Later this month Movie Extra launches its newest scripted series, Small Time Gangster starring Steve Le Marquand as a man with a double life.
To his family Tony Piccolo (Le Marquand) is a father and hard-working carpet cleaner, but to his gangster mates he is a professional hit man.
For Le Marquand, who has played guest roles in Rake, Water Rats, Big Sky, Wildside, Young Lion, Blue Heelers, Laid, it is also his most profile role so far.
“It’s the biggest TV role by a long shot. I’ve done leads on film and stage but it’s my first lead on TV,” he says.
“I was in 4 or 5 episodes of Rake playing a very similar character. I would turn up and beat the bejesus out of Richard Roxburgh.”
Playing a heavy guy is not new to Le Marquand, but if there is anybody he has modelled the character around he isn’t saying.
“I did spend 10 years as a bouncer, drinking and fighting and carrying on like a pork chop and in the last 10 years I’ve become a teetotaller and family man, so I guess I had both sides of my life to draw on, in the two sides of Tony.
“So there’s no-one in particular but he’s an amalgamation of blokes I used to knock around with when I was younger.”
The series is produced by Andrew McInally and Gareth Calverley, the latter is also a writer with Joss King, and directed by Jeffrey Walker. Despite its gangster setting, Le Marquand says the show isn’t inspired by Underbelly, which he will appear in in its next instalment.
“I think this would have happened with or without Underbelly, because it’s such a different kettle of fish. It’s completely fictional, there’s not a skerrick of true crime, and there’s a lot of comedy,” he says.
“I think it’s unique in Australian TV, I don’t think anything’s quite been done like it before. In fact nothing even really springs to mind like it overseas. Minder, I think was close, the 70s and 80s show with Terry and Arthur.
“It’s a crime comedy. Australia’s done lots of comedy and lot of crime but I don’t think they’ve tried to blend the two before,” he suggests.
“But we made a decision not to play the comedy. As soon as you start playing the gags then you kill them.
“In this show the situations and characters is where the humour is found, not so much in the playing of it. To a large extent the more you play it for real the funnier it is. So it’s quite clever writing in that regard.”
Also appearing in the series are Sacha Horler, Geoff Morrell, Gia Carides, Gary Sweet and Jared Daperis.
For Le Marquand, the series offers an opportunity to not only elevate his profile, but to show more depth to his acting because of the duality of the character as both thug and father. Working mostly in film and theatre, he says he is often overlooked for leads on commercial television.
“I’m not really a network guy. I would never play a long-term TV bad guy because I’m even a bit rough around the edges to be your Carl Williams or Benji Veniamin. All the blokes who play the bad guys for Channel Nine or Channel Seven are pretty clean-cut, good-looking blokes with a bit of an Aussie twang,” he says.
“I’m not having a go at them, I’m just saying I’ve never been a network guy. People look at me and say ‘No, he’s a bit full-on’ or ‘Too scary, too intense.’ So they guest me as a baddie but I get knocked off or killed.
“So in theatre or film or Pay TV I let loose a bit more.”
Despite the smaller audience of subscription television, including via a channel that isn’t on a basic package, Le Marquand isn’t worried that the show won’t be widely accessible. There are other benefits and ways for the work to be appreciated.
“I would argue that without Pay TV I wouldn’t have this opportunity. But these things always go onto DVD and get sold, like Love My Way and Tangle so they reach quite a big audience.
“If the show’s good and there’s a bit of hype about it people will buy the DVD. And there was talk of it going onto another Pay channel after it’s finished and also talk of them trying to flog it to Free to Air further on down the track.”
Small Time Gangster premieres 8:30pm Tuesday April 19 on Movie Extra.