Packed To The Rafters: articles

pttr cast

From children's TV to primetime ... Angus McLaren (left rear) with (from left) Jessica McNamee, Erik Thomson, Rebecca Gibney, Jessica Marais and Hugh Sheridan.

Packed To The Rafters' Angus McLaren on primetime on Channel 7

ANGUS McLaren's leap from child actor to primetime TV star was a pretty drastic one.

One minute he was a fresh-faced teenager befriending mermaids in hit children's series H20: Just Add Water and the next he was a married man in a suit facing serious financial strife in top-rating drama Packed To The Rafters.

"It's pretty bizarre," the 19-year-old laughs of his role in the drama which revolves around Julie (Rebecca Gibney) and Dave (Erik Thomson) Rafter and their life with three adult children and Julie's widowed father Ted (Michael Caton).

"I had to have a bit of a think about it — being a married man. I don't really know a whole lot about that because it's not on my radar at all."

McLaren, who plays Nathan, the black sheep of the family, feared adult roles would be hard to come by after making his name in children's television with shows such as H20, The Saddle Club and Silversun.

"It can be very easy to get caught in that mould (of child actor) so Rafters has been perfect to make the transition," he says.

"They'd been casting that role (of Nathan) for yonks. I think they'd even cast someone, but it fell through. It was certainly not a role that I expected to get. It just came out of the blue.

"I was driving down to Melbourne after wrapping the second series of H20 on the Gold Coast and I stopped over in Sydney to see some friends and did the audition just because it was convenient and got the part. Now I'm kind of stuck there. Mum's still waiting for me to come home."

McLaren, who grew up on a dairy farm in Victoria, knew acting was his calling.

"I was never a huge academic. I wasn't bad but my passion always seemed to be acting. Both my brothers were school captains so it was sort of like I had to keep up, but I didn't finish Year 12," he says.

Not that the young performer wasn't earning his keep away from his studies, sharing the screen at 12 with Eric Bana in the ABC series Something In The Air.

"I remember he was on Full Frontal so he was the first person I've ever really been starstruck by,'' McLaren says.

"He was just a really cool guy. We had quite a bit of work together and I guess he was a little bit of an inspiration. He'd just been cast in Black Hawk Down. He'd literally been on the phone to Ridley Scott on one of the days we were filming."

McLaren has remained a fan of Bana and particularly the Chopper star's ability to rise to the top in a tough industry.

"He sort of worked his way up. It didn't fall in his lap. He certainly worked hard for it. I'm certainly aware that strange things can happen (to actors) and I've sort of got to enjoy it while I can," McLaren says.

"I have seen older actors who had early good breaks and didn't really go anywhere after that so I'm very conscious of not letting that happen, I suppose. I think it's just choice (of roles), as much as it can be. You've obviously got to get offered parts."

It seems it doesn't rain but it pours with the young adult actors on Packed To The Rafters getting offered extra roles while on a production break from the program.

While the cast could all sit tight now that Channel 7 has commissioned a second series, Jess McNamee, who plays Nathan's wife Sammy, is shooting a film called The Loved Ones in Melbourne, while NIDA graduate Jessica Marais, who plays the eldest Rafter child Rachel, is currently in New Zealand filming TV series Legend Of The Seeker produced by Sam Raimi.

For Marais, 23, rising at 5am in preparation for some heavy storylines, including one where she was the victim of a mentally and physically abusive drug-addicted partner, has been a priceless training ground for future projects.

"It has been a learning curve because at NIDA you don't have a lot of preparation for being on a working set," Marais says.

"You don't have anything to prepare you for the 5am shoots, trying not to chatter your teeth while filming a scene because it's freezing and then having the entire crew waiting for you to deliver a line correctly. There is all this pressure. I have been learning a lot on the job."

Marais's NIDA graduate buddy Hugh Sheridan is also relishing his role as Ben, the middle Rafter, and for Gibney working with the young cast has been a dream.

"They sent me Jess and Hugh's auditions and instantly you would tell that both of them were good for the roles," Gibney says.

"They are incredibly talented, the entire cast is. I think we are incredibly blessed with all the young people on the show.

"They all have that extra thing and I know soon we will be looking through the 100 sexiest TV stars in magazines and they will be the hottest young cast of the year.

"It has been really clever casting because they all have something special. All of them are going to have massive careers and Logies next year — watch out."

As Marais spends time in New Zealand, McLaren is heading back to the Gold Coast to shoot new episodes of H2O.

While he admits returning to children's television might seem like a step back, he has other motives for revisiting his past.

McLaren plays drums in indie rock band Ballet Imperial with H2O co-star Jamie Timony, series director Jeffrey Walker and friend Will Shepherd.

As far as TV families go he says he couldn't have asked for better than the Rafters.

"I remember the first day we got together — I think we shocked ourselves that we bonded so well. It just felt like we could get in there and make the show we wanted," McLaren says.

"It wasn't like a Home And Away where it's got a set history. There were no rules to this show. It felt creatively very free to just do what we wanted."

The gamble has paid off with the drama pulling close to two million viewers a week since its debut in August with a second series due to go into production early next year.

"I didn't think that would happen. But it's consistently stayed up there (in the ratings) so it's sort of sinking in now that I think we're here for a long haul," he says.

As for Nathan, McLaren says he's found a new appreciation of the ambitious young real estate agent who has kept his crippling debt hidden from his family.

"He does stand out as the one who's not quite in the clique. I didn't know if I liked that in the beginning, but now it's nice to be on the outer. It certainly gives me a bit to play with."

By Erica Thompson and Erin McWhirter
November 05, 2008
The Daily Telegraph