WHO
8th September 1997

With a new role and a new love, Peter Mochrie’s restless years are past – by Alix Clark

Over the high-pitched whine of the juice extractor running on the kitchen table of his eastern Sydney home, Peter Mochrie is singing the praises of Buddhist philosophies and colonic irrigation. “I don’t want to sound wanky” says the actor, shoving another beetroot into the juicer, where it is soon joined by a carrot and a chunk of ginger, “but a couple of years ago I discovered that the external things don’t work.” He stirs a spoonful of green-barley extract into the magenta-hued juice and proffers a glass. “The coffee, the cigarettes, the alcohol. I find that relaxation comes from within.” He’s mercifully scant with the details of colonic irrigation, but apparently the health benefits are not to be sniffed at.

Mochrie’s vegetarian lifestyle and his regimen of transcendental meditation and “pure thoughts” may well be blooming, but the stench of decay hangs over his professional life. “It’s not good,” says Mochrie, 38, who stars in the Nine Network’s new crime series Murder Call. “The smell of a dead body? It just stinks.” As Det Steve Hayden, Mochrie is a by-the-book homicide veteran partnered with intuitive rookie Det Tessa Vance (Lucy Bell). “They’re the yin and the yang of it,” says Mochrie of the duo, who solve a gruesome murder in each self-contained episode. “One’s black and one’s white. One’s cold and one’s hot, that’s what attracts.” On the job and after hours, Hayden and Vance share a certain Mulder and Scully-style sexual frisson, but Mochrie is clueless about their romantic future. “At this stage there is a little friction between the characters” he concedes. But “down the track they may share a kiss and get it on. I don’t know.”

“When you put two attractive and warm characters together onscreen, everybody hopes that something more may happen,” says Murder Call executive producer Hal McElroy. “That’s a human reaction.” Friends for six years, Mochrie and McElroy first worked together in l994 on Blue Heelers, in which Mochrie had a guest appearance as a big-city cop, then more extensively on last year’s debut season of Water Rats, with Mochrie cast as cop-gone-urong “Knocker” Harrison. “It was fortunate that he played such an interesting and exciting and different role in Knocker,” says McElroy, who developed Murder Call with crime writer Jennifer Rowe (the Verity Birdwood mysteries). “That’s not a role that you would immediately think of Peter playing. But he did a superb job and that was a very large part of the reason he got the Murder Call gig.”

Mochrie, one of three children of international trader Andrew and interior designer Helen, both in their mid-60s, grew up in Sydney, where he attended the private Knox Grammar School. He first encountered the dramatic arts at age 11, while on camp. “We put on a play and I had to dive through a window and I almost knocked myself out. I thought,’This is a great gig.” He puts his dramatic flair down to the fact that “l’ve always been a bit of a show-off …I have this desire to define myself through expression.” His parents divorced when he was 11 and “while all this turmoil was going on around me I was trying to find out who I am and that continues to this day.”

Mochrie first appeared on TV in L979 in the evening soapie The Restless Years. The Jason Donovan of the day, he shot to the heights of teen stardom as the shaggy-haired, heartbreakingly groovy Ric Moran. “I didn’t handle it very well,” he says candidly of this early brush with fame. “It was a scary thing. You’re still developing and all of a sudden, all these people are wanting you. And your head explodes and you don’t handle it very well. It took me many years to get over it.” From The Restless Years, Mochrie moved on to Holiday Island, and Neighbours. “lt can be so fleeting,” he says of being in the spotlight, “and you have to base your life on something a little more solid.”

It was Restless Years co-star June Salter who encouraged Mochrie to shore up his talent with some training. “A very raw recruit was her” says the veteran actress of Mochrie’s early days on set. “A very beautiful-looking young man. Did quite well but it was obvious that he was more of a model than an actor.” Salter, who has a guest role in an upcoming Murder Call episode, says she felt Mochrie “had potential because apart from his good looks and his manner – I mean, he was the most charming young man, but that doesn’t make you an actor – he was very respectful and very willing to take any advice that we more experienced people in the show were offering to the young people.”

Mochrie heeded Salter’s advice to “have some training somewhere” and left his seH-described “playboy roles” behind to attend the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) in Sydney in l9B7. “To become an engineer, you’ve got to get a degree,” he says, perched on a couch in the living room – suffused with equal amounts of incense and Barry White – in his semi on Sydney’s eastern beaches strip. “So if you’re serious about acting then you must learn the craft.” Going back to school at age 28 and as an established TV star “was difficult”, says Mochrie. “It was the best thing and the worst thing I’ve ever done.” However, says NIDA director John Clark, “the proof is in the pudding. He hasn’t been out of work since he left.” One of Mochrie’s most appealing attributes, says Clark, is his “very Aussie quality. I don’t mean a raw-prawn ocker, but a genuine Australian talent.”

It was this Australian quality that attracted the attention of Canadian model Tara Moss. On his own after a five-year relationship with film producer Rebe1 Penfold-Russell ended, Mochrie was filming an episode of Water Rats aI Sydney’s Potts Point Iast July when he caught sight of the lanky blonde, who was on a working holiday. He hailed her across the street in true Aussie fashion: “Oi!” “Oi yourself, Knocker,” replied the quick-witted Moss. They’ve barely spent a day apart since, and plan to marry early next year. Moss-24, an aspiring crime novelist, laughs at the memory of their meeting. “You’re not telling that story again, are you?” calls Mochrie from the living room. “You always tell this story, honey bunny” says Moss, who shares Mochrie’s enthusiasm for juices, pet names and Buddhist philosophies. “Of all the different religions we’ve looked at and theories on life and spirituality, Buddhism is definitely the one that makes the most sense to us” she says.

Mochrie was part of the security team for the Dalai Lama’s visit to Sydney last September. “I got to sit and listen to him for 12 hours a day,” he says reverently. “He had every answer I’ve ever looked for… It took me until 35, when suddenly it all dawned on me and I said, ‘Ah, this is what I need.’ I turned this way and there it was.” Since subscribing to Buddhist philosophies, Mochrie has eschewed all alcohol, drugs and meat (food “with a face”). Leafing eagerly through a book on the monks of Tibet, Mochrie says, “There is a path in life that is the right path. But it’s very difficult. The righteous path is very hard.” He gestures to his body, kept in shape with surfing and running, “There’s this old cliche about this being a temple and a motor. You don’t put sugar into your car, you’ll f–k up the engine. If you put nicotine or alcohol into this… “His enthusiasm is infectious. “I don’t think I’ve ever been happy. And it’s worked for mer” he says with joy and a sense of wonder, “and I’m happy.”

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