Wildside: articles

The Wild One

After a wild ride with the hype of the movie Head On, and the drama series Wildside, actor Alex Dimitriades hit a void. STEVE PENNELLS reports his career is now back on track.

It is a Friday evening late in 1998 and Alex Dimitriades is tired.

Filming is behind schedule on the final episode of the ABC's Wildside and the actor is waiting for his next scene.

So he lies back on the bonnet of a wrecked car at the ABC's Frenchs Forest studio (now sold as part of the government broadcaster's cost-cutting) and talks about having a break. A long one.

Head On had just seen him labelled Australian film's next wunderkind and the movie's gruelling publicity schedule had added to the already gruelling schedule on Wildside.

Some kind of sabbatical in Margaret River would be nice. He could take a break for a while and drink "the best wines in the country." Dimitriades has relatives in WA with a furniture shop. He says he might even work there.

Fifteen months later, the actor is sitting in the foyer of a Brisbane hotel when he is reminded of his vow.

"Was I saying that… was I?" he says, eyes widening. "See that's what happens when you start going nuts, you will do anything.

"God, to think that I was serious! You haven't printed that anywhere, have you?"

Dimitriades never took that sabbatical. As it turned out, events eventually conspired to give him a break whether he wanted one or not.

If 1998 was a wild ride for the former star of The Heartbreak Kid, 1999 was painfully slow.

Sure, Dimitriades continued to have a profile. Along with his girlfriend Terry Biviano (the pair are known in Sydney as the "everywhere couple"), he kept his place as one of the city's perennial A-listers.

And he still enjoyed other perks afforded to the famous. When Lexus launched its IS200 model last year he was among a group of celebrities — including Donna Gubbay, Lisa McCune and David Reyne — who were each lent one for 12 months. He also posed naked with his sister, Melinda, for the book Siblings and was captured on camera at last year's Logies notoriously mouthing what appeared to be "that's crap" when SeaChange beat Wildside to a gong.

But he was in danger of becoming famous for being famous. The much-anticipated follow-up to the critically-acclaimed Head On — nominated for nine AFI awards, including Dimitriades for Best Actor (the hot favourite, he lost to Hugo Weaving for The Interview) — eluded him.

"That was the stuff that dreams are made of, the role of a lifetime," he says of the confronting drama in which he played a gay Greek-Australian. "Yeah, sure it was risky but what did I have to lose?"

After the Head On hype died, Dimitriades found himself in an actor's void, facing industry pressure about his next role, public expectation and a professional desire to top the role.

"Everyone was talking about it," he says. "There was this whole press buzz because this film got an American sale and stuff it is like, 'so you are off to Hollywood!'

"I really didn't care. I thought, that time will come when it comes.

"This push from people… I couldn't work out if it was a good thing or a bad thing."

Industry observers expected Dimitriades to eventually follow Russell Crowe, Toni Collette and Cate Blanchett overseas. But he says the prospect scared him.

"The thing is people go overseas and they work and never come back… I am kind of fearful of that," he says. "That spooks me out. I have never been one to follow the traditional routes. If that is the way you have to go then it makes me question it."

Instead, he saw a $13 million Australian-German co-production about the life of Ned Kelly, called Fanatic Heart, as the answer.

It was due to start filming in the middle of last year but financing fell through weeks before shooting and Dimitriades was without work.

"That just threw everything out of whack," he says.

"So the next six months I just spent nearly pulling my hair out.

"I had been quite happy sitting doing nothing knowing that this (the Kelly film) was coming up.

"But you start getting rusty and when you get back into doing a job with a lot of time and money and people involved you feel like you are not performing to your optimum level.

"You feel awful."

So Dimitriades honed his skills at some theatre workshops and put himself back on the market.

"I started scrambling and, all of a sudden, in all my efforts to get back on track, everything seems to be happening all at once," he says.

Late last year, he starred as Crown Prince Ferdinand in an open air production of Shakespeare's The Tempest.

Last month, he wrapped up production on a Channel Ten telemovie with Matt Day called The Love of Lionel's Life and the film La Spagnola, a comic revenge story about a Spanish wife and mother being deserted by her husband in a dusty industrial outback twon. Things are back on track.

The Love of Lionel's Life will screen on Channel Ten later this year and La Spagnola is expected to be released about the same time.

After a small break in North Queensland, Dimitriades will make a decision about what to do next.

He is reading two film scripts. One is "bloody awful," the other is "interesting." He has also been toying with the idea of collaborating on an original script.

But if the Kelly film gets back on track, he says he would drop everything for it.

"It would be a great thing to direct a movie but, seriously, how do you guide someone into that important moment of the film," he asks.

"It is a lot of responsibility you have to deal with.

"I suppose writing first, maybe directing later. Who knows? I am more interested in finding good roles to play, good stories. Like with anything else it is all in the writing. When something appeals to you, that is it. I think that is my general attitude to life.

"I can't stand people that just listen to one kind of music. There has got to be some kind of variety, you have got to have a palate.

"Everything else is really just one-track minded."

It was seven years since the quiet, moody actor was plucked from the obscurity for The Heartbreak Kid and transformed from sullen Sydney schoolboy into brooding leading man.

"I didn't really know anything back then. I knew that I wanted to make films and I knew that was where I would be happiest," he says.

The film was followed by the spin-off series Heartbreak High, a raw-edged television drama based on an inner-city high school. Once he left the show, Dimitriades managed to avoid falling into obscurity with hundreds of other Australian soap stars who outlive their hype.

"I don't know if it comes down to any genius of my own or if it was just luck," he says, shrugging his shoulders.

"I don't know what the formula is. You have just got to do your best and people can either recognise that and give you a stepping stone to take you to the next level, which is what I have."

Despite reservations about the state of the local film industry, Dimitriades still has no plans to move overseas.

"I have been there (Hollywood) and seen it all before my eyes. It is a fucking fantastic industry. It is the real deal," he says.

"The industry here is — dare I say it — is a joke. There is so little to go around and so much talent. There is just no money, basically. And films cost a lot of money to make.

"But I am quite content to actually stay in Australia and support the industry that I want to support. Unfortunately it is not strong enough to support me in the same way."

Although almost universally praised as one of the country's best young actors, Dimitriades knows he also needs a few more runs on the board before he can join the ranks of Crowe and Blanchett.

A waitress comes up with a cup of earl grey tea Dimitriades had ordered earlier (the hotel didn't have any darjeeling).

"And your surname is?" she asks as she writes out the bill.

"Dimitriades," he replies.

She grapples with the spelling before he offers to write it down.

"Here. I'll print that for you."


By Steve Pennells
June 03 2000
The West Magazine