At 53 actor Erik Thomson is ready to take a few more risks in his work.
Best known for he genial parent roles in both Packed to the Rafters and 800 Words, and as Dr. Mitch Stevens in All Saints, he’s about to unleash in ABC’s anarchic new comedy, Aftertaste.
Thomson plays disgraced celebrity chef Easton West (yes, really) who returns to his hometown of Adelaide after his latest public incident lands him in hot water.
Thomson is also a producer on the series and tells TV Tonight he was ready to discard his ‘nice guy’ image for one that may even leave viewers with a sour taste.
“It was always going to be risky. But I was at this stage of my career, I was really up for that risk. I guess we’ll find out. The feedback I’ve had so far is it’s one of those characters that people are prepared to love to hate,” he explains.
“With any series, sometimes you’ve only got 5 minutes, maybe 10 if you’re lucky, to state your intentions, before people jump onto something else. You’ve got to come out with a really strong attitude, and a clear decision about what you want to make. So yes, that comes that comes with a risk.
“With commercial network television … they just try and play it too safe.”
“But I think if you try and play it safe these days, you’re over before you start. People just don’t forgive that. With commercial network television, it happens because they just try and play it too safe. I think those days are gone, personally.”
The series has had a lengthy gestation. In 2018 Thomson asked his agent if any writers they represented had any projects that may suit him? A treatment of Yes Chef was pitched to ABC’s Rick Kalowski with Adelaide-based Closer Productions (The Hunting, F***ing Adelaide) coming on board to produce.
The result is Aftertaste with Easton returning to the dysfunctional family he abandoned 30 years earlier. Across six episodes, juxtaposed with an anger management problem and skeletons of the past, Easton will be forced to face his flaws.
“It was a very rigorous, time-consuming process. A lot of things came up, and then we threw them out. We really had to work very hard to try and find the diamond in the rough and get the tone right. One of the things we realised early on was once you stop telling the gags about the chef, what are you left with?” he asks.
“We were writing it at the time of Time’s Up and the Weinstein thing”
“We needed to have deeper themes. So the character of his niece Diana (Natalie Abbott) became the foil to Easton. We were writing it at the time of Time’s Up and the Weinstein thing, looking at gender politics and the end of the age of the angry white male.
“Hopefully there’s enough redeeming features to keep people through and then it turns into redemption. I don’t think we ever try to excuse or justify the way that Easton responds to life. But we do look at how he was formed and the relationships with his family.”
But while the zeitgeist elicited lots of inspiration, no single celebrity chef is behind Easton’s short temper.
“Gordon Ramsay is probably the one that you think about the most”
“Gordon Ramsay is probably the one that you think about the most or Marco Pierre White …the French influence on chefs, a kind of hierarchy of abuse. We’re all fans of Chef’s Table on Netflix, a fantastic series about how the food is an expression of the person…. these men who are basically artists with food, but they come with an artist’s emotional make up.”
He denies Pete Evans was a touchstone but notes, “…maybe he’ll be the inspiration for Series 2.”
Also featuring are Rachel Griffiths (also an Executive Producer), Remy Hii, Peter Carroll, Susan Prior, Wayne Blair, Kavitha Anandasivam and Justin Amankwah -many of whom were forced to quarantine in Adelaide. Pre-production was halted amid COVID restrictions before filming resumed 10 weeks later.
“We just knew that we had to drive through, not only having to satisfy our investors that we could finish it, but I think the industry needed a couple of shows in the can to prove that we can still do it in a COVID world. If we failed we would have been in a much different situation than we are, with production.”
Thomson is particularly excited for the screen debut of Natalie Abbott (Muriel’s Wedding The Musical) as aspiring pastry cook, Diana. The two forge an old / new dynamic which challenges Easton at every turn.
“She just took to it like a duck to water”
“We had a lot of fun. She just took to it like a duck to water. We had a very big search for that character and we saw her early on. Every time she came back she was better and better and just made it pretty obvious that she was the right choice for the role. She does a fantastic job.”
If the series succeeds, Thomson assures there are plenty more storylines to explore with the characters and, following from his Associate Producer role on 800 Words, he is keen to produce more television.
“I find it a lot more satisfying than just getting sent a script, learning my lines and turning up,” he insists.
“It’s an area that I want to continue to work in, into the future. I’m getting a bit older and have 30 years experience in the industry, so I see it as a fairly obvious move. It’s been a big learning curve with this one because we build it from the ground up.
“It’s been great, but it’s been tough too.”
Aftertaste premieres 9pm Wednesday on ABC.