherding me to his car, refusing all offers of help and opting to drive himself to the dentist while he does an interview. Which is how I come to be sitting at the wheel of a shiny Lexus in a no-standing zone in Sydney keeping an eye open for grey ghosts, while the dentist checks him over.

Dangerous is the latest project of the prolific and enterprising John Edwards, whose credits as a producer (and occasional writer) include a handful of Australian television's most popular and applauded shows, from Cyclone Tracy in the mid-1980s, via Police Rescue in the 1990s and, most recently, the pioneering Secret Life of Us, The Surgeon and Love My Way.

Edwards is an engaging and unassuming person, whose speech is as quick as his memory. He worked with Edgerton on Secret Life of Us - where he played the blue-singlet wearing Will McGill for two seasons and whose departure, Edwards admits, left a hole in the much-loved show - and has clear recollections of the first time he met the then-unknown actor who was desperate, too desperate perhaps, for a break.

It was on Police Rescue, but unfortunately for Edgerton the character he played was killed in the first five minutes of the episode. Somewhat impetuously, Edgerton had quit his job as a hotel porter for the gig.

It is what Edwards calls "an earthy masculinity" that has made Edgerton a star, he says.

"He knows who he is and as an actor he's very open. When we lost him from The Secret Life of Us I think we lost something, in that case a solid, working-class masculinity from the show. He's a bright actor and is able to work his emotions very easily because he's very secure as a person."

In Dangerous, Edgerton plays Mark Field, a cynical detective assigned to head a task force to break up criminal gangs. He runs his own race and it soon becomes clear that he has things to hide, especially when the pesky and ambitious political adviser Donna (Brooke Satchwell) starts scratching for information that may help the Premier, as well as her own career.

Dangerous is based in part on real events - Sydney's race riots and the attempts of embattled NSW Premier Morris Iemma to crack down on law and order - but the show, Edwards says, takes a unique approach to one of television's most enduring genres.

"American cop shows now cost $2 million (an episode) to make, so you have to have a completely different angle on it. We took the view that if you do procedural stuff and don't do it with a great deal of accuracy, it looks very cheap. So we decided we would do it from a character's point of view instead and ignore the procedural stuff.

"Something we'd talked to (director) David Caesar about for ages was melding documentary methods with drama, shooting drama using a documentary crew. We had to find the right subject area.

"We were thinking this could be a good show for Fox 8, getting into this world of ram-raiding, the eastern suburbs girl and the western suburbs boy, Romeo and Juliet."

From the very outset and long before any scripts were written, Edwards, his team of writers and even a stunt man, who happens to be Joel Edgerton's brother Nash, thrashed out ideas that established the scope of the story they could tell within the limitations of the modest budget and format.

"It ranged generally and widely at first, and quickly came to the story that we're telling," Edwards recalls.

After several years overseas and what he says was almost too much time meeting agents and producers in LA, Edgerton leapt at the chance to return to Australia to work on Dangerous.

"I went away to raise my profile in order that it would help me back home, but the fact that I wasn't working at home began to get to me. I missed home and felt I was out of touch with the industry here, which I never want to happen again.

"I never imagined I'd play a cop, but it's been fun because the character is morally skewed. That immediately became interesting to me. The other lure was John Edwards. I know that anything he does he's very passionate about."

Edgerton describes Field as a less-than-likeable man, "but as the series goes on you realise it runs deeper than that".

"He has a lot to hide about his involvement with criminals. What's interesting to me is as you start to see that Mark could be corrupt, his justification is that he doesn't see himself that way. He figures if you can't beat 'em, join 'em, that playing by the rules isn't the smartest way of managing crime, that if you play by the rules you get walked over. He thinks that having relationships with certain people along the food chain is the best way to go."

In a business where perceptions of success are paramount, Edgerton's self-assessments are refreshingly frank, candid and unpretentious. He doesn't see himself as a leading man but as a character actor, citing the American actor William H. Macy as a role model.

And despite a successful run of roles abroad, including the Jerry Bruckheimer epic King Arthur, Kinky Boots and Smokin' Aces, he is sceptical about Hollywood making him a star.

He says young actors are mainly regarded in terms of their leading man potential. As far as character parts go, "You either play the best friend or the bad boyfriend and I'm always looking for interesting challenges.

"I don't think I'm that kind of an actor whose face is going to sell tickets. I'm not an Orlando Bloom-type guy. I quite like it this way. I feel I have to work a bit harder to get things.

"The other thing is, in Hollywood you get momentum if your film makes exceptional amounts of money. Then the offers and opportunities become much bigger. King Arthur made its money back, but wasn't a box-office hit. That meant my name didn't mean something. Plus I was covered in hair."

He believes his attitude and determination to try different things is born out of his roots in theatre.

"The roles you play on stage tend to be more creative, more varied, because plays are normally about another time or another place or another world. In movies, especially in this country, you play characters that are like what you look like at face value. You wonder why people can't see you differently. Those opportunities arise when you get older. The older characters widen out and become more complex and morally interesting."

He says he is offered many roles, but turns down those he doesn't connect with. "I steer clear of things that I feel just aren't acting, or if I feel that any number of people could do the job, like it could be me or any one of a hundred guys.

"A gauge for me is, would I want to watch this movie?

"There's nothing worse than playing a morally upright, all-round good guy - you know, the handsome, romantic type - unless there's something ballsy in there as well, a problem or a character flaw."

For the moment, however, Edgerton has his work cut out for him at home. He will return to the stage this year in the Melbourne Theatre Company's production of Martin McDonagh's The Pillowman, and a feature he co-wrote, The Square, which his brother Nash will direct, will soon go into production

"I wish there were more hours in the day to do it," he says of his longing to continue writing scripts and working behind the camera.

"I never want to not be an actor, but I don't want to just do that."

But unlike many actors who write scripts as a way of giving themselves roles they can play, Edgerton rejects the notion of vanity writing.

"I can't write parts for myself," he says. "I can only write parts for others."

Dangerous debuts on Fox 8 on Tuesday at 7.30pm.

By Paul Kalina
Janaury 11, 2007
The Age