The Secret Life of Us: articles

New Love

INSIDE Spencer McLaren are two actors struggling to get out.

There is the real McLaren, a Sydney-born actor with a NIDA degree and a background in musical theatre and TV drama. Then there is Richie Blake, a Melbourne-based former soap star looking for his next job in The Secret Life of Us.

McLaren says playing someone with a similar career and background to his own was difficult at first.

"It was a bit odd because in the show I was playing Richie who was playing someone else," he says. "But I think the closer a character is to you, particularly in terms of your career, you actually want to avoid playing yourself and you want to make him different so you put in more effort."

He finds it surreal at times: like when Richie appeared on Rove Live to talk about his character in the fictional soap The River.

Having appeared on the talk show before, McLaren says it "really crossed the boundaries of reality".

But McLaren, who hails from Home & Away, says he enjoyed playing a soap-opera actor as it allowed him to "take the piss out of it all".

This year, Richie is struggling to find work again but he does have a successful relationship, and he briefly travels to Nepal to be with his new man.

"I thought (Richie travelling) was quite ironic because his character in The River went away to become a Buddhist monk," he laughs. "At least I get to keep my hair."

The developments are a definite improvement for Richie, who was the victim of gay bashers last season.

While the topic was clearly serious, and McLaren was pleased with the way it was handled, he says filming the fight scene was fun.

"They hired a stunt double and I said, 'no way, get rid of the double'," he says. "It was great, biting on blood capsules and throwing yourself about. I did end up with a bit of a bruise on my ribs and grazed palms, though."

McLaren says he has received overwhelmingly positive responses to Richie's coming out.

Viewers have said that such a normal representation of a gay man neither comic nor tragic had been missing from Australian television.

How long the series will continue, though, is in doubt since Claudia Karvan decided to leave the show.

The Secret Life of Us, Ten, Monday, 8.30pm.

By Jennifer Dudley
February 27, 2003
The Courier Mail