It may have been playing a young John Ibrahim in 2010’s Underbelly: The Golden Mile that brought Firass Dirani mainstream fame, but this was no overnight success story.
He had been performing in Stage, Film and TV since 1998 including roles in Home and Away, My Husband My Killer, The Potato Factory, White Collar Blue, All Saints, The Silence, Small Claims, Power Rangers Mystic Force, Kick, East West 101, Pitch Black, The Black Balloon and The Combination.
Now he is set to appear in ABC’s miniseries The Straits, as the youngest son in a crime clan living in Cairns.
Dirani plays Gary Montebello, one of three brothers pitted against one another to take over the family’s shifty operations by his father Harry (Brian Cox).
Produced by Matchbox Pictures (The Slap, My Place), the 10 part drama mixes drama and black comedy. There are power struggles, threats, murder, drugs, and family feuds at play. Were it not for the offbeat tone and the lush, tropical setting it could almost be Underbelly all over again.
Dirani says he was spotted for the role by its co-creator, Aaron Fa’Aoso (East West 101, RAN: Remote Area Nurse), who plays his brother Noel, before meeting the Director and Producer.
“I had dinner with Aaron Fa’Aoso a few years back and he mentioned that he had an interesting role in a series he was developing. Fast forward a year and a half later, I’m testing in front of (Peter) Andrikidis, Fa’aoso and (Penny) Chapman,” he says.
“Gary’s the black sheep and the youngest out of the 3 brothers. He’s the guy that will find himself at a white supremacist party wearing a t-shirt saying, ‘I love my African brothers’ and somehow gets away with it.
“I love that it’s a different culture and that we’re seeing so many exotic new faces and locations all together on the same screen. More of that please. The location was a dream. Beautiful time of the year.”
In the exotic locale of Far North Queensland, Dirani admits to novel ways of researching the role of Gary in between shoots.
“Gary loves a party, so Cramer Cain who plays my best mate Eddie, and myself, hit the city of Cairns for some bonding sessions,” he says.
Lucky for some.
Also appearing in the series are Rena Owen, Jimi Bani, Suzannah Bayes-Morton, Rachael Blake, Emma Lung, Kim Gyngell and Richard Cawthorne. While the storyline revolves around the emotional ties of the Montebello clan, there are moments of grisly violence, contrasting with larger than life rogues and grotesque comedy.
Firani says there is a fine line between drama and comedy and they offered him new areas of craft to explore.
“Delivering the comedy without it being for comedy’s sake was a challenge. Comedy lies in the subtleties. It’s good to know you have qualities to work on in performance. I loved playing the action scenes and the gun training. All beneficial to that actor’s tool belt,” he says.
“But I learnt more about the craft of acting. When you are surrounded by a fantastic crew, and talented cast, you’re bound to elevate and explore new territory. I’m willing to try different genres. And I would love to explore comedy a lot more. It’s petrifying but exhilarating when it works.”
The series was developed by Fa’Aoso with playwright Louis Nowra and co-produced with Penny Chapman and Helen Panckhurst. Its pedigree also includes directors Rowan Woods and Rachel Ward.
Since winning two Logies for his role in Underbelly, Dirani has been in demand with The Straits and two feature films.
“Killer Elite is released on the 23rd of Feb. I’m also in the process of finishing off a feature film in Melbourne called Last Dance which will premiere in the Melbourne Film Festival,” he says.
Whether his next project features a starring role like Underbelly, or an ensemble role, he expects to be enticed by the quality of the script and the team behind it.
“I started out on stage so I love being part of an ensemble. My preference is to work on good material. To work with great directors. And The Straits gave me that opportunity.”
The Straits world premiere 8:30pm Thursday ABC1.