Sea Patrol: articles

Just Joshing

Soon, you'll be able to see rising star Josh Lawson on every television station except Seven. If only Dancing with the Stars would answer his calls. He talks with Michael Lallo about predatory agents, brutal beatings, and being cast as eye candy.

Josh Lawson used to think the "casting couch" was just a rumour. Then he went to Los Angeles.

"I can't name names," he says. "But the woman basically said, 'Depending on how much fun we have tonight, you'll get a place on our books'."

Lawson, who was no stranger to tough times, really needed an agent. What's more, he was in a city full of competing actors - many of whom had no qualms about accepting such offers. But he knew that getting to the top wouldn't mean much if he slept his way there.

Turns out he was wise to keep his honour, because all those years of hard work are about to pay off.

In fact, soon you won't be able to turn on your TV without seeing him. He has a starring role in Channel Nine's Sea Patrol, the most expensive Australian drama ever made. He's currently filming Thank God You're Here for Channel Ten. He has a spot in The Librarians on ABC and a lead role in Chandon Pictures on Movie Extra. Later this year, he and Ed Kavalee will shoot a film, pitch their sitcom idea to networks and consider writing a live comedy show. Then there's the other film script he's working on - and his theatre work. Did we mention he's only 25?

"It does seem like the Chinese Year of the Josh," he laughs. "But that's just the way it is in this game. Next year could be my Year of the Dog."

It could, although it's unlikely. The biggest names in the industry are hiring him for a reason. Women think he's a spunk. Men reckon he's a decent bloke. Everyone, it seems, wants a piece of him. Fortunately, Lawson is prepared for fame.

"People ask if they've met me before," he says, "and I say, 'Don't you know who I am? I'm a celebrity - get away from me'. I've taken to my high horse pretty quickly."

In reality, he's rarely recognised in public. But he'll soon have an international profile thanks to Sea Patrol. Filmed off Queensland's Dunk Island, it follows a navy crew as they guard Australia's coastline. The 13-part series, which premiered last Thursday on Channel Nine, is believed to be the first Aussie show to be sold internationally before being broadcast locally. The Hallmark Channel plans to screen it in more than 100 territories around the globe. It's not hard to see why. Each episode was rumoured to cost about $900,000 - and it shows.

Lawson admits there were plenty of challenges during filming. "We were on a boat six days a week for two months," he says. "It was tough. But every time we started getting jack of it, we'd look around and realise that it was as close to paradise as we'll ever get."

And for someone who couldn't tell one end of a ship from the other, Lawson now boasts an impressive nautical vocabulary.

"Mate, their language was pretty colourful," he says of the navy officers who consulted during filming. "You do pick some of it up and you have to remember to stop using it when you're back on land."

On the other hand, he acquired none of the cooking skills of his character, Toby "Chefo" Jones. "Spectacularly average" is how he describes his efforts in the kitchen. Not that he's relying on his culinary abilities to earn a dollar.

Although he's about to make his name in drama, comedy is his forte. It's no surprise he's been invited back for the third season of Thank God You're Here, one of the highest-rating shows in the country.

"I'm so grateful to (producers) Working Dog for taking a chance on me," he says. "But I think it's hilarious I was there as a 'celebrity guest'. When I first came out, the audience were scratching their heads and going, 'Who is this guy?'."

Still, they liked what they saw. Around that time, he also caught the attention of Robyn Butler and Wayne Hope, the married writers, producers and stars of The Librarians. The six-part comedy, which will screen on ABC this year, focuses on the "love, betrayal and revenge" that engulfs a suburban library as it prepares for Book Week. Lawson plays the dyslexic employee hired purely as eye candy.

Butler, however, reportedly took her method-acting approach a little too far. "She was perving on me even when we weren't filming," he says. "Wayne was getting really upset. But I guess that's their business."

Nonsense, Butler responds. If anything, Lawson has a "thing" for mature ladies. "Tell him to back off," she says. "Stop calling. I'm not interested."

So who to believe? Ed Kavalee, co-host of Triple M's Get This and a long-time mate of Lawson's, says Butler's version of events rings true. "Josh does like older women," he confirms. "We once played a game where I had to guess the birth year of the oldest person he's ever dated. I got down to the 1960s and he told me to keep going, but I was too scared."

Despite the enthusiasm with which Lawson's friends pay him out, they still put in a good word.

"He has a sort of magnetic energy," Kavalee says. "If something's happening, he wants to be part of it. He's just good fun to be around."

Butler says she and Hope knew they'd found their dyslexic-but-dishy character the instant they met him. "Josh has this incredible comic timing," she says. "You can't learn that stuff. He's just got it in spades."

While it's true that comedy can't be taught, Lawson has worked hard at honing his skills. The reason he went to LA in 2004 was to study improvisational acting.

"That place is just surreal," he says. "It's such a hard, unforgiving city."

Even cafes provided little respite. "You could hear the synchronised turning of pages," he says. "Everyone's reading their scripts and talking to themselves. One person would be saying, 'Give me your money and your badge!' In another corner, someone else is going, 'Mommy, don't leave me!'. And I'm sitting there thinking that they should all be locked up."

His fellow students occasionally thought the same thing about him. Lawson still remembers their horror at his use of the word "Negro" in a sketch. He soon learned that "black" - a word he assumed to be highly offensive - was the politically correct term.

Cultural misunderstandings aside, Lawson says LA gave him the most amazing experiences. And, he reveals, it would never have happened had he not been brutally bashed the year before.

Life was good for Lawson back then. He'd just landed the lead role in the film Right Here Right Now and was out celebrating in Sydney. On his way home, he decided to cut through Hyde Park. Out of nowhere, a group of men attacked him, beating him so badly that he could barely talk afterwards. Needless to say, the film's producers weren't too keen on his new look and he lost the part. "It was a depressing time," he says. "I was devastated. I remember feeling very sorry for myself."

Figuring he had nothing to lose, he applied for an overseas study fellowship offered by the National Institute of Dramatic Art. To his surprise, he was accepted. It wasn't the first time NIDA had put their faith in Lawson. In late 1998, the famed acting school offered him a place - something they give to fewer than one in every 100 applicants (particularly 17-year-old schoolboys).

Moving to Sydney from his family home in Brisbane opened his eyes to a few things, he admits. "I remember walking down Oxford Street going, 'Wow, look at all the gay people! Look at all the Asian and black people!' I felt like I was in Blade Runner when I saw the monorail."

Of course, he loved every minute of it. Writing and performing had always been his passion. While at high school, he even penned a few musicals about, er, rugby.

"I used to make them about sport so I could remain popular with the jocks," he explains. "It wasn't gay if it was about football. I managed to avoid some serious wedgies that way."

Given Lawson's older brother Ben is also an actor (currently appearing in Neighbours), one might look for a pushy stage parent or two. Not true, Lawson insists. He and Ben actually pressured their parents into getting an agent after they saw how much money a classmate earned doing commercials. There is the occasional bout of sibling rivalry, however. "Look, I only want the best for my brother," he says. "But if he could be just slightly less successful than me, that would be great. The same goes for Ed."

He already has at least one advantage when it comes to fame: an internet rumour that's currently doing the rounds. Although he's somewhat flattered to learn of its existence, he's shocked by the details. "That's not true!" he says, leaning into the tape recorder. "I did not marry (Thank God You're Here cast mate) Nicola Parry! And she's not carrying my child!"

His desire to dispel these myths is understandable, considering he is dating actress Diana Glenn (Oyster Farmer, The Secret Life of Us). Glenn, herself a rising star, has also scored a lead role in the Channel Nine drama series Canal Road, due to air next year.

"We want to be the Channel Nine 'it' couple," he jokes. "But seriously, we're pretty happy together. I was single for many years and then she came along and swept me off my feet."

All up, Lawson has plenty to smile about. His career is taking off. He loves living in Melbourne ("You can talk to people on the tram," he marvels. "You'd get pepper-sprayed if you tried that in Sydney."). He's even become a mad AFL fan (Fremantle Dockers is his team).

But there's one overriding ambition; something he dreams about constantly. "If there is a god," he says, "he'll put me on Dancing with the Stars. I've given up on making out with the Olsen twins, so that's the one goal I have left. After that, I'll retire."

By Michael Lallo
July 08, 2007
The Age