The Shark Net: articles

Being Tim Draxl

TIM Draxl arrives at Sydney's Bondi Beach for a photograph and interview with a hair stylist and make-up artist in tow. Two publicists are already there waiting, one from the ABC—for whom Draxl stars in a new three-part miniseries, The Shark Net, based on novelist Robert Drewe's award-winning memoir. The other is from Dendy Films, which is distributing Kathryn Millard's new film, Travelling Light, in which he also has a significant role.

Such an entourage is rare unless it's for a big star. And though hair styling and make-up is common practice for a glossy magazine photo shoot, it's unusual for a newspaper profile. The photographer quips that it will all be lost in the pixels but Draxl is unfazed. Later, when I raise the subject, he is surprised that I am surprised that he would bother with hair and make-up. "I think it's important," he says. "I think that this industry, especially film, is about image. It's about what people see and [so appearance] is an incredibly important part of this profession."

Then he adds: "But also I'm very self-conscious." Another surprise, given his naturalness on stage and screen. He nods. "I remember when I was performing in New York, the thought of getting up in front of an audience was actually quite daunting and I'd think 'I can't do this.' But you've got no option, you have to do it… I'm not a technically trained actor, I just throw myself into it and hope that my instincts get me by—and they usually do."

Still only 21, Draxl hasn't put a foot wrong since he started performing professionally four years ago. Before he left high school he had landed a five-album recording contract with Sony Columbia and was on his way to New York, where he was hailed as a rising star in the cabaret firmament.

Then he turned to musical theatre, performing in a concert version of She Loves Me then playing Rolf in The Sound of Music. But it's film he's always wanted to do most and he's making his mark there too.

He made a terrific debut (after a tiny role in Dirty Deeds) as John Fingleton in Swimming Upstream, alongside Geoffrey Rush and Judy Davis playing his parents. Now comes a featured role in Travelling Light (opening nationally on September 11) and his first leading role in The Shark Net (screening on the ABC from next weekend).

Draxl is clearly an ambitious young man. He admits to being competitive but doesn't seem arrogant. Born in Sydney, he grew up between Jindabyne in the NSW Snowy Mountains and Austria. His Australian mother and Austrian father are ski instructors, so Draxl and his three older brothers all skied from an early age, with Tim becoming a four-time Australian junior ski champion. By the age of four, however, he had caught the show-biz bug from watching MGM musicals and talked his parents into letting him take dance classes. When it was time to board at high school he chose Sydney's McDonald College of the Performing Arts.

"The singing thing came about at school quite by accident," he says. "It was just something I saw as an opportunity to get my face out there and be working and learn about the industry."

In New York, aged 17, he won plaudits and became the youngest entertainer to perform at the Algonquin Oak Room.

Ask Draxl about anything he has done and he describes it as "an amazing learning experience. I'm so eager to learn as much as I can as quickly as I can," he says. "For me [film] has been a case of learning on the job as it has been with my singing career."

He still has an air of fresh-faced innocence, although he has matured considerably since he was a baby-faced artist recording his first CD, Ordinary Miracles, in 1999. Critics and seasoned cabaret artists were impressed by the understanding and wisdom he brought to songs like Sondheim's No One is Alone. In Travelling Light, set in Adelaide in 1971, he plays the boy next door to Pia Miranda's Leanne and her sister Bronwyn (Sacha Horler). He goes on a rite-of-passage journey of self-discovery triggered by the visit of a young American beat poet (Brett Stiller). In The Shark Net he plays author Drewe from the age of 15 to 21.

Throughout the shoot, Draxl insisted on seeing rushes because of all the jumping around he had to do age-wise. "I wanted to really get every minute detail of that ageing process," he says. "One day I'd be doing two scenes as a 16-year-old and one as a 21-year-old and I needed to be able to see how it was all fitting together."

Both his directors praise Draxl as an intelligent actor who is committed and focused and always arrives on set well prepared. "He's got this ability to convey what the character is thinking or feeling very subtly. He's always doing something interesting and you can read his face," says Millard (Travelling Light). "He's very well-read and interested in everything. He's got that inquiring mind of the self-taught person. I think he's one of those people who's sensationally good at whatever he does."

Graeme Burfoot (The Shark Net) says Draxl lives with the character. "It gets completely into him, so he really is in the moment. I don't know if he'd say this but if he had to do some light and airy scenes he was a light and airy guy but if it was a tough dramatic scene he was quite down. At breakfast he was already in the mood _ you could see it brooding away."

Draxl says he hopes to start shooting a small independent feature this month for one of the producers of Swimming Upstream, though they are still getting the funding together. "And there are a few things where I'm waiting to sign the contract."

Though film is his focus, "I'm definitely not giving up singing," he says. "I love singing in front of a live audience and I love being in the recording studio." Sony has indicated that it is happy for him to concentrate on his acting career and record the other three albums in his contract when the time is right. (His second CD, Insongniac, was released in 2001).

As for musical theatre he admits he would be "a little picky" about doing another show. A small role "is probably not something I'd go back to in a hurry so it would be [a question of] the right role coming along in something I am motivated to do eight shows a week." Performing on Broadway remains an ambition, but not necessarily in a musical. He'd love to do a play, too.

Draxl admits that things have gone pretty swimmingly to date. "There is a lot more I want to achieve but I think for a 21-year-old I'm doing OK."

By Jo Litson
August 02, 2003
The Australian