Packed To The Rafters: articles

Rebecca Gibney, Michael Caton

Michael Caton has suffered like Packed to the Rafters characters

MICHAEL Caton is enjoying fresh success with Packed to the Rafters. But his character, in emotional freefall, is not a million miles from Caton's own character.

Michael Caton plays a grandfather, Ted Taylor, who confronts depression and suicidal thoughts after the death of his wife, Louise, in Packed to the Rafters.

The loneliness of life without Louise sends him into emotional free fall and he takes to wearing her nightgown because the scent reminds him of his departed love.

Caton, the man behind such memorable characters as super optimist Darryl Kerrigan in The Castle, Dr Wilder in The Animal and Harry Sullivan in 1970s TV drama The Sullivans, is only now starting to critique his work in ratings smash Rafters.

He's just returned to his Bondi home after a six-week European holiday with his wife Helen and is studying his portrayal of Ted to work out how effective he's been in bringing depth and authenticity to the character.

"I'm still working on him (Ted) and he's been so interesting to play," Caton says.

"I haven't seen many eps (episodes) but caught some the other day and said ‘I don't like what you're doing there, you're going to have to work on that' . . . just things you pick up and mannerisms you notice.

"Some you like and some you don't. It's an ongoing process and you just can't afford to rest on your laurels. But I have to admit I was glad the really big emotional stuff was done at the start."

In real life Caton has had his own battles with depression, or "the black dog" as he calls it.

Caton's low point came when he went through an acting drought in the lead-up to the hit film The Castle.

He endured times so lean it was hardly worth filing a tax return and he thought his acting career was over.

"It was hard, bad before The Castle came along," Caton has said.

"I had to face a lot of things about myself. I had to get help. It was the old black dog, depression. I had to try to straighten out my lifestyle.

"Dealing with depression took about 12 months and it involved a lot of hard work, I can tell you. I got around to getting professional help for it. I'd had it before and I just had to keep at it, to buckle down and try to beat it."

Despite four decades of acting experience, Caton, who recently appeared on stage in Melbourne in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, says he hasn't given the young cast on Packed to the Rafters much advice.

Instead, he believes they need to feel their way around the industry as he did.

"You just pass on little bits and pieces," he says.

"You don't want to say too much because you've been in the situation yourself and I remember when I first came in to do The Sullivans and it was a huge learning curve. I had never done film before and you would see playbacks after your scene and think ‘Oh, God, look what I did there, oh no'.

"You just don't want to interfere too much because you can see through the first series everyone is finding their feet. But the young people in that (Packed to the Rafters) show are fantastic."

Caton isn't the sort of person to court controversy, but he recently hit the headlines in a bitter slanging match with US comedy star Rob Schneider.

Tensions between the two erupted after Caton claimed Schneider had stolen the central theme of his movie Strange Bedfellows for friend Adam Sandler's I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.

Strange Bedfellows, which co-stars Paul Hogan, revolves around two firemen who pretend to be gay to access benefits. I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry has the same premise. Caton had given Schneider a DVD of his film when they worked together on The Animal.

Schneider shot back to say that he never watched the DVD and used it as a beer coaster.

During a recent trip to Australia to promote new film Big Stan, Schneider said he had extended Caton an olive branch in the form of a "nice Christmas message" that was ignored.

Caton's version of events is quite different.

"The whole story was back to front," Caton says.

"We sent him a Christmas card and we got . . . this email back which I didn't really want to deal with. I thought, ‘No, I'm just going to let this all go'. But at some stage next week there will be a reply from me to him in private.

"Suffice to say that Rob's idea of what happened is quite selective.

"I regret this whole thing . . . but I'm sticking to my guns about what happened."

Caton recently signed for a second series of Packed to the Rafters. In the meantime he's back on screens hosting Hot Property.

He says it has taken him years to become comfortable being himself on the popular lifestyle show, which first aired in 1999.

"Early on I probably couldn't have been as relaxed in myself enough to do this sort of thing," he says.

"I was a bit self-conscious. I always wanted a character to play, but finally at this stage in my life I'm sort of happy in my own skin."

By Erin McWhirter and Darren Devlyn
December 17, 2008
Herald Sun