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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

RAW talent

Feature on the new RTE drama RAW in this month's Gay Community News...

I’m trying to get Australian actor Damon Gameau to name-drop just a little bit, but he’s having none of it. He has been living and working in Los Angeles for the past 14 months, and admits that he is friends with just about every Antipodean star working in Hollywood today. So who is the most famous name in his phone book? Nicole? Cate? Hugh?

“I’m revealing nothing,” he laughs. “Let’s just say I know all the ones who are doing well over there at the moment.”

It looks like it won’t be long before Gameau’s name is up there with the best of his Aussie comrades, thanks to his forthcoming role opposite another fellow countryman, Anthony LaPaglia, in the political thriller Balibo, which tells the true story of the murder of five Australian journalists during Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor in 1975.

Before that, however, Gameau will be seen in RAW, a new six-part series written by Lisa McGee that airs on RTE Two in September. The show’s action takes place in and around the fictional Dublin restaurant of the title, and focuses on the lives and loves of its impossibly good-looking young staff.

Gameau stars as Geoff, a gruff, hot-headed sous chef, who is also gay and seemingly brimming with confidence regarding his sexuality. In the opening episodes, Geoff finds himself drawn to the restaurant’s clumsy, timid Czech waiter Pavel (played by Krystof Hadek), who, we discover, came to Ireland after his family kicked him out for admitting his true sexuality.

Despite, or perhaps because of, their polar opposite temperaments and experiences, romance blossoms between the two, but their differing takes on love and intimacy soon put a strain on their burgeoning relationship.

These days, gay characters are a given in any modern drama worth its salt, but it’s still considered a ‘brave’ career move for straight actors to play queer on screen. Neither Gameau nor Hadek approached the project with that mindset, however.

Off-screen, they became good friends, and shared an apartment along with two other cast mates on Hanover Quay during filming earlier in the summer. As they explain to me over coffee in KC Peaches on a biblically rain-soaked Tuesday morning, being relaxed around one another was the key to making their love scenes work.

“I think we were lucky in that right from the first day we were very comfortable with each other,” Gameau explains. “It would have been harder if one of us had an ego, but both of us came to it with the same attitude. We didn’t really talk about it to be honest. Our chemistry on screen just developed from our own connection. We had to physically express it now and again, but so be it. It’s our job to do that.”

In fact, the greatest discomfort for the two stars stemmed from that age-old problem for gay men and straight women everywhere: stubble burn. “There was one kissing scene where Damon literally scratched my lip,” Hadek says in his charmingly hesitant English. “The make-up girl just said to me: “See what it’s like for us?” I could definitely live without it.”

One of the most refreshing things about RAW is how it doesn’t resort to stereotype in depicting its gay characters, and instead aims for the kind of realistic, honest representations seen in US television shows like Six Feet Under and Brothers and Sisters.

“We talked about that a lot,” Gameau reveals. “There was a suggestion that I should shave my head, or behave a certain way that would explicitly signify the character’s sexuality, but I was like, ‘Why conform to any preconceived notion?’

“Obviously this guy’s anger is covering something, and you see throughout the series that he is scared shitless about who he is. I think that’s a really interesting way to portray a gay character. He doesn’t have to be this mincing or butch stereotype. He’s just a regular guy who happens to like guys.

“Geoff is great fun for me to play. I rarely shout and I’m not an angry person. I’d never do what he does. Australians are quite relaxed by nature, so this allows me to blow off a lot of steam.”

Hadek, meanwhile, has the more familiar gay role: the scared young man just coming to grips with his sexuality. However, during filming, the actor found an unexpected way to understand his character’s fears regarding homosexuality.

“My character was supposed to be Polish,” he explains. “But the casting director said that they couldn’t find a Polish actor who was willing to play gay. The few Polish actors here said they were not interested.

“They decided to make him Czech when I was cast, but that kind of story certainly helped me to get a sense of Pavel’s turmoil of having to escape from a homophobic society.”

The long working days have meant that neither actor has been able to take in much of Dublin life on their first ever visits here – apart from the drinking, of course.

“We normally go for drinks with the cast and crew on Fridays, so you feel like shit on Saturday and don’t want to really do anything!” Gameau laughs. “We’ve eaten in a few nice places and saw a play in the Abbey. I love just walking down Grafton Street, though. Dublin has a really nice vibe to it, and a great atmosphere. It’s quite happening as a city.

“My mum was born in Killarney so the plan initially was for her to come over with me, but it fell through. It’s an excuse to come back though.”

As you read this, Gameau will be deep in jungles of East Timor filming Balibo, while Hadek will still be preparing for a role in a new Czech movie set just after the Second World War. The part requires that he lose a substantial amount of weight, which means he has had to kiss one of his new favourite Irish treats goodbye.

“No more Guinness for me,” he laughs. “It’s a pity because I really started to enjoy it since I’ve been here. The things I do for this job!”

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