Last week when I spoke with Damian Walshe-Howling he was particularly passionate, given our conversation was on the back of the Federal Budget news.
ABC was under attack. Screen Australia was under attack. For Walshe-Howling, it was time to close ranks.
After all, he began his career with the ABC in 1989 for the Winners series, performing at the age of 19 alongside Gary Sweet and Tamblyn Lord. This month he appears in ABC’s latest crime drama Old School, starring Bryan Brown and Sam Neill.
“I really love the drama that they do and this has a slightly comic edge. They are really nurturing an incredible slew of shows and production companies. This current Budget is a real… I want to use a lot of expletives now,” he admits.
“The current Budget, hacking into the ABC an Screen Australia budgets is tragic.
“Cutting into Screen Australia’s budget doesn’t sound positive at all.
“It’s good that we have a healthy storytelling culture and it’s a shame that it’s being threatened.
“That’s why I love being part of the ABC. They’re always championing Australian stories.”
Walshe-Howling will appear from the second episode of Old School, as the notorious Vince Pelagatti, who takes a shine to Shannon (Hannah Mangan Lawrence), granddaughter to Lennie (Bryan Brown).
“He comes from a rich Italian family and he runs the nightclub. He’s got fingers in every pie and his cousins run every business in town, so he’s able to get away with a lot of stuff,” he explains.
“But he has a particular bent towards Lennie’s granddaughter Shannon so Lennie hates him. There’s a lot of room for comedy and conflict.
“The series starts with a real bang and then continues. I’ve got a good feeling about it.
“There’s a very laconic style to it. Only (Director) Gregor Jordan does Gregor Jordan humour.”
Walshe-Howling has been something of an ABC ‘go-to’ guy, Janet King (“something I’d be keen to do again”) and The Time of our Lives. At this rate he could be at risk of hogging all the best gigs. There’s a delicate balancing act between over-exposure and keeping afloat as a jobbing actor.
“There have been those kind of arguments for years,” he agrees. “If you go right back to the original Hollywood system, that’s what studios did and they still do, in a way. They used to contract Clint Eastwood, or whoever, for a period of time.
“But if people enjoy watching them and they have diversity in the way they’re playing them then I think it’s good to mix the whole thing up with main players, staples, and some new blood. It’s the same in sport or in anything.
“As long as the drama is strong it doesn’t matter if it’s someone new or established. If someone is right for the role then that’s what it comes down to.”
Indeed he brings added perspective to such questions now that he is who is now director / writer and producer of his ow short films. Which brings us back to the funding cuts to Screen Australia.
“My short film is going to Cannes and I have ideas to want to make features, and employ people, collaborate with others. So where is the incentive to do that if the government is cutting all the funding?” he asks.
“It’s a really healthy industry at the moment so it’s a shame that with this Budget it could change completely. It would be a real f***ing shame not to see Australian stories on the screen.
“Hopefully artists will find ways to make shows in an innovative way.”
Old School airs 8:30pm Friday ABC1.