Offspring: articles

POWERPLAYER ... TV producer John Edwards and actress Kat Stewart during filming of the TV show Tangle in Melbourne.

John Edwards talks about his unlikely reputation as a 'woman whisperer'

RAISED as he was at the bootlaces of footy legend Rex Mossop, you wouldn't think John Edwards is the sensitive new age bloke he appears.

A northern beaches childhood spent in the company of the late dual international Mossop - a family friend - has clearly influenced the rough and tumble side of a man regarded as one of Australian TV's most powerful players.

We meet as Edwards is running between three projects he is juggling on the Southern Star Productions slate: Beaconsfield, a telemovie about the Tasmanian mine miracle for Nine; Tangle, a dark suburban drama in its third season for Foxtel; and the neurotic fun of Ten'sOffspring.

A former Swansea and Fairfield High School history teacher, Edwards got his start on more macho titles, making his producing debut on the 1985 thriller The Empty Beach, starring Bryan Brown, before the benchmark ABC series Police Rescue and more recently Rush.

But, as executive producer of a clutch of female-friendly dramas all making their mark in the past year, he's earned an unlikely reputation as a "woman whisperer".

Just don't tell him that, with Edwards responding to the suggestion in language Mossop fans would recognise.

"A snag? I bloody hope not. I'm a crusty old curmudgeon," he says.

But ask the leading ladies he has championed, the female producers, writers and directors he has mentored, and it's a different story.

Edwards is a man who "picks and sticks" with the women with whom he shares his success.

Take Logie winner Asher Keddie, who plays quirky doctor Nina Proudman in Offspring and appeared in Love My Way as complicated first-time mum Julia. It was a guest role on his acclaimed series The Secret Life Of Us which first put Keddie on Edwards' radar in 2002 - and he has backed her ever since.

"That was at a time when I was heavily involved in the theatre and he just gave me that break. He knows what he wants," she said.

His faith in Keddie paid off again this year, with Edwards casting her as magazine maven Ita Buttrose in the ABC miniseries Paper Giants: The Birth Of Cleo.

Right down to nailing Buttrose's trademark lisp, Keddie won instant national acclaim for her performance.

Like Buttrose, Keddie admits her reputation for being "bolshie" about her work also won Edwards' backing: "Far from feeling annoyed or threatened, he likes to feel excited creatively. That is what fuels him."

IMOGEN Banks, co-producer on Offspring and Tangle, agrees: "The great thing about John is that he's collaborative. You have to be able to tell him to f … off - but that's what I love about him.

"We bicker a lot but he accepts it and he likes it."

That "push and pull" hasn't always ended happily, with Edwards famously waging war against former Ten drama executive Sue Masters and falling out with long-term production partner Sandra Levy after eight years working together.

Ten's incumbent head of drama Rick Maier notes Edwards' "passion and strong opinions" but enjoys the "robust" relationship.

"Sometimes robust may even be an understatement, but having worked with John on at least a dozen projects now we have a kind of shorthand and hopefully mutual respect," he said.

Sitting in an editing suite with Banks and Edwards, it's a debate over Offspring actor Don Hany's hair which reveals the father of two adult sons knows his place in this working "marriage".

Hany - or Dr Chris Havel, as he is known to his legion of swooning fans - has flown back from Hollywood with what the women on set consider is a "dodgy haircut".

Tugging at his mop of unruly curls, Edwards just rolls his eyes and shakes his head with a nod that simply says "women!"

But it's what women know and he doesn't that provides "endless" inspiration.

"He's interested in women talking about women, women explaining women. It's in the misunderstandings, in those gaps," - like haircuts - "that we find stuff. It's him going, 'What do you mean?' and us saying, 'How can you not see that?' It's all of that collision of difference that exposes the drama … the truth of things," Banks said.

July 15, 2011
The Daily Telegraph