Stupid Stupid Man: articles


From subtle to absurdist ... the cast of Stupid Stupid Man (from left): Matthew Newton, Sophie Katinis, Bob Franklin, Wayne Hope, Leah Vandenberg and Chris Leaney.

It's more stupider

It's September and the former police headquarters on College Street are abandoned, soon to become luxury apartments. Level five, however, hums with activity. Computers sit on desks overflowing with magazines, stationery and toys. There are mounted magazine covers on the walls with semi-naked women and puff lines such as "School of hard knockers" and "First Aid: Look like a hero while copping a free snog".

Welcome to COQ, the men's magazine dedicated to "Australia's best chicks, cars and weird shit". If the logo on the door is to be believed, COQ belongs to ACP. In reality, it's the setting for the Foxtel comedy Stupid Stupid Man, which returns this week for a second series.

Series one was a breakout hit, garnering rave reviews and sharing the ASTRA award for outstanding drama with Love My Way. Its curious tone - veering wildly between subtle observational humour and absurdist physical comedy - was risky but the scripts were tight and blossomed in the hands of a talented cast, led by Wayne Hope, Matthew Newton, Leah Vandenberg and Bob Franklin.

Series two finds the show bolder and more confident (or, as the publicity material put it, "more stupider").

Tim Pye, who wrote half this season's episodes, says things have been easier this time around.

"Episode one of the first series was one of the hardest writing gigs I've taken on because it was creating the comic tone," he says. "Once that was done - and once it was cast - I could sit down and write series two knowing who the characters and actors were and what the pitch of the comedy was."

It was a comfortable return for the actors, too. Hope, who plays neurotic COQ editor Carl Van Dyke, says he's now more confident about the show's slapstick elements.

"Some of the episodes last year that were sillier than others, I was unsure how they'd go. I was like, 'I'm not sure how far you can bend this until it breaks and becomes Stupid Stupid Stupid Man.' But they got quite a good response." The new series, he says, is "slightly sillier".

For Vandenberg, who plays no-nonsense publisher Anne Cassidy, returning to Stupid Stupid Man was a shock. She'd travelled to India and had recently been on the set of the ABC's East of Everything.

"I'd been playing a foreign correspondent love interest of Richard Roxburgh and we were in Byron Bay doing gorgeous scenes under the lighthouse, literally watching whales leap out of the water ... then I came here and all of sudden on the walls there are naked women and you've just got breast and bottoms everywhere and I was like, 'OK - back into the world of COQ."'

As one of the straighter dramatic actors in the cast, Vandenberg has enjoyed working with such consummate comedians as Hope and Franklin. "They're great," she says. "You just watch them, their ease - they don't have to try and push."

Her regular gig on Play School also came in handy. "I've made a much bigger fool of myself on Play School than I have on Stupid Stupid Man. It's been a good training ground."

It's hard to talk about Stupid Stupid Man without addressing the Matthew Newton issue. His messy break-up with girlfriend Brooke Satchwell last year and his subsequent conviction in June for assaulting her, which was overturned in July, form an unwelcome backdrop to this series. The fact that his character, features writer Nick Driscoll, is a sleazy womaniser has further muddied the water.

Newton was under instruction not to talk to the media during production of the show but he's friendly on set, bounding over between takes to introduce himself. As for his co-workers, it's not an issue they're keen to dwell on. Asked if the off-screen controversies were on his mind as he wrote Nick's lines, Pye is dismissive: "Didn't give it a second thought. I wasn't writing for Matt, I was writing for his character. And his character is a character; he doesn't really exist."

Hope is more cautious, choosing his words carefully. "I thought it was problematic and, at the time, I wondered, too, given the character he plays in this, if they might have problems with it."

Despite finding the situation "complicated and uncomfortable" he doesn't see it as his place to judge. "If you don't adopt some process of accepting that these things happen in life, it's a pretty despairing place."

Newton's travails haven't tarnished the show's aura, with guest stars lining up for series two. Deborah Mailman plays a white supremacist, Stephen Curry a bitter, wheelchair-bound fashion editor, Jacqueline McKenzie a masseuse and Leo Sayer appears once again as himself.

Then there's Marcus Graham. He appears as the company's CEO, "James", who dresses as the Phantom of the Opera and plays an organ donated to his father by his helicopter pilot.

Let's hope "James" has a sense of humour.

By Greg Hassall
December 10, 2007
Sydney Morning Herald