The Alice: articles

Erik and Caitlin

Couple... Erik Thomson and Caitlin McDougall

Family affair

TO complain about the lack of long-term opportunities or even employment in their trade is an actor’s rite of passage.

But not in Erik Thomson’s household—he, along with wife Caitlin McDougall and dog Russ, have all got regular gigs on new drama The Alice, which is based on last year’s same name telemovie.

And their three characters develop a close relationship, just like at home.

“The telemovie was the first time we (he and Caitlin) worked together and we were worried whether we’d have chemistry on screen,” the multi-award winning former All Saints star says. “But we were told it was fine. And it has been great since we started filming in April.

“It hasn’t affected our off-screen life and if Caitlin wasn’t in the show I’d probably never see her. So it’s been really positive in that it’s a romantic adventure series and we’re on that adventure together, spending time in the desert.

It’s all benefits, no negatives.” The Alice, of course, is that unique central Australian frontier town, literally in the middle of nowhere and inhabited by people for that very reason.

And being a dog kind of town, Thomson’s other best friend, Russ, plays his character’s mutt Rusty on the show.

“He’s no Lassie, but the difference is when you normally see a character with an animal there isn’t a bond, because the dog’s trainer is on set making the commands,” he says. “But I have the bond and that’s all we need—he does what I tell him and he’s earning a little bit of money, which is good because he owes us a s..tload.”

The series picks up six months after the telemovie was set and Thomson plays recently arrived bar owner and ex-rock singer Jack Jaffers (“a 24-year-old man trapped in a 40-year-old’s body”, he says) in a 10-strong ensemble including Jessica Napier, Andrew McFarlane, Roxanne Wilson and Simon Burke.

They’ve all ended up there for different reasons, are personally unsettled, have the odd issue going on and share a common bond they have no control over.

And that is the Alice, not so much the town itself but the spirit of the place.

“I was out driving in the desert a few weeks ago and I stopped to let the dog out for a pee,” Thomson says.

“I just stood there and there was absolutely no sign of mankind. It’s a different feeling with the Earth and sky and vastness of the place—it affects you.

“One of the locals told me a lot of people go for a few weeks and never leave and she said the desert gets hold of you. It’s hard to put into words—it’s like the land is breathing around you as a living being.

“Whenever I’m up there I fill up on that sprit and bring it back to Sydney within me. At first I wondered what people were talking about, but when you get up there you experience it and understand.” Much like the series. It is quirky, character based (including a dead one who is the best friend of McDougall’s troubled accountant Helen Gregory), but driven by the red heart the Alice rests upon.

It’s unlike anything seen before in Australian drama terms, but viewers who saw last year’s telemovie—2004’s most watched TV movie—will have an idea.

Executive producer John Edwards, behind The Secret Life Of Us, Police Rescue, Love My Way and others, says: “It’s about little miracles happening all the time and little miracles drive our show.”

A big miracle has been getting it made. The location makes it expensive, so interiors are shot in Sydney and exteriors in the Alice for two weeks a month.

Thomson is enjoying the regular travel after 175 episodes of All Saints.

“When I read the script I felt it was something I could get my teeth into,” he says. “I loved the character and the premise of the story and that’s all I needed. I wasn’t worried that it was TV. I’m an actor and it’s work, it’s my job.

“I had opportunities to do other stuff, but they weren’t where I wanted to go. But this is ambitious with a really big scope. Our location is 2000km away from our studio and in the middle of Australia.

“I’m an ex-pat New Zealander born in Scotland and I’m out there thinking, ‘what a great place to be in this adventure of life’.”

His character is a likable bloke with rogue elements, chiefly that one of his new friends is his daughter.

Jess (Jessica Napier) was the product of a one-night stand when Jack’s band went through town 20 years ago and she has no idea. But try as he might, he can’t bring himself to tell her.

“He has to deal with issues and he’s doing that in the Alice,” Thomson says.

“He bases his life on little coincidences and that’s the essence of what we’re trying to get at. He’s facing up to himself. He tries, he fails. And that is his journey.”

By Marcus Casey
July 27, 2005
The Daily Telegraph