RESCUE Special Ops: articles

PETER Phelps is looking fit.

Veteran Peter Phelps buffs up for rescue

"I'm 50 next year, so I've stopped drinking alcohol, I'm working out - just got on the health kick because this role was a good excuse," says the veteran of Aussie cop dramas about his latest TV persona, station co-ordinator Vince Marchello in Nine's new Rescue Special Ops.

But when you line him up against the buffed supporting cast of Les Hill, Andrew Lees and Brisbane-bred Daniel Amalm, you have to wonder whether that also had an influence.

"That probably had a little to do with it," laughs Phelps, who has been off alcohol now for three months. "But (seriously) I have two young kids and I just wanted to change a few things."

As he waits on set to be called for his first scene of the day, Phelps clutches a huge plastic bag containing a kilo or so of nuts and dried fruit. It's a week's worth of nibblies.

"I eat these instead of chocolate and ice cream," he says. "I wanted to be clearer and more focused, especially starting a new show. I was a bit averse to being the 'fat guy at the station'."

The fitter he's become, the more outdoor rescue scenes seem to have been written for his character. His fellow castmates have noticed.

"He's looking pretty fit, Phelpsy," says Hill, who turns 37 on Saturday and is known for his dedication to keeping in peak condition.

"Although, if anything, against him I've probably lost fitness because I haven't had the time to train as much as I normally do lately."

With about three decades' experience in the television game and having worked recently as a director on episodes of Home And Away and All Saints, Phelps is aware of the synergy of playing a leader such as Vince as well as mentoring some of the cast's younger actors.

It comes through when he discusses what he attempts to bring to the role to avoid it being a stereotype.

"Everyone is different. Each actor is different and that's what you bring to it. You use yourself," he says.

"Vince is a bit of a traditional Aussie guy without being an obvious 'bloke'. There are a few sayings that I threw in that my father used. (Vince) is a bit old-school but mixes it up with the younger guys who are diving off cliffs and stuff like that.

"I make him the mentor and it is interesting how it reflects on us as actors. I've been around 30 years and a rescue paramedic is probably the only service I haven't portrayed - and I'm infusing some of that for the younger guys, rather than play the old sergeant at the desk."

Hill, meanwhile, believes what prevents Rescue Special Ops being derivative happened even before the actors were attached.

"It is in the way the scripts have been grounded and the entire approach to the show," he says.

"The characters and team are probably not as earnest as you'd normally expect in a rescue show and it's not always a happy ending ... that's the reality of the people who do this job.

"There is also a lot of humour that is carried through from the scripts which reflects more accurately what happens in real life. You need to have a sense of humour to deal with this particular job. You'd go crazy if you didn't. And that's the key difference for this show."

The human side to Phelps' and Hill's characters kicks off from the first episode with plenty of throw-away insights into their complex pasts as they deal with the daily dramas of their jobs.

One of the interesting conflicts is the marked difference between Hill's character Dean Gallagher and his younger brother Chase, played by Lees. A stroke of fate at the start of filming enabled the two actors to explore their "brotherly" bond.

"I didn't have a car for the first three months of shooting (which) meant I was constantly getting lifts with Les to work," Lees says. "So we had a lot of conversations and a lot of bonding time there to get to know each other."

Hill said the time in the car on the way to work was great for their on-screen development.

"Not growing up with a brother it's nice to have a 'pseudo' brother to muck around with," Hill says.

They both have a standing bet with the stunt team that if they can get legal permission for either of them to do a stunt and they refuse to do it out of fear, they have to buy them a case of beer. To date no beer has had to be bought but the bet meant one thing. Lees had to get over his fear of heights. "My (character's) specialty is ropes and vertical drops," says the 2007 NIDA graduate. "I hadn't done any of that stuff before because I was afraid of heights. Recently I'd started to get over it and this show has been very good for doing that."

Lees says exposure, bit by bit, to heights enabled him to conquer his vertigo.

"That and the competition that was already developing between Les and I. Anything he did I had to have a go at. I'd be a little bit slower to get off the mark but now I'm completely fine.

"I've been filming at the top of a 10-storey building and I didn't blink about the height. Just amazing, the change in a couple of months."

Hill has taken it to another level. He now spends time on weekends abseiling with the show's stunt co-ordinator and his team just for fun on "some cliffs they probably wouldn't let us climb on in the working week".

Those working week work-outs provided a chance for Phelps to reunite with a mate from his Stingers days, Gary Sweet, who has a semi-regular role as the Gallagher brothers' dad Shane.

"I had to save him from a well last week. Kind of funny rescuing him," Phelps says about pulling Sweet up to safety. "It's good I'm fit."

July 29, 2009
The Courier-Mail