Samuel Johnson delves into the dark side for his new flick, The Illustrated Family Doctor. You took a year off work. What did you get up to?
Sweet f**k all. A lot of hanging around, a lot of procrastinating. A lot of sleeping in, excessive drinking, walking dogs, reading books. All of the beautiful simple stuff. And you’ve moved back to your country town birthplace?
I’ve been living in a fairly isolated community where you have to fight twice as hard for approval. I’m just the wanky city boy actor. What do you have to do to get local approval?
Get into heaps of fights and say “f**k a lot”! I’m still working out how to get their bloody approval. It’s a place where hard work is honoured and anything that doesn’t give you calluses isn’t. I’m not whinging about it – I wanted to be there. I didn’t want people kissing my ass. I wanted people to tell me I’m an upstart and should take a good long hard look at myself. What about The Illustrated Family Doctor attracted you then?
The script and the character (Gary). He’s a really f**ked up sort. He’s utterly flawed, he’s drowning in his own inertia. I got to explore the ugliness of the character – the more uncomfortable people felt looking at him, the better. It’s good to explore the dark side. Did it make you evaluate your own life?
The similarities between me and Gary are scary. I mean, I’m fairly easy going and happy most of the time, but we’ve all got that dark side where we don’t know where we’re going, wonder why we’re here, wonder if it will get any better and are worried that it won’t. Life can be one long series of s**t storms, full of events you can’t anticipate or deal with appropriately. Did that exacerbate those feelings for you?
It made it easier because you can access what the character’s going through if you’ve been through it yourself. But there’s roles that you can’t. Like if you’re going to play a rapist then you can’t understand that on a practical level. Then research and talking to people who’ve done it comes into. Have you had to research a character that distasteful?
Oh yeah. My first cousin murdered his wife with an axe to the head while she was asleep for cheating on him ... after they’d split up because he’d cheated on her. In your research, have you ever come across a character that distasteful?
Oh yeah. My first cousin murdered his wife while she was asleep with an axe to the head for cheating on him ... after they’d split up because he’d cheated on her. Are you serious?
Yeah. But I’ve got 72 first cousins so there was bound to be one bad egg. This s**t happens all the time but most of us don’t hear it much. We put our heads in the sand?
We don’t really want to know. But it’s that underbelly that interests any actor. I’d rather search through the muck down there and hopefully find some kind of enlightenment than suck on the fairy floss at the top for the rest of my days. You dealt with a lot in the film – your character was afflicted by a lot of gruesome diseases …
Dealing with all of those diseases made me feel very lucky. I didn’t get paranoid, but I just felt so lucky not to have any major skin disorders or an STD or a big growth on my face or elephantitis or any of that kind of stuff! It makes you feel bad for complaining about your crooked teeth and your pimples. It makes you feel bloody beautiful. I was walking around feeling like Hasselhoff compared to all these poor people afflicted with elephantitis. So are you happy with the film?
I don’t know if it will ever sink in. It’s just awesome. I’ve waited 10 years for a job like this. When I was 15 I imagined myself doing a film like this – that was the point I was looking towards. So in a way it’s been very fulfilling for me because I’ve harboured that desire for such a long time. So if the work stopped tomorrow you’d be happy?
If I never did another film I’d be a bit p***ed off! But I wouldn’t really mind because I’d had a chance to work on this one. But I’d say the same about The Secret Life Of Us on telly – if I never did another television job that’s fine because I was part of something really special on Secret Life. I mean sure, some of the varnish has worn off and there were some mistakes made and the quality arguably did decline. But I felt like I was part of something that was culturally relevant. And before Secret Life I’d never been culturally relevant. Never?
I’d always been uncool, or behind the times, or out of fashion. Then all of a sudden I was in fashion – I was in this hit show and I felt f**king cool for the first time in my life! Needless to say that feeling has now worn off and I can delight in the direct opposite. But you can tell the grandkids one day …
When I have kids I’m going to say, “You listen to your dad, he was cool once. Here, watch this show and see.” That sounds really arrogant doesn’t it? Like I think that I’m really cool. No, you’re right.
I didn’t feel I was cool the whole time or anything, it was more like I was perceived that way. Don’t’ make it sound like I think I’m cool.! We promise we won’t. So have you been watching The Secret Life Of Us now that it’s finally back on TV?
I haven’t seen it, no. I haven’t got a telly. I’ve been blissfully unaware. Are you finding that your level of public recognition has changed with your time out of the limelight?
To be honest, I’ve never been very good at gauging it anyway. Because for every one person that comes and chats to you, there’s always 10 who don’t bother you. I still get noticed a bit but I’d have to say less so than at the height of Secret Life’s popularity.