The Secret Life of Us: articles

Secret ways of Mac the nice

Damian Walshe-Howling says he's crazy, unreliable and scruffy, like his rock n' roll character

Down in Melbourne, there is a pub called the Espy on The Esplanade in St Kilda that is a legend in rock'n'roll pubs.

People actually live there, the stories go. Its main bar is the lounge room for most of the people who can only pretend to live in St Kilda.

From its windows you can watch life go by and the sun set. Inside, the carpet is so sticky you can't fall over. If, by chance, you do, then you can't get up again. As they say, it is a legend in rock'n'roll pubs.

And this is where Damian Walshe-Howling makes his debut in Ten's hot new drama, The Secret Life Of Us.

The former star of Blue Heelers, and current star of the just-released movie He Died With A Felafel In His Hand, climbs that little (yet hallowed) stage of the Espy and, as Mac, belts out a few rock'n'roll numbers and wins the heart of Gabrielle (Sybilla Budd), so tortured and morose after the collapse of her all-too-brief marriage.

Walshe-Howling's gig on The Secret Life Of Us is his first major TV role since he quit as the controversial Constable Adam Cooper in Blue Heelers in 1998.

Since then, he's been working on stacking up credits in live theatre, a world in which he grew up ("Mum [Iris Walshe-Howling] was a theatre actor and spent a lot of time with the [Melbourne] Pram Factory.") and some select TV guest roles.

There was Dean in the ABC's Love Is A Four Letter Word, a part in last year's Halifax fp, and the role of Dimi, a young gay Greek man in Saturn's Return for SBS's Hybrid Life, which has received an AFI award nomination.

His list of credits is small but impressive and has earned him many plaudits. "A producer once said that I make some great choices, but really the projects I get offered are very good and varied."

He also spent some time 18 months ago at a New York acting school, learning theatrical tricks under writer/director David Mamet (who taught Madonna to act) with Sydney actor Rose Byrne and former Gladiators hostess Kimberley Joseph.

However, it's his new role in The Secret Life Of Us that will raise his public profile again.

"Playing the role of Mac [in Secret Life] is great," he says, "but not for the reason you might think.

"The Espy is the most famous Melbourne pub of all, and with this role I get to go on the stage and pretend that I'm a rock'n'roll singer".

Walshe-Howling admits he's not much of a guitar man but he can play harmonica, which he does regularly with a few bands around Melbourne, plus a bit of drums and the didgeridoo.

It's part of that actor-musician thing.

"They're both on a par for being crazy, unreliable, scruffy ..." he laughs.

As for Secret Life, he also waxes lyrical. "It's a huge step forward for Australian drama. For a start, it's shot on film, which is rare for a TV series, there's been a lot of time and money spent on the series and the scripts are much better quality, they're very tight.

"The only thing that is going to draw major film people like Claudia Karvan [Alex] and Debra Mailman [Kelly] to a TV show is the quality of the scripts.

"I can't remember that many film people working on a TV series."

Walshe-Howling is up-beat about the direction in which his career is moving. "I have a passion for theatre and film, I want a film career and working with these people on The Secret Life Of Us can only help that.

"Leaving Blue Heelers was something I needed to do because I wanted to extend myself and that's certainly been happening to me," he says.

"You have to take risks in this industry. And if I don't do that, if I just stick around and don't do what I really want, then I won't be happy.

"Some people see 'security' as having and hanging on to things but to me it's how I relate to the world. There's a whole universe out there and I want to be part of it."

The Secret Life Of Us, Monday, Ten, 9.30pm.

Daily Telegraph
August 30, 2001