The Cut: articles

John Wood and Julieanne Newbould

Scandal central . . . John Wood and Julieanne Newbould.

A bunch of really bad sports

The shorthand favoured during early pitches by producer Tom Blacket described The Cut as a cross between Minder, Sylvania Waters and Footballers' Wives. The new ABC drama offers a wry, sardonic look at the world of professional sports management. If you believe writer John Misto, sleaze, spin and scandal are par for the course.

The Cut stars veteran John Wood as "Wild" Bill Telford, a Sydney sports agent who conducts business on the colourful side of legitimate. He manages a stable of sports stars - angling for opportunities, negotiating the best deal for them and cleaning up their messes. He's not above a sleazy deal to throw a match, a lucrative online betting racket or dumping an unconscious hooker at the emergency room to save the reputation of one of his stars. It's all in the name of turning a buck for him and his clients, whom he and long-suffering wife, Roz (Julieanne Newbould), look after better than their own son.

Drawing directly from the lurid tabloid pages of scandals involving footballers, groupies, drugs, off-field altercations and gambling schemes, Misto had rich material for his script. But is the world of the professional sports agent really this . . . colourful? "I'd say it's probably a lot worse," Misto chuckles.

A series of newspaper articles on corrupt sports agents a few years ago was a major inspiration for the six-part series. "What they were doing was breathtaking," Misto says. "Forging clients' signatures; one made his client a director of a company which took over sponsorship of the football club, then they got into debt so the player owed his own club money. He hadn't even known he was a director.

"I wouldn't dare make this stuff up; people wouldn't believe it. Almost every story in this we've taken from a real event but adjusted a little bit."

Misto was tickled to see the disgraced Canberra Raiders player Todd Carney bundled off to Rwanda to build an orphanage on a stage-managed, reputation-enhancing trip last year. "I couldn't have thought of that," he says. "I wish I had. I could do an episode called Lout Of Africa."

Misto is not an obsessive sports fan, something that helped him maintain the satirical distance necessary to write The Cut. "I don't go all dewy-eyed when I meet footballers; I don't stay up late and watch Wimbledon," he says.

Misto credits his researcher, sports journalist Travis Cranley, for instilling the scripts with the insider sport knowledge necessary to give the show the stamp of authenticity.

On set last July at the vast Dee Why RSL club, the actors are united in their praise for Misto's scripts. A downstairs bar is decked out as the headquarters of The Cut's fictional western Sydney league team, the Falcons. The room is festooned in the Falcons' blue and orange. There are a couple of dozen party-goers in too-tight clothes, men with thick necks binge drinking and a karaoke tableau unfolding in the corner. It could be any Friday night in scores of suburban Sydney clubs - but it's 11am on a school day, that's not booze in the glasses and they're partying on a director's cue.

Matt Passmore, playing Bill's son, Andy, enters in a suit, getting bad news on a mobile phone from his fiancee back in London. He has been forced to return to Sydney abruptly after his estranged father has a heart attack.

Father and son have not been on speaking terms since Andy, an Olympic swimming hopeful, abandoned his coach father the day before the trials and fled to Britain. Now the prodigal son finds himself increasingly embroiled in his father's murky business dealings and in a romance subplot with an old flame.

"The characters are really fun to play," Passmore says. "And every person in the cast has a love affair with sport, so as much as we're showing the dodgy side of it, there's a real endearment too.

"I don't think this area has been tapped into in any Australian drama before and we are a nation that loves its sport. We read the articles on Wendell Sailor when he gets pinched at the urine test, we watch the Ben Cousins stuff - that sort of thing. You do wonder who's the guy spinning it all and about the dodgy stuff that goes on . . . my character blunders along trying to be this high moral ground in this world that he sees as very [compromised]."

From early on, Blacket and Misto wanted Wood to play the patriarch.

"I'm not quite sure what it is that John [Misto] felt there was about me as an actor or human being that tied him so much to me playing Bill but he is a terrific character to play," Wood says. "It's nice to play an authority figure that really does have feet of clay. Quite apart from the fact it's flattering to know that you've had a writer working on a series with you in mind.

"They're such good scripts; it's just a joy to do. The thing I really like is the little comic tweak all the scripts have got, the little undercurrent of irony and comedy that's a real treat to play."

Diarmid Heidenreich, who plays troubled Falcons player Jason Kerslake, has more experience on the sporting field than most of the cast. He played union when he was younger but quit to pursue acting. He sat in on an NRL first-grade training session as part of his preparation for the role.

"I think it would be difficult to be a football player, league especially, because it is a very violent, aggressive game and it would be difficult to douse that aggressiveness when you were off the field," he says.

Misto is blunter. "The thing is, when you give young, highly sexed males a lot of time on their hands, a lot of money and a lot of opportunity, they're going to get into trouble. And people love that. The press love that, the fans love it, everyone loves it but we're not allowed to say so."

At the same time, Misto and Blacket are interested in showing the flipside of a sports career, where competitors struggle without financial support in the low-profile sports - ice skating, for example. When researching the series, they spoke to three-time Olympian Joanne Carter, Australia's most successful female ice-skater, who is also a physiotherapist. They based a character on her. "The major players get all the money and then you've got the battlers who just do it for the love of it," Misto says. "Those people are quite inspiring."

On the off-chance you are one of those rare Australians who isn't interested in sport, don't feel left out. "Sport is probably more important to most Australians than politics or religion," Misto says. "But I also wanted to write a show that would be accessible to people who didn't like sport. It's funny and it's kind of a sports detective show - every episode has a mystery that needs to be solved and a few surprises."

The Cut begins tonight on ABC1 at 9.35pm.

By Kelsey Munro
February 23, 2009
Sydney Morning Herald