The Star Nobody Knows…
John Wood says he’s one of the faceless people.
14th January 1978
ONE OF television’s faceless people – that’s how actor John Wood sees himself.
Which is odd. coming from the man who was on view for 26 weeks as John West’s offsider, Sugar Renfrey, in the ABC’s most ballyhooed drama, Power Without Glory.
Surely that performance which won him a Logie as best support actor, would have ensured his immediate recognition by the public?
“Not so,” says John.
Neither did his appearance in widely-shown commercials for General Electric make him a familiar face to the masses.
“How long is it now since we began to work on Power Without Glory?” he ponders. “Three years?
“In all that time, Ive been reconfirmed on the street just once. I can go anywhere, do anything without being noticed.
“I guess I must have a forgettable face. People don’t identify me with Sugar Renfrey or the guy on the GE ads.
“Whatever happened to those problems of being pestered by adoring fans?” he laughs, sending himself up.
“Here we are, Michael Aitken and I, ‘mega stars’ of television, making a series for ABC-TV called The Truckies. And where is the public that’s supposed to plague us?
“Where are the groupies supposed to be flinging themselves in front of the cameras every time we go on location in the suburbs? What’s going wrong?”
Seriously, John does not seek public recognition for the real person, John Wood. His acting and his writing should speak for themselves, and he doesn’t see why anyone would want to pry into his private world.
“If I was a plumber,” he reasons, “nobody would want to know about my home life. Why should an actor be any different?”
Being universality recognised is fine for a Graham Kennedy or Stuart Wagstaff, he concedes, “because they’re media personalities.”
But he is an actor, and his real self is hidden behind the characters he portrays. That’s the way he likes it.
“Obviously, there is something of the real me in every performance I give,” he says. “But Sugar Renfrey was not me, nor was the GE man.”
To be able to pass unrecognised in the street is, in its way, a compliment to those performances.
He is reticent about his private existence. He’d rather not see the names of his wife and two daughters in print but he has no objection to discussing them in relation to his work.
For example, the family becomes a relevant topic in that he needs to keep working to support them, and the spectre of being unemployed is very real to him.
“I suppose you could say I’m going through a period of being fashionable right now,” he says. “But what happens when I become unfashionable?”
And he doesn’t mind revealing that his wife supported him when he was studying at the National Institute of Dramatic Art. In return, when he’d graduated, he supported her while she studied for her Bachelor of Arts in Drama and Psychology.
John, 31, has had mixed feelings about television since his first experience of series work, Catwalk.
“There was an English actor in that, a poseur and an all-round pain in the neck who made it very unpleasant show,” he recalls.
“I refused to continue in it beyond the seven episodes to which I was committed, and I voted I’d never to television again.
“So I did theatre for four years in Melbourne and Power Without Glory was my next contact with TV, apart from a couple of minor Crawford roles.
“I almost chucked Power in before it started, because I was mucking around. I was given two other parts – then lost them – before they offered me Sugar.
“I was sick of being shunted from one role to another, so I said ‘forget it.” But Oscar Whitbread persuaded me to read the role of Sugar, and I realised it could be fairly memorable character. I’m glad Oscar talked me into it.”
Since Power, John has worked in Bellbird (“as a garage man”), the ABC-TV plays No Room For The Innocent and End of Summer and the movie Blue Fire Lady.
He’s also acted on stage in The Cherry Orchard and The Crucible, and had a double bill of his own plays proceed at Melbourne’s La Mama Theatre.
Writing is a secondary activity to which he devotes as much time as possible, and his first TV script will be an episode of The Truckies… “written before I knew I was going to be playing the role of Stokey, in case anyone thinks I planned a good part of myself.”
“My stage writing was something that always occurred in moments of extreme anger or emotionalism,” he says, “and The Truckies episode was the first time I’ve had to write without any emotional drive.
“I found the discipline very rewarding, and I’ve used that experience to restructure an Aboriginal play I’d written.
I’m also working on an anti-uranium, anti-church play which is really about the dubious rights of governments and others to make decisions for people en masse.
And I have in my mind another play about Albert Speer, the architect who became Hitler’s Minister of Armaments. He pleaded guilty to war crimes and has been realised from jail only recently.
“It may seem a strange subject for an Australian to choose for a play, but I’m interested in why this intelligent, civilised man should have been gulled by Hiter. It wasn’t just the cretins that Hitler was able to sway.
“And I think it’s pertinent today because people are still being gulled by politicians.”
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