Tangle: articles

What a tangled web ... Don Hany plays Spiros.

Man of many faces

It was the part of Muslim detective Zane Malik in SBS's East West 101 that thrust Don Hany into the limelight. He scored two AFI nominations and gained plaudits for playing a strong, multifaceted Muslim character. But Hany (pronounced "Hunny") is not Muslim. He is not even religious, describing himself as "halfway between atheist and agnostic". For the role of Malik he grew a beard because, despite his Iraqi-Hungarian heritage, he wasn't "Arab-looking enough".

Adopting the traits of different ethnicities is part and parcel of Hany's work in Australia. He's been cast as a Bulgarian drug dealer (Underbelly), a Russian mafioso (False Witness) and now, by producer John Edwards (Love My Way), as a Czech playwright in Ten's drama Offspring and a Greek political adviser in the second season of Foxtel's Tangle.

"It's interesting because, typically, on television, I look like a white guy, a 'normal' Aussie," Hany says during a break from filming a steamy Tangle scene. "In LA, the Americans never even thought of me as an Aussie, once I lost the accent. They don't have those sorts of filters that we have on our casting here."

Hany auditioned for the role of philandering husband Vince in season one of Tangle, which explored the web of deceit, lust and intrigue revolving around a loosely knit group of family and friends in affluent Melbourne suburbia.

The role of Vince eventually went to Ben Mendelsohn but Edwards and co-producer Imogen Banks were so impressed with Hany's "breathtaking" audition that they looked for a way to get him on the show.

Edwards lured him back to Australia with the promise that Tangle and Offspring would keep him in work for a year.

"It was a tough decision," Hany says. "In the end, I thought, 'I can stay in LA and work on stuff that my heart may at times not be in or I can come back and work on something that is where I stand personally'. I think everything that I'm doing this year speaks to an audience that's more important to me."

As Tangle resumes, season one's cliffhanger is quickly resolved but this only brings a new set of complications to the tangled lives of the show's protaganists. Smooth-talking Spiros enters the scene as an adviser to ambitious politician Tim Williams (Joel Tobeck), complicating Tim's already strained relationship with wife, Christine (Catherine McClements).

"This is a show about dysfunctional families," Hany says. "But it's smart enough to avoid that being a gimmick of the show. Everybody's life is completely three-dimensional and fun and interesting — not because of the drama in their life, not because of the tragedies in all these tangles but because, through the writing and the performances, they're so identifiable."

Hany is fiercely critical of mainstream television drama in Australia, much of which he says "medicates us to forget about the reality of life". He believes Tangle stands apart because it doesn't play to stereotypes.

"I've not really seen a lot of stuff that really deals with a middle class, well-to-do, suburban group of people and doesn't depict them as squeaky clean or heroic or glorifies them," Hany says. "Tangle's completely believable because there's nothing remarkable about these people. The politicians is actually not a great politician. The builder, Vince, isn't a great builder and he's a womaniser. They're people you see every day.

"But what they do is riveting to watch because they're honest to an Australian way of life that we don't necessarily feel like watching all the time but it's the truth. And that's beautiful and sad at the same time."

Ensuring Tangle doesn't take predictable turns is a constant challenge of the filmmaking process, Edwards says. He cites an argument with one of several guest directors over what could have been a too-neat ending to an episode. "I said, 'Ten other shows could end on that scene and it would tie a nice little emotional bow on it'. I can tell you what we'll end up doing and it won't be a nice little emotional bow. It'll be the acidic scene, the surprising scene . . . Tangle is prepared to go into less-sentimental areas of family life. It's about that web that grows out of relationships and what happens when your teenagers are about to become adults . . . do the sins of the parents go on to the next generation and the one after? The answer is yes," Edwards says.

"The show started from the idea of, 'Let's do modern divorce'. I think it's a show that is about morals, rather than a show with a moral. And that's the fun of making it and that's where the inspiration and that's where the arguments stem from."

Edwards says the fact he has cast Hany in two ethnic roles is irrelevant. "That the character of Spiros is Greek is neither here nor there," Edwards says.

"Basically, with the writers, there are about three names in circulation," Banks says. "They just chuck a name out there. It's not particularly conscious. Spiros needs to be Mediterranean-looking because Don's Mediterranean-looking but that's about it."

Hany certainly isn't worrying about typecasting. He says he would use any overseas success he achieves to work more regularly in his home country.

"I'll always want to contribute to the changes here," he says. "It is, ultimately, a work in progress, Australia. I was in LA when the Cronulla riots happened but I heard about it the way that the rest of the world would have seen it, which was that this 'lucky country' label that we had was just ripped off like a Band-Aid.

"The reality is we needed to come to terms with post-September 11 and I think that it's through art or through entertainment, at least, that Australians have dealt with delicate issues that are culture-based. We have to work through our differences and that's the responsibility of television drama."

By Bridget Mcmanus
July 19, 2010
The Age