14th August 1999
Gary Sweet returns to television in a brand new series.
It’s hard to believe Gary Sweet has been knocking around on TV for 20-odd years. During such time he has personified the Aussie bloke — the lovable larrikin one can’t help but like and want to share a beer and a yarn with.
Like some of the characters he plays, Gary’s career was something he fell into.
The trained teacher swapped life in front of a blackboard for one in front of a camera in the late Seventies. The result was some of TV’s best loved larrikins and heroes.
First there was Magpie in The Sullivans, then Eighties mini-series Bodyline where he portrayed the Australian icon Donald Bradman, followed by starring roles in Police Rescue, Cody and Big Sky.
After a break from the screen he’s back, taking on David Williamson’s Dog’s Head Bay, a 13-part series for the ABC.
“I was interested in the role because David Williamson had written it,” Gary tells TV WEEK. “I’d just finished one of his plays, The Club, for the Melbourne Theatre Company in May last year, and enjoyed that.”
But for the guy who makes a living out of being the Aussie larrikin he’s often uncomfortable with the tag.
“I was intrigued when [Dog’s Head Bay producer] Hal McElroy approached me and described the two male characters. There was Bob, the all-Aussie bloke. I thought, ‘Oh, no! Here we go again’. Then there was Alex, the sleazy Italian lawyer, and when Hal said that was my part I was so pleased. It’s the first time I’ve done comedy and it was a lot of fun.”
When shooting on Dog’s Head Bay wrapped in June, Gary returned to his hometown of Adelaide, where he’s “been dagging around”. It was also the first place he headed for when his marriage to TV personality Johanna Griggs ended.
“Johanna and I maintain a strong friendship and I wish her all the best,” Gary says of the breakup. “She’s a very talented, bright and open person.”
He isn’t the only one to recognise Johanna’s talent. Since their split, the earthy blonde has been inundated with requests from TV execs to appear on their shows, and is widely tipped to be given her own talk show.
Gary adds there is no animosity between the couple, who have since had other relationships.
“There are good and bad things about having time to yourself,” he says. “You tend to start analysing things. Then you have recriminations. It’d be fair to say I’m still getting over the breakup.”
While he doesn’t see Dog’s Head Bay as a comeback as such, Gary admits it can be difficult for an actor when jobs dry up.
“I’ve been an actor for 20 years and had periods of work and then periods out of work,” he says. “At times you wonder if it’s all worthwhile.”
Accepting the Dog’s Head Bay role was a welcome change of direction for Gary. He says: “I see it as an extension of my range as an actor. I’m looking for variety.”
But whether Gary decides to follow through on an earlier ambition to direct still remains to be seen.
“I think that was just a youthful ambition,” he says now. “I think I’d be too much of a Nazi, directing.”
And the bloke who used to describe himself as “domineering and a bit of a smart-arse”, readily admits he has softened.
I’ve mellowed a lot in the past five years. I wanted to be notorious rather than famous, but now I’m not so sure.”
Notoriety, fame or fortune aside, that mischievous smile ensures Gary Sweet is still a larrikin at heart.
Original content copyright TV Week.