“I don’t want to play a surfer my entire life”

He's surfed from a child actor on Lockie Leonard to adult roles, but Barons made Sean Keenan say yes to picking up his board once more.

He’s held a surfboard in Lockie Leonard, Puberty Blues and Nitram, so it took some convincing for Sean Keenan to play yet another surfie in ABC’s new drama series, Barons.

But surfing is also in his blood.

“I grew up in Western Australia in Busselton. My dad surfed his entire life. I surfed probably seriously, from the age of 12 -that’s when I really got hooked,” he tells TV Tonight.

“Playing surfing roles is something that, I guess can come my way but I don’t want to play a surfer my entire life. But this was one where I thought the story was so great.

“It’s such a great story that the surf brands started in Australia. Quicksilver and Ripcurl started down in Torquay, Billabong started in Queensland.

“While we’re telling a fictionalised take, the essence of it is there.”

“While we’re telling a fictionalised take, the essence of it is there. These guys were just surfing every day, and that was their existence. They started selling wetsuits, boardies and worked out a few little nifty things that that made them work better for surfers. As the sport grew, they grew these businesses and all of a sudden they were making massive amounts of money.”

Barons is set in 1971, inspired by the origins of Australia’s surfing labels. Keenan plays Trotter Dwyer whose friendship with Snapper Webster (Ben O’Toole) in fledgling business, Bare Feet Surf Co., is splintered by lofty ambitions.

“The tug of war between these friends, we jokingly say is ‘A true love story.'”

“The tug of war between these friends, we jokingly say is ‘A true love story.’ These two love each other – they’re friends but they have qualities in each that both of them resent, but also in a way, both want. I think this idea that Trotter comes in as the outsider… all he wants is to be like Snapper. But he resents Snapper being the local guy …the guy who has something that you can’t just replicate. He’s grown up in this town, and he’s the king,” he explains.

“Trotter is the outsider but it’s that quality in him that allows him to recognise the potential of the lifestyle.”

The cast also includes Hunter Page-Lochard, Lincoln Younes, Jillian Nguyen, George Pullar, Sophia Forrest, while the crew included Taylor Steele as Surf Unit Director.

“We surfed a lot. They did have doubles, mainly to get the best waves because we had to shoot the entire time. To get the really great waves is a plane trip. You gotta go to Byron or South Coast or somewhere. So they were flying around with the pro-surfers getting those waves,” Keenan continues.

“We got some pretty damn good days on the Northern Beaches. We didn’t get top to bottom tubes or anything, but we’ve had some good days of surfing. George Pullar is a really great surfer. He’s from Queensland so he’s up there, surfing, barreling point breaks and … he’s a really accomplished surfer. So we had days of together like surfing a heat. It was pretty competitive but a lot of fun.”

“It was just a moveable feast, more than any job.”

The 6 part series, created by Michael Lawrence, John Molloy & Liz Doran, is produced by 2 Jons, Micanical Media and Fremantle. It had originally planned to shoot scenes in Indonesia, but was another also challenged by the pandemic.

“We had script changes, location changes…it was just a moveable feast, more than any job. The scripts were changing a lot as we were shooting because of the circumstances under which we were shooting.

“The group of actors I was working with was incredible. We were like this organism that just absorbed the changes. I’ve known a lot of those actors for years and we’re really close. So it was a really great set to be on.”

Chilly weather, including for scenes involving nudity, was Keenan’s other challenge, but he takes it all in his stride.

“Some days, we’d be out there and board shorts, shooting in freezing cold water, having to say lines when you’ve been standing in the wind for a couple of hours and you’ve got hypothermia setting in!

“Everyone else was locked down and we got to work on the beach”

“But we were incredibly lucky working during that lockdown. Everyone else was locked down and we got to work on the beach. I wouldn’t complain too much.

“For me, it’s about the story. The arc of the character, I was really interested in exploring as an actor. So I went, ‘Okay, well, it’s time to hold a surfboard again.'”

Barons screens 8:30pm Sunday on ABC (all episodes on iview following premiere).

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