Stingers: articles

Gary Sweet

Sweet in the Channel 9 drama series Stingers.

How sweet irony can be

For a bloke with a reputation for breaking the rules, Gary Sweet has played a surprising number of law enforcers. His latest role is Inspector Luke Harris in Stingers. Harris suffers from bipolar disorder (manic depression). Sweet, 46, says that with this character there are fewer rules to his performance. "There are certain areas that have no structure so you can play with it and respond accordingly." Sweet researched manic depression with a forensic psychiatrist. "I left the meeting positive that I was one."

Do you see irony in the fact that you are playing people in authority?

I do. I think it's very ironic. Although I'm less interested in overtly flaunting authority these days. One of the maxims I've always lived by is that rules are for other people. I guess I'm becoming aware that I must incorporate myself into the world that everyone else lives in. In the end you have to conform sometimes.

What was the point when you realised that?

I don't recall a flashpoint. I've always been a slow learner, so through the culmination of a number of events over the years I realised that maybe a lot of it was my fault. Before I would be more likely to blame the situation on outside forces.

Sweet's father was a fencing contractor and his mother was a process worker. A high school teacher for a week, he loves pubs, boxing, played football for Glenelg and later Port Colts and says he is fiercely working class. "I was the youngest player with the Colts at 30 and the only one with all my own teeth and no tattoos."

What does being "fiercely working class" mean?

It's a matter of pride. Wearing it like a badge. People are so coy about their politics and the way they feel about certain issues and where they come from.

Isn't there a dichotomy that your kids go to Scotch College?

The choice of their school is not mine. Neither is it paid for by me. Nevertheless it is a tremendous school and gives them enormous possibilities that I didn't have.

Are your mates all working class?

I guess we're all kind of middle-class, really. It's a philosophy, really. It goes along the lines of Christian principles. I'm not religious but I appreciate the principles of Christ. About dealing with people, not ripping people off, about social structure.

Sweet is one of few actors always in work. But in 1999 in the shadow of the break-up of his marriage to Johanna Griggs, everything turned dark. "I was convinced I'd never get another job," he says. "It was shortly after my last marriage break-up and it was probably the worst time of my life. I didn't think I deserved another job."

He was burnt out and needed to take a break by returning to his home-town of Adelaide where he did stints as a radio announcer. After 12 months of wearing headphones in a cramped room talking to thin air, Sweet was offered a guest role on Stingers. "That's when I realised I love acting. I would never admit that before. It wasn't cool for me to admit that I loved acting. I decided to organise my private life, not take my profession for granted, and not abuse it."

The roles trickled in and now he is busier than ever with his lead role on Stingers and film roles including in Rolf De Heer's The Tracker.

Despite a hectic schedule he still thinks of himself as a spectator in his own life. "I've always wanted to achieve something but I'm not sure that I have yet."

During your troublesome period you weren't treated very well by the women's magazines. You were cast as the bad guy.

I would be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed and angry at some stages about the treatment I got in the press. I've always felt that you can make it as bad as you want but you won't break me. I remember one of the earliest lessons my father taught me was never to be self-piteous. It's embarrassing, self pity.

Did you bash yourself up over this period?

Oh yeah. I do it in lots of different ways. I usually get tattoos or go on an exercise regimen that would kill a buffalo.

Do you care what people think of you?

The people who matter I care about but I have lost interest in trying to please everybody. I also manipulated things at the start. I always wanted to be notorious rather than famous. Journalists would ask me about events (pub fights, being seen with certain people) that may or may not have happened. While I wouldn't confirm it, I wouldn't deny it.

You became notorious through your marriage break-up.

Yeah, it's not the way I wanted it. I asked for notoriety but I didn't want to be the bad guy. I want to be ¤ the Jack Nicholson bad guy. I wanted to be the naughty boy.

It was in gossip magazines and no one around you would believe it and that's the point, isn't it?

Yeah, I think that is the point. It's funny how the most sane and discerning friend can find some area of credence in a load of crap. Some friends did. I like to read the gossip section of (a women's magazine) because it is your top-shelf manufactured goss. I love to hear the story more so for the story not for whether I believe it or not.

Do you like mixing in groups of people?

Yeah, I do have groups, although I seem to be the only one like me. Everybody is kind of married and I dress like an 18-year-old and behave like one, still drive an old Kombi.

You have been married and you do have kids.

And it's fun when I've got my kids. I've always got on well with kids. The directors usually ask me to direct the kids because we have the same mentality.

Does it become more of a problem as you get older that you haven't grown up?

For everyone else, not for me. I mix with all ages. I do want to grow up. I just want to do it slowly.

Stingers screens on Tuesdays at 9.30pm on Channel Nine.

By Chris Beck
April 10, 2003
The Age