On the set of upcoming ABC drama Cleverman, star Hunter Page-Lochard would often exchange views on how innovative the show was with director Wayne Blair.
“‘This is different. This ain’t Redfern Now. This ain’t Gods of Wheat Street. This ain’t The Sapphires.’ This is its own little puppy in itself. Hopefully people will see the quality within it and I feel like they will,” he recalls.
Cleverman may be commissioned by ABC’s Indigenous Department, but it immerses its characters into a supernatural world, set several years into the future.
There are ‘Hairypeople’ who have been living amongst us for thousands of years, but are also outcasts who are segregated into the Zone and whose leader is a Cleverman with metaphysical powers.
In the six episode series, co-produced with Sundance TV, 22 year old Page-Lochard is about to be catapulted into the spotlight in the lead role of Koen West. The show will screen internationally and has already played at the Berlinale festival in Germany.
Page-Lochard, who has had roles in Bran Nue Dae, The Sapphires, Wentworth and worked with Wayne Blair was originally cast in a lesser-role.
“I was poached by Wayne through our relationship and given the opportunity to play a hairy that fights back, I call him the hairy ‘Che Guevara.’
“But they couldn’t find Koen. So Wayne and Leah (Purcell)p, co-director) put me up for offer to go for Koen.
“So the first step into the project was already an overwhelming experience. I just bit the bullet and took the challenge on.”
“When you throw all the race out of the window it’s still just a genre TV show.”
But ask him if the show is about to put him on the map and his enthusiasm is more guarded. He is trying to remain realistic about his prospects despite conceding there are definite reasons why it will attract attention.
“The reason why is because how much of a ground-breaking project it is, in a sense. It has 80% Indigenous cast and characters, and then when you throw all the ‘race’ out of the window it’s still just a genre TV show airing in Australia, and that never kind of happens,” he explains.
“But the reason why I don’t is kind of sad.
“I don’t like getting political because in the great words of George Carlin, I’ve decided to divorce myself from from all that, because I don’t feel like we really have a chance to really change anything, to be quite honest. A lot of people tell me, ‘Hunter, you shouldn’t feel like this,’ but sadly enough I do.
“I feel like because of the colour of my skin it might not (put me on the map). But I have to be an optimistic person and put faith into humanity and see what happens.”
If Page-Lochard is set for stardom, storytelling and performance is surely in his DNA. His father Stephen Page is Artistic Director of the Bangarra Dance Theatre while his mother Cynthia Lochard was a member of the New York City Ballet.
“My earliest memories of being an infant were the smell and the sights backstage at the Opera House, and the light bulbs around the mirrors,” he reflects.
“There were beautiful dancers changing costumes in front of me. So I was always enveloped and a part of the dance world. But I got to a certain age when I told my father, ‘I don’t want to be a dancer!’
“I remember when I was 6 or 7 I watched Great Expectations with Ethan Hawke and Robert de Niro. I watched it by myself even though I wasn’t allowed to.
“But ever since I watched that movie I was just like ‘Wow! I want to be involved with the silver screen. I felt so much emotion.
“(I thought) I want to make people feel. This is something that I want to do.”
Cleverman, jointly produced by GoalPost Pictures and NZ’s Pukeko Pictures, certainly makes demands of his acting range. As well as performing alongside seasoned performers Page-Lochard was required to execute plenty of on-screen ‘firsts.’
“I have a lot of special effects (to deal with). And that was the first time for me, fight scenes and a sex scene were the first time,” he admits.
“I’ve always been the kid on my bedroom with light-sabers and talking to 3 imaginary friends and creating a whole world.
“So I was like a kid in a candy store. I thought, ‘Oh my god! I’ve seen this in so many big blockbusters. I am ready!'”
“God, are we on an X-Men film?”
Created by Ryan Griffen and written by Michael Miller, Jon Bell and Jane Allen, the series will have a dual US / Australian premiere on Sundance TV / ABC and later on BBC3.
“I said to Ryan Corr, ‘I have a feeling this show is going to be successful because everyone here knows what they’re a part of and what they’re trying to do as a ground-breaking project,'” says Page-Lochard.
“They all knew the powerful socialism and political message behind the whole thing. It was kind of like a movement, in a sense. Everyone in the crew was like a force -like a group of protestors. It was very inspiring to be around.
“Coming in to work with people like Ryan Corr, Iain Glen, Frances O’Connor, Stef Dawson, Deborah Mailman and Rob Collins -all these great actors, people so good at their craft.
“There was a moment when me and Ryan walked onto set and and I thought, ‘God, are we on an X-Men film? This is cool!’
“But you do you have to use your imagination. I won’t spoil it for you but there’s a fight scene where I am fighting nothing on set. But on camera it looks f***ing amazing!”
Cleverman premieres 9:30pm Thursday June 2 on ABC.