New Idea: “I lived on $3 a week” Blue Heelers 4th February 2000

My turning point
New Idea
4th February 2000

Through the loveable Senior Sergeant Tom Croydon, John Wood has become one of Australia’s most popular actors. But fame and fortune hasn’t come easily for the star of Blue Heelers, who says he owes it all to an old friend.

I guess your life can change at any time or place. And if we consider a turning point as a major shift, well then, there were two major turning points in my life, both of which can be attributed to one person, John Ellis.

As a young boy, I was luckY enough to go to a technical school that had an enlightened English teacher. He was also actively involved in theatre. His way. of thinking was that unless you were. actively involved in literature, you wouldn’t show much interest in it.

So, instead of just asking us to read plays, he would get us involved in every aspect of them. And one afternoon, he sent us home to read a few and choose one to’Perform. I went around to the kids in my class and convinced them to do a particular play with me. They went along with it because I’d just saved them from doing their homework.

When John watched and assessed our plays, he gave my group the highest marks. In fact, they were the highest most of us had ever received for anything.

And so, after that, I knew I was irrevocably fated for the theatre. I had no ambition to do anything else. And, as a result, my marks in other subjects went downhill fast.

I can remember my father saying: “l don’t know why you want to do that acting for, it’s for bloody sissies!”

I had a lot of trouble at that school because I wasn’t like the other kids. I didn’t play footy, and they thought that I was a bit strange because I loved the arts.

So, I left and moved to another school. And it was there that I met John Ellis again.

On the day I was supposed to sit my final high school certificate, I thought: “Bugger it, I’ll go and see John Ellis.” It just so happened that the leading man in a play John was involved with had dropped out that day and, immediately, I jumped at the chance to replace him.

I spent the next 1O days learning the part, while my parents and John thought I was doing exams. The play was a stunning success, though, needless to say, the exams weren’t.

John has been an enormous influence in my life. My passion for acting was always there, but he encouraged my infatuation with it.

Then, he went overseas and we lost contact for a while. At the time, acting wasn’t paying my wages and I’d got a “real job” on the railways.

Then, out of the blue, John rang me. He said he was back from overseas and had decided to form a company called Melbourne Youth Theatre, and he asked me to be in the first production.

John’s wife, Lois, then encouraged me to apply for the National institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA). In fact, she did more than encourage me – she sent away for the application form, filled it in, made me sign it and posted it for me.

I couldn’t believe it when I found out that I got the gig. The only hitch was I needed that high school certificate to get in, which I didn’t have.

After a little convincing, NIDA waived the requirements – they thought I had talent. I also told them I had no money, so they gave me a scholarship for $3 a week. It wasn’t much, but I got by – and from there my career really began.

John had given me the confidence to believe in myself and he became something of a mentor to me.

We still see a lot of each other – we go to the footy together. I actually met John when I was 13, I’m 53 now, so it’s been a long relationship But I was lucky to meet him when I did – I think I would have gone nuts if I hadn’t!

By John Wood

Original content copyright New Idea.