MDA: articles

Jason Donovan

On the straight and narrow

ONCE upon a time, in a period fashion forgot, Jason Donovan appeared on Australian television screens every weekday.

With a bouncy bleached hairdo and a cute girlfriend by his side, fame came easily for Donovan.

He played Scott Robinson on the Channel 10 soap Neighbours from 1986 to 1989, leaving at the height of his fame to pursue musical success as his on and off-screen girlfriend Kylie Minogue had done the year before.

Donovan enjoyed four No. 1 singles in the UK, including Sealed With a Kiss, and won music awards to place beside the two Logies he won in 1987 for Most Popular Actor and Best New Talent.

But then his star began to fade.

Donovan's success, or lack thereof, was always compared to that of his one-time love Minogue, whose music career is still thriving.

He still enjoyed success he won a Logie for the 1988 miniseries Heroes and starred in films Rough Diamonds and The Last Bullet.

Theatre performances, including his lead role in Joseph and His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, also won Donovan acclaim for a time, back in the early '90s.

But his star was never as bright as Minogue's and his private life eventually became tabloid fodder. He gained a reputation for using illicit drugs, once collapsing outside a Los Angeles nightclub.

Today, Donovan is adamant his life has changed dramatically since those dark days.

Now a family man with two young children, Zach and Jemma, Donovan, 34, is settled in Melbourne and has taken a role in the ABC's latest drama, MDA.

It is his first regular television role since he left Neighbours 13 years ago.

"I was keen to find a job that would mean I would sort of clock in a little bit," he says. "I wanted a bit of regularity, I like a bit of routine and the ABC is a very attractive place to be, knowing its commitment to drama is not driven by the dollar, or is driven by the dollar for very different reasons."

Donovan is almost unrecognisable from his Neighbours days. Gone is the bouffant hair, replaced with a buzz cut that reveals a receding hairline. He also sports a beard something Scott Robinson's clean-cut image would never allow.

The new look suits Donovan's new character Richard Savage. He's adult, he's complex and Donovan says he is the protagonist of the series.

"He's ruthless but I wouldn't call him the evil character of the series," Donovan says of Richard. "He just makes people more accountable."

MDA, which stands for Medical Defence Australia, focuses on the lives and work of employees in a medical defence and indemnity organisation.

MDA case workers represent and advise doctors when they are facing litigation, and pay compensation to patients when doctors are found negligent.

Kerry Armstrong plays MDA's senior case manager Ella Davis, a doctor who understands the medical side of complaints. She is joined by lawyer Bill Henderson, played by Shane Bourne. Together they must decide whether to settle cases or go to trial.

Donovan's character is a lawyer specialising in medical litigation.

He relentlessly fights for justice for his clients. It is a role that puts him at loggerheads with Ella.

Donovan says this was his key motivation for joining the show.

"The biggest reason was Kerry Armstrong and the cast," he says. "It's like playing good tennis I'm not playing against sloppy partners and that keeps me on my game.

"Kerry and I have known each other for a while. She's had a similar past to mine she's done a lot of TV and the odd film here and there and I'm certainly happy to be in her company."

But their off-screen relationship belies their on-screen dealings.

In MDA's first episode, Richard drops a bombshell on Ella right before an important mediation meeting.

"It's a way of playing the cards," Donovan says of the low blow.

But he insists that Richard is not all bad he was simply trying to stack the odds in favour of his brain-damaged client.

In fact, Donovan speaks highly of his character.

"I'm not as good on my feet as he is," he says, "but I try to be prepared for my work as much as he is in mediation and the way he deals with people like (Ella and Bill) is sharp.

'This is not about sex scenes and car chases and people with guns to their heads it's about the bareness of human beings and attacking people on a one-to-one level'

"Like Ella says, if there's a rock left unturned or a crack showing he will find it and drive a truck straight through it. He is trying to achieve the best results for his clients."

MDA is the latest local drama production from the ABC since SeaChange wrapped up last year.

The broadcaster is putting a lot of resources into the 22-part series and Donovan says there are hopes it will be every bit as successful as its very different predecessor.

As such, MDA is being given every chance to succeed, including a Tuesday timeslot following The Bill one of the ABC's highest rating programs.

MDA also has topical content on its side, with real-life dramas in the medical profession arising at an opportune time for the show's creators.

Despite all this, Donovan is not convinced MDA will be a success, saying "that depends on what the public perceive".

But he is convinced of the show's quality.

"This is not about sex scenes and car chases and people with guns to their heads it's about the bareness of human beings and attacking people on a one-to-one level," he says. "It's not being packaged with anything other than the real issues."

Those issues include determining who is responsible when an unattended man dies of a nosebleed, when a doctor, who is not on call, gets to a hospital too late to save her patient and when a surgeon throws out a man's infected tonsils despite his wish to keep them.

Not all problems are easily solved and neither side is right all of the time.

Donovan is relishing the opportunity to explore "the grey areas".

But don't expect to pin him down to series television forever.

"You might see me go and join the ballet next year," he says. "I don't know… I've never been one to subscribe to one job.

"I'm an entertainer and that can take on many forms but I'm committed to giving good performances in whatever medium I take on and I think I've never felt more relaxed and focused in my life."

MDA, ABC, Tuesday, 9.30pm.

By Jennifer Dudley
July 18, 2002
The Courier Mail