“It’s a part of our history that I embarrassingly did not know about”

Actor Tim Draxl, once discouraged from working as his authentic self, is proud to tell a pivotal chapter in Australia's response to HIV / AIDS.

Tim Draxl still remembers having to hide his true self when he was trying to break into movies.

And he recalls the advice given to him by his then manager.

“I was told point blank by my manager, that I couldn’t be gay. I remember I was up for a role in film for Fox and it was around the same time that I was doing a benefit concert during Mardi Gras called The Stars Come Out for the AIDS Foundation,” he tells TV Tonight.

“I did that year in leather pants to Madonna’s Hanky Panky, and somehow Fox had heard about it from press that I was doing at the time. I remember being called into my agent’s office, and they sat me down and said, ‘Fox are concerned that you are gay and you want to be a gay icon.’

“I was like, ‘What? I’m just doing a concert to support an AIDS benefit.’

“My agent at the time -who is not my agent now – said, ‘It’s okay if you are, but if you are, we have to deal with it.’ And I’ve never forgotten those words!”

Fast forward to 2023 and openly-gay Draxl is thrilled to be playing the lead role in ABC’s upcoming queer musical In Our Blood.

He’s relieved to now be working as his authentic self, having recently completed gay roles in shows such as Summer Love, A Place to Call Home, The Newsreader and Molly. The lead role in the story about Australia’s response to the HIV / AIDS epidemic is one he was determined to land.

“I remember exactly where I was when my agent called. I was driving down to my mum’s on the south coast. I got so excited I burst into tears because it’s a really important story,” he recalls.

“It’s a really important story and a moment in our history”

“It’s a part of our history that I embarrassingly did not know about. I think so many people of my generation, and members of the LGBTQIA+ community don’t know about. It’s a really important story and a moment in our history that we should be incredibly proud of. So I felt quite compelled to be a part of this storytelling.”

Draxl plays role an out gay man David, who works for 1980s Federal Health Minister Jeremy (Matt Day). But when AIDS hits, David finds himself at the forefront of the nation’s response. Working closely with his boss, David comes to realise that the best approach is to join forces with the communities most at risk – which includes the gay men, sex workers and IV drug users of Darlinghurst. But the fight took place when Homosexuality was still a criminal act in NSW and the community was advised to stop having sex.

“What’s so amazing about this story is that it was the community itself”

“A lot of the people that were trying to have the sodomy laws changed, a lot of those community groups that were protesting and rallying, thought that this was a government ploy to keep them underground and to keep gay sex illegal.

“But what’s so amazing about this story is that it was the community itself, who led the way. That is what I find so beautiful… the strength and the courage that they fought with, and the sacrifices they made, especially at a time when homosexuality was viewed the way it was. They were called degenerates and perverted and all these horrific slurs. So to come out at that time, and say, ‘I’m gay, and I deserve dignity and the respect given to everyone else’ is phenomenal and we owe them so much.”

“It was amazing to be able to sit down with him, and really pick his brain”

Some parts of the 4 part drama are unapologetically fiction, which the drama flags by suggesting “everybody has their own version of the truth.” While Draxl’s character is an amalgam of those who fought for education and prevention, indeed fought for their very survival, it is heavily inspired by Bill Bowtell, who was adviser to Hawke Health Minister Neal Blewett and credited as architect of Australia’s response to the emergence of HIV/AIDS.

“I’ve known Bill Bowtell since I was 19. I knew that he was the senior adviser to the health minister in the 80s. I had no idea of the impact that he’d had on the treatment and prevention of HIV, in funding and supporting and empowering the communities that were affected,” he continues.

“He was one of the first people that I called. I got to sit down with him and we had lots of catch ups and coffees, and he told me stories about what it was like in Canberra in 1983 as an openly gay man.”

In Our Blood, which also features Jada Alberts, Anna McGahan, Oscar Leal, Nicholas Brown, Wil King, Ryan Murphy, Stephen Oliver is daringly also a musical, with a handful of ’80s songs woven into the drama via a Greek Chorus of 4 singer / actors.

“It’s ingenious, the use of that Greek Chorus”

“The songs that were chosen are beautifully nostalgic. It really sets the tone for the era. I think the way that the songs come out of the story are not jarring in any way. A lot of people might be a little hesitant and go, ‘This is weird if people are gonna just suddenly break into song.’ But I think it is really masterfully done. It’s ingenious, the use of that Greek Chorus to engage the audience from the get go,” he explains.

“One of the original versions did have me singing right at the end. And I was actually the one who went,’ I think that might be a bit weird if I start singing at the end.’ I also didn’t want it to be that I just been cast because I was a singer. And then as we were doing it, I remember kind of regretting I had said that!”

“I always wonder, nowadays, who I would have become”

It’s a work of which Draxl is enormously proud, both for its execution and for bringing broad recognition to Australia’s response to HIV / AIDS -unlike the US experience (Ronald Reagan would not dare utter the word publicly until 1987). In Our Blood is also a contrast to how a young Draxl was compelled to hide his true self.

If there are any early regrets, there is now pride in working without fear.

“There’s a lot of industry colleagues of mine who really stuck to their guns and didn’t give in to those kinds of pressures. I always wonder, nowadays, who I would have become, if I hadn’t have played by the rules… if I had tried to push the boundaries more?” he reflects.

“In saying that I’m so grateful now that I get to live as my authentic self and that I get to really support my community in this way. It’s all about visibility, inclusivity and authentic representation.

“It’s finally good to be gay. It’s a good thing.”

In Our Blood airs 8:30pm Sunday on ABC and can be binged on ABC iview.

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