Dan Wyllie – The Real Deal
Local actor Dan Wyllie is everywhere. He seems to have appeared in just about every Australian theatre, television and movie production of the last three decades, such is his impressive portfolio of work. The Beast chatted with Dan while he was filming the new series of Seachange up in Brunswick Heads last month…
How are you this morning, Dan? I’m very well mate. I’m standing on the banks at Brunswick Heads. It’s about 22°c at 10am in the morning. It couldn’t be more perfect.
Are you up there for Splendour? No mate, this is where we’re shooting Seachange. This is what you’re interviewing me about, right?
That is what I’m interviewing you about, that’s right… Yeah, there you go, remember that? It’s Brunswick Heads and it’s so absolutely beautiful and the most stunning time of year to be up here. This is the location for the show, which was formally Barwon Heads in Victoria. It would be a lot colder there than it is up here right now.
You wouldn’t want to be in Barwon Heads now… No, you wouldn’t. Even in summer it would be cold. I just had a swim, it’s so beautiful.
You grew up on the north side of Sydney; what are your favourite childhood memories? I was in North Sydney Demonstration School then North Sydney Boys High, so I am a North Sydney boy. I used to love swimming in the harbour, scrambling around the train tracks, sneaking into Luna Park and stuff like that. I was quite a city boy. It was a bit of a burgeoning metropolis there, North Sydney, about thirty years ago, so I was skateboarding and playing in the park. We were three train stations away from the Town Hall steps so I enjoyed it a lot. With that being said, I liked the beach and I liked to swim and surf so I have since gravitated towards the Eastern Suburbs to get a bit more of that in my life.
When did you move to the Eastern Suburbs? After I went through high school and through university, that’s when I kind of started living over there.
You were at UNSW for a while? I went to New South Wales Uni for a couple of years. A half-arts degree I like to call it, because I didn’t finish it, and then I started acting in my late teens and then gave that up and fell into a life of poverty and chaos.
And hard work by the looks of your portfolio, I feel like you’ve been in everything that’s ever been on Australian TV… Bits and bobs mate. I’ve been very lucky to have been in some of the more quality stuff, so that’s half good luck and half good management. I feel I’ve been blessed to have been in some iconic productions. It’s been a great long and winding road.
Is there a secret to your longevity, considering that you have managed to be an in-work actor for about 30 years now? I always wanted to do different things. I wanted to do character work and leading man stuff if I could. I started off in Muriel’s Wedding playing a kind of bogan from Queensland. It was weird because I was from North Sydney, but I just guess I tried to experience lots of different worlds and be comfortable in all those sides of yourself as well. I wanted to do lots of different things and I guess the key is to try not to do too much crap really. When I started out I didn’t want to do TV, I only wanted to do theatre and film, but now that landscape has kind of shifted. I wanted to do everything. If you consider yourself an artist you want to be looking for the truth of something, or the situation that is going to have some meaning, and I guess I liked theatre and film growing up because of that sense of illumination of humanity, that you could be transported and affected by going to the theatre or watching a movie or even a television show. I guess that’s the higher style I wanted to do, so I don’t know if that explains my longevity. I think if you aim for something of that kind of merit then maybe people will give you a second chance.
You are one of the most recognisable Aussie actors now… Talk to me about it mate, I get harassed! I get harassed in every god damned shopping mall I go to. I once had a full can of beer thrown at me on the Central Coast with someone yelling, “Argh, Underbelly!” and that was a compliment, I don’t even think it was an act of aggression.
Some of the roles you’ve played are hilarious, I can see why you would be getting attention… I always wanted to do comedy and drama. It’s very difficult in this country because we have a smaller industry. There’s a lot of very good creative people around. People want to box you in a bit more. I’ve been lucky. It is a struggle to not get boxed in. It’s been a lot of fun.
Were you always interested in acting from a young age? I always liked going to the movies. I was taken to the theatre from an early age and I loved the ‘transportation’ of it – it’s the only word I have for what that is. I guess that’s particularly affecting when you are a bit younger and you get that gob-smacking thing that happens when you see your first truly great theatre show or incredible movie or something like that. I never considered it as a career. My folks both had a couple of degrees each so they were kind of always pushing me to do that. I did drama at high school and did drama classes on weekends. It was kind of like more of a dirty little secret than anything else. Then I went to uni and started doing a bit of amateur theatre at Australian Theatre for Young People (ATYP) and started getting some work, so I guess I was on the right path, but I certainly wasn’t doing tap dancing lessons at age seven. I guess I did love it from a young age but certainly people tend to think of it as a career path. I never did that. I didn’t really even call myself an actor until I was in my late 20s, I was so unsure of it. I tried to pass myself off as a student really. I guess it was clichéd and kind of maligned, “Oh, you’re an actor are you? Great.”
You should have said you were a model… Yeah, “I’m a porn star,” yes.
Your first major acting role was as Frank Fletcher in the film Spotswood alongside Anthony Hopkins and Ben Mendelsohn; how did you land that one? And Russell Crowe and Toni Collette. I was in Australian Theatre for Young People and they put out a call through one of the truly great casting agents called Alison Barrett, looking to cast some of the parts for late teens or early 20s.
You were still at uni then? Yes, I was at uni and had done a couple of amateur theatre shows at ATYP. I suddenly found myself auditioning with Benny Mendelsohn and getting the job, as a complete unknown really. Russell Crowe got me my first agent and he was on it too. Toni Collette had been at ATYP as well when I was there so we knew each other. Then I did Romper Stomper the year after that because I met Geoffrey Wright down there who directed that. Then I got a couple of professional theatre gigs and it just started happening a bit. That’s when I started washing dishes and got on the dole, so then I knew I was truly an actor.
You knew you had really made it… You know you’ve really made it when you’re on the dole, washing dishes and waiting for the next acting job.
You’ve said before that you consider yourself to be an untrained actor; given that you don’t have that classical training, how do you prepare for a role? I had done a lot of acting classes but I hadn’t done that formal three-year training with a sadomasochist institution.
Is that what somewhere like NIDA does? Yes, that’s what NIDA does, they’re famous for it. You read the scripts, you read any pertinent information, you try and go to the plays where it’s happening, and you do anything that is going to inspire the imagination. Once you’ve locked into that, you’ve begun.
Do you sometimes find yourself staying in character even when you’re back at home and that sort of thing? I know absolutely nothing about acting so I’m just trying to picture what it’s like… You just have to tap into your imagination really, or if you require physical skills then you have to do that too. You may have to work on your voice, you may have to work on sword fighting or horse riding or something like that, maybe you have to work on chopping up vegetables. Staying in character? I find that a bit of a cliché. It’s probably something that younger actors fall into, this whole idea that you can actually become someone else, which of course is patently ridiculous. I appreciate Daniel Day Lewis’s commitment to his craft very much, and Robert de Niro. You can commit to that to varying degrees, and you do become consumed by whatever part you’re playing. It’s as if you put on a pair of coloured glasses, whether that’s rose or not, so you kind of see things in a different way. That’s art really. Everything is giving you more confidence and detail. It’s great to have that artistic kind of focus. It is all-consuming really, it does take over. Once you’ve set flight with that, it does kind of inform everything and you’re kind of just cherry picking life for the job. It’s really interesting.
In Love My Way there are a number of scenes featuring you on a surf board; is that you or a stunt double? That was me.
I’ve seen you in the surf at Bondi; how often do you get out there? Not as much as I would like to. I’ve got a four year-old daughter so not as much as I’d like to. I don’t really surf Bondi as much, I’d normally go down to the Bra.
Do you find being a parent in the Eastern Suburbs quite challenging? In general, yes. I’m sure it’s pretty tough in the Inner West too. We spent our first couple of winters in god damned Melbourne working, which was tough. I love that Bondi kids pool and we have beautiful parks around us, and being able to get down to the beach is incredible. It’s an absolute privilege, a gift.
Will you get your kids into nippers and that sort of thing? Yes, I’d like to. My wife’s not into any of that stuff. She’s a fairly cityfied chick and she finds the water too cold; too much sun, sand and moisture. I’d like to though. My daughter is a pretty good swimmer. We’ve been going to swimming lessons. I never did that stuff but I’d love to make her surf-smart because I really love the ocean. I did the Watsons Bay swim a couple of months ago, ten kilometres from Bondi to Watsons Bay.
Do you know how many sharks there are behind there? It’s riddled out the back and there’s nowhere to go… Yeah, we had a shark tag and our support paddler, and there are so many tinnies out there that they’d be scared shitless.
Is it true that you’re the voice of B2 in Bananas in Pyjamas on TV? That’s correct mate. It’s not a big secret.
Does your daughter know? My daughter finds it a little bit existentially hard to comprehend. Even when I do the voice, and I’ve got a little B2 doll, it’s very difficult to grasp the many layers of reality involved in that process and the innate connection that a little kid will have with a cartoon show. She kind of grasps it and says it as a mark of pride at her day care centre.
You’re absolutely loving it, living in Bondi? I’ve been coming and going from Brunswick Heads down to Sydney. It’s been a dream job shooting up here. This has been so gorgeous up here at this time of year when it’s not torrential rain, but it’s just been so sunny. I love autumn in particular in the Eastern Suburbs, when everyone just says goodbye to the beach but the water is still warm. It’s bizarre.
The water’s still 19°c now… It’s 22°c up here. It’s incredible mate. I saw a stingray about six foot across just swimming then.
Where was that? In the river? Brunswick Heads, swimming up past the breakwall. I love it going into daylight savings. I was just training for this swim, really early mornings, getting in there as the air temperature gets down to 10-12°c and the water is still 20°c. It’s incredible watching the sun come up over Bondi.
Do you reckon you’ll stay here forever? That being said, my wife and I are moving to London for four months next week, just up until December so that I can come back and get sunburnt. I’ll get fat and white over there and then come back and get sunburnt.
Do you have any favourite local haunts around Bondi and the Eastern Suburbs? I love the Rats, getting down there for a kid’s meal after a swim. I just love North Bondi. I love all the terrifying spots. I love Westfield because I know where to park. I just know where to go to get a car park. Everyone else, it’s like going into Mordor for them, it’s like driving into a black hole for them and I’m just like, “Here we go, bing bing, in and out. Two-hours free parking, done.” We live up near Cooper Park and I love Cooper Park because no one knows where that is, and I love swimming Bondi Bay. I’ve swum around Clovelly and Coogee a few times, which is mind blowing. We do Clovelly in the early mornings – ins and outs, that little loop – and then one day a guy said, “Let’s go round to Gordons Bay.” Those rock slabs off the car park at Clovelly, if you swim that on a flat day it is mind blowing. Those huge slabs of sandstone out there are as big as apartments. It is incredible. I saw a turtle out there this season.
Off the back of Cloey? I’ve seen them a couple of times. I love that we can be so close to the city and get to have that as well, it is completely unique. Mates that I swim with saw a grey nurse maybe a month ago. I’ve never seen sharks. I’ve seen a lot of wobbegongs, little sand sharks and rays and stuff, but I’ve never seen sharks.
What really annoys you about the Eastern Suburbs? The traffic. Am I allowed to say ‘South Africans’?
You can say ‘South Africans’ if you like… Depends if you want the pay back. What do I hate? I don’t know, what do you hate?
What do I hate about the area? It’s getting a bit pretentious around the beaches these days… Yeah, there you go, that’s South Africans, and a lot of lawyers and their families – how exciting.
And the cost of living. It’s kind of got to the point where, say a young actor, there’s no way a young actor could afford to live here… When I was living there in the early ‘90s and every drama school every year would just pop out at least a dozen new people who would come to move in to these incredible share houses from Bondi to Coogee.
Were you in living in Coogee when you were at UNSW? No, I lived in Randwick. No actors can live there now though. It’s diabolical. I guess you do worry about the cultural seepage in that respect. If it’s just South Africans and lawyers, you know, this is going to be inspirational in the next ten years.
They’re not doing theatre in their spare time? No mate, they’re not, and they’re not arts aficionados in any regard, are they? It’s going to become pretty boring but I don’t know what you do about that. That’s just the nature of the beast.
Do you worry about the amount of American crap on our TV screens? Do you think it’s causing us to lose our identity, whatever that means? Yes, I think so. It’s like a lot of Australian production companies have been bought up and have had big chunks of their shares bought out by American production companies. Those producers have a say in the production and they’re ostensibly making cheap content for their streaming platforms and for their late-night TV. They are homogenising our product, seeping out the natural Australian character, casting it with better looking people than is realistic and taking out that natural Australian kind of character that is who we are. Certainly that’s evolving, and it’s not kind of a Chips Rafferty style reality. American reality is nothing to be proud of and hopefully we can push back against that because it’s really, really boring. You see shows that are getting on to the ABC and commercial networks that have influence from American production companies and it’s pretty boring. The idea that it’s going to be a global market is… I don’t know.
What do you do about it? If you were the Minister for the Arts what policies could you put in place? Stop leeching money out of the ABC and their productions. You could insist on quotas for Australian content. Netflix in particular has no quota for Australian content. They’re making more money than anyone else out of Australia.
Not paying any tax here either… Not paying taxes. Like all those other channels. They try and sidestep it all the time by making reality TV and crap soaps, but in terms of Australian content there’s no obligation for these streaming platforms to have Australian content. I think Europe has 30 per cent.
Is that for Netflix as well? We have nothing, yes. Europe has content regulations for their streaming platforms and local channels but we don’t. We had a meeting with the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) the other day and we’ve got to push it to 15 per cent but it’s still going to be crap. Americans come here, they make movies, it’s good work for the crews, but not as great for actors generally. But at least the crews get to work and make American shows at Fox Studios or up on the Gold Coast or whatever.
Have you seen the cartoon Bluey? Yes, it’s very good.
Do you know who is behind that? Is that a Queensland production company?
I’ve got no idea but I have a little niece and nephew and they love it… I love the little dance at the beginning. That’s the lead singer from the band called Custard.
You won the silver Logie for Most Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series for your role in Love My Way and you’ve also received Australian Film Institute award nominations, a few of them… Not enough wins. It’s a pleasure to be nominated though.
Do you actually care about those awards? No, they are a massive pain in the arse. I think I’ve been to ten Logies. Either you are nominated or you have to present or something. They are a god damned punish.
Those nights must be fun though, getting on the piss with everyone from the industry… Yes, but you have to present the award on live TV. Would you like to do that?
Blind? No, live. I put it to you, would you like to present an award on live TV reading an autocue that may fail?
It would be pretty stressful. Depends how blind I was and how much I was worried about my reputation… You can’t get drunk.
Really? No, you won’t be getting drunk mate. No, you don’t do that. Why would you do that? You’re on the red carpet for about an hour and a half being asked questions by people not as smart as you, not as classy as you, James. It’s a punish mate. It’s a big publicity exercise. These publicity machines – here am I talking to you – these publicity machines are a kind of self-propagating machine to try and pump these things up. It’s not what story telling or acting is about. In fact it’s kind of the opposite. You’re trying to search for a semblance of truth or humanity and then a red carpet, or some f*cking idiot asking you stupid questions, is the opposite of truth and humanity.
You don’t care for the wanky side of acting? For me it’s the opposite. Some people might think they want to be famous, and then once you get it it’s not what you want.
I can see how it would be f*cking annoying at times… Everyone loves a free cabcharge and a nice restaurant reservation, but it’s true, I get hassled everywhere. I’m kind of extroverted and kind of introverted, I do like my own space, but it can be a bit of a punish sometimes. Everywhere you go you get hassled, which is fine, I also appreciate it too, with what I do, but I certainly have a lot of very big hats and big sunnies that I wear most of the time. Try to imagine walking outside and people are looking at you all the time. Maybe they half know you, maybe they know you, maybe they don’t know you.
You don’t want to come across as a rude prick either… You can’t be an arsehole to people because they are generally like, “Oh wow, that’s B2. Are you that voice of that banana? I’m gunna bash him. Let’s bash him and f*cken peel him, mate.”
What advice do you have for young actors keen to follow in your footsteps? Don’t follow in mine, follow in your own.
Great quote! This is a good quote, are you ready? “What you should do is try to have a little bit of empathy and try and walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, then at the end of the day you will be a mile away from someone and you’ll have their shoes.”
That’s good advice… I don’t know. You’ve got to do it for whatever reasons you like, but I think fame shouldn’t really be one of them because it’s very elusive. Do it for a sense of truth and try and have some artistic integrity with it and try and do it for the betterment of humankind, to illuminate and exalt the human spirit. End quote.
Do you have to chase the jobs or is work just coming in now? Or do you have a bloody good agent? I’ve been lucky to have been given the jobs. I’m old now mate. I get offered stuff. You have to work on stuff. You have to be good. You have to know how to manage the stress. You have to know how to be nice to people you might hate or dislike intensely. Film sets or a theatre are very intense environments for a very limited amount of time and people are under stress. They are working big hours. They are getting on stage.
This is a really shit question, but do you have aspirations to work in Hollywood? This is a shit question. I’ve been over there, I’ve had a visa and came back because I was getting more interesting work here. That being said, who knows? I genuinely have had really interesting work over here. My wife is a burgeoning television director so she is probably now more the circus than I am, so who knows?
Do you write, Dan? No, I don’t. I’ve tried that. It’s very difficult. I’m not made for writing. The idea of getting up and doing four hours every morning is never going to work with me.
Are you interested in directing? Yes, the idea of directing, maybe, and writing, yes. I guess I’ve had acting in my bones for so long. You should have a good writing head on you as an actor, you should have a directing head on you as an actor as well, if you want to be a good one.
You’re the real deal. You don’t give a f*ck about Hollywood, you don’t give a shit about fame, you just want to act because you enjoy it; is that an accurate summary? I’ve been really lucky. I’ve had genuinely quality humanoid projects. A lot of the American stuff is complete shit, and the hoops you have to jump through over there are just at odds with me. I want to do the Watsons Bay swim again next year, that’s what I’ll try and gear my life around. I’ll have to train for that.
In an ideal world, what does the future hold for Dan Wyllie? Look, I’ve got a four year-old daughter, I’d be quite happy watching her grow up and seeing her being happy – happy and unhappy – and getting wonderful experiences and just being part of life as a family really, above and beyond acting. Plus I’d like to get a bit more three-foot glass ●