The Circuit: articles

Show us the money


GARY Sweet embodies the characteristics of a top-notch character actor.

But you wouldn't know it from reading much of what has been written about the actor over the past 10 years.

Plenty of profile pieces on Sweet follow recurring themes. There are references to his having a mega-watt smile, a renowned larrikin streak, and the fact he is a father of four who has endured the trauma of three marriage break-ups.

Scant mention has been made of Sweet's ability to defy categorisation as an actor.

He has veered between wildly different roles in TV and film projects, proving there are few local performers so deft at blurring the boundaries between hero and villain.

In the Rolf de Heer-directed movie The Tracker, Sweet offered a distilled display of rage as an Aborigine-hating cop.

He also drew from an impressive bag of acting tricks in Alexandra's Project, playing a psychologically-tortured man forced to deal with the tragic consequences of infidelity.

In undercover cop drama Stingers he delivered a riveting portrayal of a detective who crumbled under the strain of a battle with bipolar depression, and he is no less impressive in SBS's The Circuit, which, as a result of skilled script-writing, acting and directing, is a work of rare creative synergy.

But Sweet, who in The Circuit plays a magistrate who grapples with issues of Aboriginal culture and law enforcement, confesses his achievements on screen have resulted in his having neither financial security nor a sense of artistic self-assurance.

Sweet, 50, who has been shooting a reporting role on the Channel 9 travel series Things to Try Before You Die, acknowledges he doesn't deal well with the fact that unemployment is a hazard of life for an actor.

"My mindset has always been that the state of the acting industry is never that good when it comes to job security," he says.

"It's funny, I used to say the uncertainty was one of the appealing things about the industry -- the fact you never know what the future holds -- but that appeal diminishes exponentially with the amount of time you're out of work.

"I go through periods of frustration and disappointment. It's dangerous to get introspective about these things, because you feel you should have set yourself up pretty well over 25 years and wonder why you have to keep proving yourself to get another job."

He thinks back to a period, before joining Stingers, when he couldn't find work.

He'd lost his optimism and remembers thinking, "f---ing hell, somebody finally told them (TV, film and theatrical producers) that I can't act . . . the gig is up!"

Given the uncertainties of his job, has he learned to be careful about the way he handles his finances?

"You should get smarter. But me, no. Maybe I'm a slow learner," he says smiling.

"You certainly don't stick around in this business for the money. In the lead-up to this (The Circuit), I got about $4000 for the last couple of gigs I did."

This is in stark contrast to what is earned by actors in the United States.

Ray Romano set a salary-earning record for the final season of Everybody Loves Raymond, raking in $2.7million an episode.

Grey's Anatomy's Ellen Pompeo makes about $250,000 an episode -- about the same amount earned a year by an Australian actor for a regular role on one of our soaps.

"I try to be optimistic. I've not had that many periods where I've been depressed, though when I did all my (bipolar) research for the Stingers role I was convinced I had the condition," Sweet says.

His spirits were high, he adds, when shooting segments for Nine's Things To Try Before You Die.

Sweet was called on to parachute in New Zealand, drive a Ferrari full-tilt around Britain's Silverstone GP track, and paraglide in the French Alps.

"It was serious fun doing all that stuff.

"It truly was a dream job. I'm not afraid of heights, so will have a go at jumping off just about anything.

"The only time my mortality sprang to mind was in Cairo, when I had to go to a bath house and be dealt with by a guy I'm sure I recognised from Egypt's Most Wanted."

By Darren Devlyn
July 25, 2007
Herald Sun