Young Lions: articles

Roar talent

IT IS not quite noon when Anna Lise Phillips strides into a Kings Cross cafe. She is clad in black leather and lace and her curly hair is pulled back to reveal a face caked with heavy costume make-up.

Phillips looks more like a prostitute than a member of TV's latest crime-fighting team, but such is the nature of Nine's newest police drama.

Young Lions positions itself somewhere between Wildside and Water Rats—a mix of edgy urban police life and personal drama without the shaky camera or lingering shots of Sydney Harbour Bridge.

The show's four lead actors—Phillips, Alex Dimitriades, Tom Long and Alexandra Davies—all tackle major crimes and occasionally go undercover to solve a case.

Thus Phillips's get-up. It is a costume she mocks as soon as she spies her friend and Young Lions colleague Davies (pronounced Davis) in the cafe.

But while Davies also makes fun of her fellow actor's outfit, it is the show's producers who have the last laugh.

Later in the day, both women are dressed in dubious duds inside a smoky nightclub.

The costumes may provide sticky situations for actors in the 22-episode series, but even more tricky are the location shoots. While filming the show's opening movie-length episode, producers staged a fight between Lebanese and Vietnamese gangs in the centre of Cabramatta.

A community liaison officer was needed to ensure off-screen violence did not follow filming. Working behind Sydney's Central Railway Station on a Friday night also presented problems, director Ian Barry says, as "interested and fairly vocal bystanders" made their presence known.

But it is Tom Long's story that tops them all. In the guise of Detective Senior Constable Guy "Guido" Martin, Long took a stroll in Sydney's red-light district at night.

He was carrying an artificial corpse and looked like he had taken a bullet.

"You've got people walking by as you're all shot and carrying a dead body, but a lot of weird things happen there so people don't really notice you ₀it's quite odd," Long says.

Young Lions is the latest police drama from the Nine Network and producers are quick to point out differences between it and shows of its ilk.

Though helmed by Blue Murder and Wildside director Michael Jenkins, comparisons to his past work do not stand up, producer Jo Rooney says.

Young Lions is set in Sydney, like many of its predecessors, but the city's well-known landmarks are omitted in an attempt to make the setting look "generic".

While Rooney describes the show as edgy, she says it is far less gritty than ABC's Wildside and focuses on different aspects of police life.

"It's more about the relationships of these four young cops," she says. "It's also sexy and more sophisticated."

Another new aspect is the age of the show's four main characters. All are aged in their 20s, although Long suggests he is pushing the boundaries.

Long is the most senior actor of the lead actors and is well known for his roles in TV series such as SeaChange and films including The Dish and Risk.

His career in television began with the 1992 mini-series The Leaving of Liverpool, directed by Jenkins.

It was this association that saw him hand-picked for the role of Guido Martin.

"I just had this meeting with (Jenkins) and he offered me the role," Long says, matter-of-factly. "I enjoyed working with him last time and I've enjoyed watching his work and all the things he's done."

The Young Lions role is a challenging one for Long, whose last acting role as a policeman was more comedy than drama. He also has had to adapt to city life, both on screen and off.

Long grew up in the country and works on his farm in Victoria when he is not pretending to be a detective. He has temporarily moved to Sydney for the part and has had to change some of his habits.

"I know that I am quite country in terms of speech and things," he says, "but as long as you know where that is on the scale of normalcy it's easy to correct. I talk the way I do because everyone else talked like that around me when I was growing up."

Long's urban character is a complex one and provides plenty of ammunition for the relationship-focused drama.

Guido is ruled by his desire to impress his father, a decorated police officer who pays him little respect, and love for his drug-dealing girlfriend who is often getting him into trouble.

Guido also has a tendency to "put people offside slightly through his rashness", Long says, though ultimately he is trying to be a good cop.

And then there's that name ₀

"When you tell most people his name is Guido they laugh but I quite like it," Tom says with a smirk. "It sticks in your head."

Guido and his partner, Cameron, (Phillips) tend to be the less law-abiding team of the Southwest 101 police station, while Davies' character, Donna Parry, and her partner, Eddie (Dimitriades), see things in a more black-and-white fashion.

It is an approach Davies says will be tested as Donna settles into life in the big city. She moves from the country to join the urban squad in the show's first episode.

Davies describes Donna as an optimistic and energetic member of the detective unit, who is "itching to get into the city and see a bit more action".

"I kind of see her as a city girl trapped in the country," Davies says. "She was born out there and she loves all that stuff—the great outdoors and anything sort of physical—but a city job like this is suitable for Donna because of the physical nature of the work."

The role is a dream come true for Davies, who has wanted to play a cop ever since drama school.

Something about playing a strong female character in a difficult job "rather than a silly little girly role" appealed to her, she says.

It is a very different role from the one she played in Nine's sitcom Flat Chat, where Davies says the mood was "certainly more light-hearted".

"I think comedy is one of the hardest things to do, timing-wise, getting it right is very difficult," she says. "But the storylines we're dealing with here and the complexities take a lot of concentration and energy and it can be a bit emotionally draining."

Davies has to start rolling with the punches. Each of these young guns is in for a bumpy ride.

Young Lions, Channel 9, Wednesday, 8.30pm

By Jennifer Dudley
July 11, 2002
The Courier Mail