MDA: articles

Older and wiser, Jason's reinvention

JASON Donovan went from a clean-cut Neighbours star to an out-of-control bad boy. Now, he tells KYLIE KEOGH, he is ready to face the law:

THERE was the boy-next-door with the mullet and impish smile. Then there was the young man infamously careening out of control. Now there's the focused family man.

These personas correspond with a few of the characters he has played: Scott Robinson from Ramsay St's Neighbours; the cross-dressing bad-boy Frankenfurter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show; and now the medical litigation lawyer Richard Savage, who crosses his Ts and dots his Is, in the ABC's new drama MDA.

But the defining feature of his new metamorphosis is truth.

Asked what he likes about his new character, Donovan replies: "I am very capable of playing this character because I'm very focussed at the moment.

"I think he's got a truth about him, he's very honest. He wants to get the best for his client and that means exposing the truth no matter how brutal it is—and I've got a reputation for being pretty honest," he says, laughing.

"I don't hide too many things."

Donovan's return role to Australian television is one of the antagonist, to match AFI winning actress Kerry Armstrong's advocate.

She plays Dr Ella Davis who is a senior case manager for MDA, or Medical Defence Australia, a medico-legal organisation that defends doctors and if necessary compensates patients.

Working alongside her is lawyer Bill "Happy" Henderson (Shane Bourne), young doctor Jamie Lawless (Angus Grant) and newcomer Caitlin King (Alice McConnell), a former nurse with a law degree.

They defend the dodgy and maybe-not dodgy doctors, who Savage wants to crucify as a way of easing his clients' pain.

"There's no good cop, bad cop," he explains. "I don't see it as the political sides of the house where there's Labor and Liberal. There's no good or bad. He just sees his objective as achieving the most honest and fair result.

"But hey, he wants to get the cash as well. I mean, I would argue that he's obviously someone who enjoys the trappings of success.

"He doesn't have Savage on his number plates, he's not that sort of dude. I don't see him as a wanker."

Donovan has had his share of bad press over the years. There's been the love affairs, the most famous being with Australia's favourite daughter Kylie Minogue. There's been stories of drug use that led him to even collapse in nightclubs and there's been his sucessful law suit against a UK magazine which suggested he was homosexual.

But underneath it all, what separates Donovan from a plethora of excessive stars is that he has come back from that dark place, fathered two children and reignited his acting career. This takes a fair amount of self-belief.

The ABC's Australian Story on Donovan last year explored this side and a lot of people shut up.

"I actually didn't see it," he says of the program. "I've only recently been starting to look back, to look over my stuff and that [Australian Story] was very much all about me.

"I'm in a good place now—I'm not trying to be cool. I think I lost the ball when I was trying to pretend to be someone I wasn't. So I'm over that.

"I had these dreams but when reality went beyond that… [your head gets screwed]. Hence you crash a car for a couple of years to try and find yourself and now I'm coming back to where I was."

Donovan puts in a solid performance as Savage. As do all the actors. It's a quality ABC drama. But his main concern is learning the medical/law jargon.

"My study comes in each week learning the lines, because they are hard. And the way I wanted to do this job was to know my material so well that I can look like a lawyer. When lawyers go on their raves, they just spurt it out, they know the terms, they almost show off," he says.

"I rehearse a lot, I go through a lot with my Dad [actor Terry Donovan], we go through my scenario.

"I think a lot of actors want to be barristers and vice versa. I would love to have that brain and be able to use those phrases and nail people who owe you money.

"Barristers have this debating head on their shoulders and find arguments to back it up where as I can barely find my way home some nights," he says, self-mockingly.

Donovan's self-deprecating humour knows no bounds, and is always in evidence. In conclusion he utters: "Thanks a lot, Kylie—gee, I haven't said that in a long time."


Senior MDA case manager Dr Ella Davis (Kerry Armstrong): Passionate, with a drive to comfort and heal, doubling her legal load with one night a week in A&E. She can translate "medicalese" to lawyers and legalese to doctors. While she's the vision of a composed careerist, her personal life is a mess.

Lawyer Richard Savage (Jason Donovan): A medical litigation lawyer, he is tenacious, competitive and committed. His working-class background is murky and his steeliness makes him hard to read.

MDA boss Bill "Happy" Henderson (Shane Bourne): One of those annoying, but extremely professional, lawyers whose personal judgment on any case is almost non-existent. He is MDA's father figure but has a pessimistic attitude to everything—he even claims his kids and dog hate him.

Junior MDA case manager Caitlin King (Alice McConnell): A former nurse, now an ambitious lawyer, although sometimes socially naive. Ruled by her head and keeps her emotions buried.

A&E's Dr Tony McKinnon (Aaron Pederson): Compassionate, gentle, intelligent and handsome. His nature endears him to patients and clients alike. When he meets Dr Davis, sparks fly, but their relationships forbid them from doing anything about it.

Junior MDA case officer Dr Jamie Lawless (Angus Grant): He's hip, active, loves women and makes no secret of the fact he's at MDA because it's a patient free zone. He may come across as slack but it's more about having a safety net.

MDA, Wednesday, ABC, 8.30pm

Kylie Keogh
July 18, 2002
The Daily Telegraph