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Damien Walshe-Howling

By Dan Hutton on December 15, 2010 in People

Photo: Georgie Gavaghan

During the month The Beast caught up with the presenter of Flickerfest on Extra, Damian Walshe-Howling…

Where are you originally from?
I’m originally from Melbourne town, born in the south?eastern suburbs side around St Kilda, Brighton, that area. They talk all the time about the Melbourne/Sydney divide, well there’s also a divide in Melbourne between one side of the river and the other, the north and the south. I was born on the south side but as a kid my mum was doing a lot of theatre at La Mama and the Pram Factory, which were two of the main theatre companies that were burgeoning in the ’70s and they were on the other side so we travelled a lot. There were arts communities on both sides, St Kilda and then Carlton, Fitzroy, so I used to spend a lot of time on both sides.

Does your artsy side comes from your mum?
She’s the one who has potentialised it in her life in a way that is career based but my dad has the empirical mind – science and maths – but he loves the arts and loves going to shows too. He did a show himself once; it was pretty funny. They dressed him up and he played a car salesman in this weird, crazy, sort of abstract play and he had a big beard and long hair, and he had goggles and flippers on ? it was just the most hysterical thing you’ve ever seen. He didn’t really have to act, he just looked stupid on stage and that was the point of the whole exercise. So my dad throws himself in the deep end and he’s absolutely supportive of what I’ve been doing.

Where are you living these days?
I’m a bit of a gypsy to be honest. I’ve been moving all around the place because work is taking me everywhere. I’m based in Bondi but the amount of time that I get to spend here at the moment is pretty small, which is a good thing in terms of the work. There’s a bit of a tendency to move around with the work I love, which is great.

When did you first move to the Eastern Suburbs?
About three years ago, just after Underbelly hit the screens. It was funny because I was living in Melbourne and the first series of Underbelly was banned in Melbourne the day before we were going to air and in a moment of madness I just decided, “F**k this, I’m getting up and I’m going to Sydney. If the show’s not going to air in Victoria I want to get out of here, I want to go where there’s going to be work and stuff happening,” and it was one of the best moves I’ve made, to be honest.

Was co-star Gyton Grantley in your ear spruiking the wares of Bondi?
He was definitely in my ear. Gyton is someone who appreciates anywhere that he is and he loved spending time in Melbourne but he was definitely like, “Damo, come to Bondi. Summer is going to be amazing!” I’ve fished off the rocks here with Gytie quite a few times and he’s become a good friend. We’ve worked together twice now. We did Underbelly and then a film called The Reef, which is coming out next year. And there’s also a possibility we’ll be doing something else together, but I can’t talk about that just yet.

What do you love about living in the Eastern Suburbs?
I guess the most stunning aspect of it is obviously the beach. I’ve travelled to 28 countries over the last 15 years and that walk along that cliff face is as beautiful as anywhere in the world I’ve ever seen. You turn one way and you’d never know you were in the city and you turn back and there’s all this beautiful, very expensive housing. And then the there’s just the relaxed vibe around here. I find the people really friendly and on this side of town I find that there are a lot of artistic ventures going on, which is something that I guess for me is a real drawcard.

Is there anything that you don’t like about Eastern Suburbs living?
I think sometimes in the middle of summer it gets a little bit nuts on the busy days. I must say that spring, autumn and winter are my favourite seasons. Although on a really beautiful summer’s day I guess you can’t beat it.

Melbourne or Sydney, which one’s better?
Neither. Both cities have different things to offer and I would rather they were different because then you get to travel between the two and they become exclusive in certain ways.

You were a Cleo bachelor of the year finalist in 2009, is that correct?
They asked me to do that and I was like, “Oh, yeah, okay.” And on the night of the awards I didn’t turn up until 9 o’clock and they’d finished giving out the awards. One of the publicity girls walked up to me when I arrived in my suit fashionably late and she said, ”You didn’t really want to win, did you?” and I said, “No, not at all, thank you very much.”

Are you still a single bloke?
I am certainly a single man, and I’ve been perennially single for quite a long time. I guess I’ve been lucky enough to fall in love three or four times in my life and I know when that happens. If it doesn’t feel like that then I just don’t see the point in hanging around. So yeah, I’m enjoying being single, it’s great.

How did you get started in acting?
Basically, as I said before, my mother was an actress as I was growing up and she was a drama teacher as well and my parents didn’t have money for babysitters so me and my brother would spend a lot of time in the theatres around Melbourne. I just grew up around it and I don’t remember wanting to do anything else in my life ever. It’s just been in my bloodstream since I was conscious. I used to do little theatre shows and stuff when I was a kid and started professionally in the industry around the age of 19. I got my first job just through perseverance.

Do you have a career highlight thus far?
I have to say up to this point probably ‘Underbelly’ would be the career highlight, just in terms of how much research I had to do to play that role and the actual experience of doing it. It was just the most amazing cast and crew and the creative process was really, really fulfilling. And it was so well attended by everyone who was involved in each process, from the writers right through to the art department, cinematographer, the DOP, everyone. The other cast members were amazing to work with and there was no ego involved on set. It’s great when you get on jobs like that where people are just collaborating and working with each other.

What are you working on at the moment?
There are a few things but one of the most exciting things I’m doing at the moment is a series called ‘Terra Nova’, which is a Steven Spielberg production. It’s a co?production between DreamWorks and Fox Television and they’re shooting the original telemovie here in Australia to begin with. It’s set in 2149 in Chicago and the premise is that the planet has gone to shit in terms of the environment. People are wearing re-breathers to live and they can’t find another planet to colonise so they go back in time through a tear in the time-space continuum to dinosaur times and start re?colonising from there. But that’s as much as I’m allowed to say about it at this point.

Did you get to meet Mr Spielberg?
As far as I understand he’s not in Australia and I don’t know whether he’s coming out to Australia or not. But the director, Alex Graves, has got some pretty amazing credits. He’s a really very dynamic director, one of the best I’ve worked with.

You’re the presenter of Flickerfest on Extra; how did you first get involved in Flickerfest itself?
I first got involved with Flickerfest two or three years ago when I made a short film called The Bloody Sweet Hit, which I sent in like everybody else, and Bronwyn got back to us and said, “We really like your film, we want to put it in the Australian content section in the competition.” It was quite exciting because it was the first festival we got into. The film had a really good response and Bronwyn took me aside at the end of one of the screenings that night and she said, “I really want to encourage you to make more films. I think it’s something that you obviously have some sort of feel for, wanting to tell stories.”

Did you write and direct that film?
Yeah, I did. And it was probably about two or three months later I got a call saying, “Listen, we’re doing this show on Movie Extra called ‘\Flickerfest on Extra. It’s a collaboration between Flickerfest and Movie Extra and we’ll showcase 12 films. We’re looking for a host and we’d love you to do it. Would you consider doing it?” And so me and my agent talked about it at the time and I thought it was something I really love doing, something I’m really involved in, so I said yes and I’ve hosted that show for the last two years. We’ve interviewed people like Fred Schepisi and Jan Chapman, all these stalwarts of the industry, but then also the film?makers who are up and coming like Nash Edgerton and David Michod, so it’s a really supportive little show that we’re doing.

What was your short film about?
‘The Bloody Sweet Hit is based on a true story and it’s about two lifeguards at a swimming pool and what happens when a guy collapses outside the swimming pool from an overdose. It’s basically a dark comedy looking at the foibles of what it’s like to live and die and how much control we have over that.

What do you love about short films in general?
I just think it’s a really beautiful way to get a message across in a brief period of time. Quite often I think people’s attention spans are getting shorter, I think people really enjoy going to a festival like Flickerfest and sitting and seeing a number of stories in a row rather than just sitting and watching a whole feature film. I love both experiences but I think a short film forces you to really think about your narrative clearly and complete the story in that given period of time. I guess there’s a power in the brevity of it and it’s something that lends itself to extremity as well, which I like. I like the extreme aspect of film?making. People usually push harder with a short film. Back in the old days when we used to go to the movies in the ’70s and early ’80s there was a short film before every feature. The other thing about short film is that it’s a great way for directors to cut their teeth, to get ready to make features.

You mentioned you’re in an upcoming film called The Reef with Bondi locals Zoe Naylor and Gyton Grantley; when does it hit Aussie screens and can you tell us a bit about the film?’
The Reef is coming out on March 17 and it’s a film that we shot up in Hervey Bay. It’s basically a suspense thriller about a massive shark chase through the water. There were five of us all up. We go out on a yacht and the yacht somehow ends up overturned in the middle of the ocean and we’ve got to make the decision whether to stay on the sinking yacht or swim. So we set out to try to swim to land but a massive shark starts trailing us.

Do you have any other future projects in the pipeline?
I just finished a telemovie for Channel 9 called Panic At Rock Island. It’s all about a virus similar to the Ebola virus breaking out in Sydney at a rock concert and starting to cause havoc. I’m also probably going to do another series of Customs, one of the presenting jobs I do for Channel Nine, and also my own short film, which I’ve just gotten funding for.

If you hadn’t got your break in acting what do you think you’d be doing now? Do you have any other skills?
No, I’m skill-less. Maybe that’s why I’ve got no ladies in my life. No, I’m joking. Every aspect of what I’ve always been interested in has to do with storytelling so I think if I wasn’t acting or directing I would either be doing something like photo journalism or journalism itself. But I’m very happy doing what I’m doing.

Do you support any charities?
The last year and a half I’ve been a child rescue ambassador for World Vision and we went to Cambodia earlier this year and spent a 10?day period over there looking into the gritty and harrowing world of child exploitation, child sexual exploitation, child prostitution and paedophilia. It was pretty heavy. I just felt like if I was going to speak up on the issues I wanted to be educated as much as possible as to what’s going on. Situations over there are horrific in so many ways and I think organisations like World Vision are bringing awareness to those issues and it’s really important that those issues are canvassed in the media and continue to be canvassed so that people can be aware that they can do something to actually help alleviate some of that tension and stress.

Do you have any advice for youngsters looking to get into acting or filmmaking?
Absolutely. If you want to get into acting or filmmaking, or any aspect of the industry, get together with some friends and make your own films to start with. You look at people like Nash and Joel Edgerton and they started making their own films when they were quite young, just with their video camera at home. The technology is there now with Apple computers and HD quality video cameras to make feature quality short films at home. The other thing is to do is to approach the theatre companies, go and see theatre as much as you can, start speaking to other performers, and just persevere. Follow your heart, follow your dream, do it everywhere you can, and go knocking on the casting agents’ doors and see if you can get an interview. That’s what I did. I just kept hassling until the door eventually opened and it’s just it’s grown from there.

In an ideal world where does the future hold for Damian Walshe?Howling?
At the moment it’s a funny thing to think about. I’m not too concerned with the future, I’m just really happy being here and doing what I’m doing. I feel very fulfilled at the moment and I feel very blessed that a number of the seeds that I’ve sown over the years have come to fruition. As long as I’m enjoying that and collaborating with other people and sharing my ideas with other people I’m happy. I’m not thinking too much about the future at the moment. I’ve got enough going on right now, which is lovely.

Check out the trailer for The Reef below: