The Secret Life of Us: articles

Vince Colosimo

Vince charming

"It's all very flattering, don't get me wrong." Ewin Hannan meets Vince Colosimo, a reluctant sex symbol.

Vince Colosimo is struggling to sit still. He moves around on a small couch, leaning back, then forward. As he talks, and he talks a lot, his right leg jiggles furiously.

"I am probably a little bit manic," he says. "Just jumpy and stuff. Jane (Hall, his partner) says that to me a lot. I am starting to believe it, too. I see my little daughter, Lucia, who is seven months old—she can be very demanding at times and she never stops shaking or moving and wanting to do a new thing. Sometimes I think she looks a bit manic as well. Maybe it's genetic. She's proven Jane right."

Colosimo laughs. At 36, the Carlton-born actor, who once reckoned his mouth could make him a billion dollars selling real estate, can afford a smile.

Acclaimed roles in films such as Chopper and Lantana (for which he won a best supporting actor AFI award), gave him peer credibility and industry clout. His latest project is Take Away, in which he plays the anal-retentive owner of a fish-and-chip shop.

But it is his role as Rex in the television series The Secret Life of Us that has seen his profile enter the stratosphere. His character's involvement in a love triangle opposite Claudia Karvan's Alex and Samuel Johnson's Evan have made him fodder for water-cooler gossip.

Denied roles earlier in his career by casting agents put off by his southern European looks, Colosimo has been marketed as "Sexy Rexy", the hype perhaps peaking when he featured (again opposite Karvan) in a Country Road billboard campaign.

Colleagues attest to his charisma. Daniella Farinacci, his Lantana co-star, recalls being swamped by people demanding to know what it was like to be up close and personal with Colosimo.

"I had so many people saying 'Vince was a big spunk, what was he like to kiss?' she says. "I can't even remember kissing Vince. It sounds like a bit of a wank, but we were in character."

On one occasion, they were stuck at Sydney airport, frustrated by a flight delay. "He went up to the girl at the ticket window. I watched this girl's jaw drop," Farinacci says. "Her eyes glazed over when she realised who he was. Vince asked if we could go up to the Qantas club lounge. She said yes. She was just drooling. When we got there, there was another woman saying 'oh my god, it's Vince Colosimo'."

Does he buy into the notion that he has sex appeal? Colosimo repeats the question before answering. "No, I don't buy into it, mate.

"God almighty—I suppose I probably did when I was a lot, lot younger. My feet are firmly planted on the ground at the moment. It's all very flattering, don't get me wrong—if that's the angle chosen to describe me, as long as it doesn't take anything away from my ability as well, that's fine."

As for The Secret Life of Us, Colosimo cautiously expresses misgivings about some episodes in the latest series, arguing the producers and writers were trying too hard to appeal to a younger demographic.

He emphatically does not want to say anything negative about the show, and thinks it improved towards the end of the series, but he adds: "For me, it became a tamer version of Queer as Folk. You had to sort of push the whole lesbian and gay thing, just in case you didn't think we were on the edge enough. Let's get a little bit edgier. And it was like, 'oh, boring'. You know what I mean? Just boring. I don't know. It just seemed to be sex education for the young at heart. That's fine at times, but it moved away from what it was."

Plucked from the school yard to make his cinematic debut as Gino in the 1982 movie Moving Out, Colosimo went on to star opposite Sigrid Thornton in Street Hero, receiving an AFI Best Actor nomination in 1984.

"I would not have wished that sort of success or fame on too many young kids who didn't have much experience or many people behind them, because it was a tough time, a scary time, and an amazing time as well, so far as your popularity and your stardom and your recognition and your profile," he recalls.

"It was sort of too much to handle for a young kid. It was for me, anyway."

For his 18th birthday he was taken on a helicopter ride over New York. "My head was spinning," he says. "I was in another world. I thought, 'the rest of my life, is this what happens now? Is it all fame and fortune and stardom, staying in beautiful hotel rooms, eating at beautiful restaurants?'

"No, it wasn't to be. That's not the way it was. I really learnt to understand that it's not all lush and beautiful. It's a lot of hard work."

Colosimo could have capitalised on his teen idol status to work in television. Instead, guided by Moving Out director Michael Pattinson, he enrolled at the Victorian College of Arts.

"Maybe it's an old-fashioned thing about me, or my parents' influence, but I felt like I better go and learn my craft so I have this for a very long time," he says. Sigrid Thornton says it was a brave decision. "I have always admired the slightly more different path that Vince chose by leaving mainstream acting to study at the VCA," she says. "Ultimately, it was a savvy choice."

More comfortable in pinball arcades and billiard parlours, the working-class boy (his father was a school caretaker and his mother a factory machinist) ran smack into wannabe bohemians four or five years his senior. "I had never done any play readings," he says. "I didn't know anything about Shakespeare or Ibsen or Chekhov when I walked into this college. I had no understanding of it. I had to do a lot more homework to catch up."

Graduating in 1987, Colosimo found his profile had largely evaporated. He managed to work steadily but he believes his ethnicity contributed to him not getting roles.

"There were times very early on in my career, without having a whinge about it, when I felt I probably missed out on roles that I wanted to play because of the way I looked, or what people thought or perceived in me," he says.

"I didn’t know anything about Shakespeare or Ibsen or Chekhov when I walked into this college," says Vince Colosimo.

"That was their notion, their assumption. That's fine. Maybe it's what Australia wanted to see then. It seems to have opened right up and it's a lot better now."

Did he feel stereotyped? "Yeah, there was a lot of that. I would hear that word a lot around me all the time. (People would say) 'you don't want to be stereotyped', (or) 'no, no no, I don't think you should take that part, it's a bit stereotypical'.

"But I don't actually like the word. I think that, you know, I look like I look like. Sorry, can't help that. People are going to see me in a certain light and I just hope that whatever I take on, whether it be Tony in the fish-and-chip shop in Take Away or Gino in Moving Out or Nik D'Amato in Lantana, they're all different characters. Although they might have the same cultural background, they might come from a bloodline where somehow they connect, they're all very different characters, and that's what I have worked hard at doing."

That said, his Italian background kept him off the breadline. Colosimo did more than 1000 performances with Wogs Out of Work and Wog-A-Rama. He featured in The Wog Boy in 2000.

"When I have had to wash dishes, I have washed dishes," he says. "I have worked with my (twin) brother (Tony), who is a floor sander, and helped him out over the years when I was not working in the low times—that's been great. I like to get out with real people and do all this stuff because my motto is, 'acting is the stuff of human nature'. You have really got to get out there and really got to get your hands dirty."

He has taught himself to deal with knockbacks. "I have learnt to do that a lot more these days. Just let it go. It's about rejection and dealing with rejection. If you can't deal with it, you shouldn't be in the game. Forget about it because it will kill you in the end. You have just got to move on—next thing."

Colosimo worked in theatre and television, including A Country Practice, where he met Partner Jane Hall, with whom he has lived with for more than six years. He came back to movies in 1999 with Chopper. Colosimo, however, expresses some frustration about how his career is perceived.

"A lot of people say, 'aaah, Lantana, it really got you back up there', or 'Chopper got you back up there'… to tell you the truth, I don't believe I have ever really stopped," he says. "From the age of 21 in the late '80s, I got myself an agent and I started working here at the Melbourne Theatre Company and I did some long-running shows on stage, did a bit more TV, then some more theatre, worked in Adelaide and Queensland in theatre companies there.

"It's not just an overnight, oooh, I have Chopper; I have got Lantana. I think that stuff has come from everything I have done as well."

For Colosimo, acting is about surprising people, producing a performance that wasn't anticipated. He says he finds it hard to be a good judge of his work. He won't look back at a scene after it is shot. Instead, he looks for a nod from the director.

"I am probably really hard on myself at times," he says.

In Take Away, Colosimo's character, fish-and-chip shop owner Tony Stilano, takes himself very seriously indeed. His co-star Stephen Curry plays Trev Spackney, who has his own fish-and-chip shop three doors down the street. The two characters are chalk and cheese, and the film, shot in Alphington, is largely based on the duo's competitiveness. Colosimo describes Stilano as "a bit anal and orderly".

"I love the fact that his shop is his kingdom," he says.

Colosimo isn't particularly political—he listens to talkback radio and reads The Age—but says the birth of his daughter made him more conscious of world affairs. He opposed the Iraq war and becomes animated about the Howard Government's policy on asylum seekers.

"It's madness," he says. "I think it's crazy these people are locked up and not given a chance to start a new life. Especially the fact that there are young children in there.

"My father emigrated here in 1956. He had a really, really hard time but he made something of himself. I don't think any person should be locked up for not doing anything wrong.

"My father was not locked up when he came over in a boat. He was given a chance, a chance to start a new life…

"I don't go waving the flag and stuff like that because I don't want to be only looked at as that type of person… I do think it's wrong. I don't believe that people should just jump on boats and turn up and say, 'hey, hey, here I am'. There is a right way to do it, but locking people up isn't the right way."

As for making it in Hollywood, Colosimo now has agents in Los Angeles. He had made a few trips to LA and has another planned soon.

"If things don't work out, they were not meant to be," he says.

"I never want to be the hot new thing," he says. "I would rather be warm all the time, because this job for me is not a one year or two-year plan. It's something I want to do for a very, very long time."

By Ewin Hannan
August 16, 2003
The Age