White Collar Blue: articles

Australia's latest seaside cop show

The second episode of White Collar Blue is better than the pilot, Peter O'Brien is saying. Episode 10 is fantastic. Well, the pilot, which screened this week, wasn't that bad, really.

And for a change, it's not set in some dusty little town or on a harbour.

Instead, the new Aussie cop drama is filmed in Cronulla, renamed Kingsway for the show and encompassing the widest variety of Aussie citizenry, from Sylvania Waters-type mansion owners with parked-up boats at the back door, to what are euphemistically called New Australians.

It's one of the reasons O'Brien, who plays lead character Detective Sergeant Joe Hill, decided to work on the show.

"I think it's really clever to set it down there," he says. "It's a very interesting, multicultural mix, which is great. If you live in the Western Suburbs and you want to go to the beach, the train line stops right at the beach.

"It's quite a funny sight seeing Japanese and Vietnamese guys in wetsuits with a surfboard under their arm getting off the train."

You'll probably recognise O'Brien. His 18-year career has encompassed everything from The Flying Doctors and Neighbours to British dramas Deceit and Queer as Folk. After spending roughly the past decade in England, he's now back in Australia and glad of it, describing London as a tough place to live.

"Your life just becomes about your job, your career, and everything gets sacrificed for it. I'm not saying that's a bad thing — you do have to chase it sometimes.

"I just came to realise that life is what you do outside work in a certain way that shapes you as a person and that fulfils your life.

"I kind of got sick of going to bars and running into actors and all they could say to you was, 'Are you working? What are you working on?' or 'What have you finished?' It seemed all the romance in their lives was with the people they were doing shows with."

O'Brien went to Britain to work in theatre, and made his way from the regions to long-running West End plays.

Queer as Folk, which was controversial in Britain because one of the characters was under-age, was a television highlight, although the filming became unexpectedly dangerous when they were shot at.

"They kept telling us at the time that we were caught between the crossfire of two gangs, but everybody knew they were shooting at us."

He says the series, set in Manchester's gay scene, was fantastic drama.

It was while doing a play with the Sydney Theatre Company that he was asked to do White Collar Blue.

He was interested because the producers had worked on Wildside, a cop show that's now considered to have been a watershed in Aussie screen drama.

He likes the fact that Joe Hill is not wildly glamorous — he's a flawed character with two ex-wives and two kids and doesn't wear expensive suits. He based him on some cops he met in the area whose motto is, "You'll never stop crime".

"They're prepared to let some crime go. It doesn't mean they're turning a blind eye. The main thing that they try to stop is if people are profiteering from crime, because most crime in the area round there is poverty-driven.

"Hill is more of a talker than a fighter. He never takes a gun with him anywhere. He's discreet. He thinks it's better to try to talk your way out of trouble."

O'Brien and the rest of the cast are waiting to see if White Collar Blue will be renewed for a second season. It was one of four new TV dramas launched this year in Australia, and fared the best of them (unlike Young Lions, screening here on Prime, which has already been axed).

It may help that O'Brien received an AFI Best Actor nomination for the part, although he won't be around to receive the gong if he wins, as he's about to go on holiday to Vietnam.

He likes to take off between jobs and has travelled extensively, having spent nine months in China and been through Europe and the US. Next year he'd like to travel across Russia.

The role of Joe Hill has been a challenge, although he says he's yet to get the ultimate role. "I'm hoping that there'll be more than one."

He'd like to play Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire and, he laughs, RP McMurphy, Jack Nicholson's role in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

White Collar Blue is somewhere between Water Rats and Wildside.

"If you look at it over the 20 episodes there's some really fantastic episodes, fantastic stuff in there.

"I think it's a pretty good series. It's good Australian television."

November 14, 2002
New Zealand Herald