Gentleman proves his substance

As the romantic lead in Bevan Lee’s 1950s dynasty drama, A Place to Call Home, Brett Climo cuts a gentlemanly figure of the day, his pleasant countenance masking a man weighted by tradition and duty. His familiar, friendly features also evoke another era for many Australian viewers, when families across the nation would flock to the telly to catch up on local soaps.

Since joining the cast of Sons and Daughters in 1983, Climo has been in steady employment in an unsteady industry, playing memorable roles in a string of iconic Australian series, including The Flying Doctors, G.P., A Country Practice and Blue Heelers.

With his starring part in Channel Seven’s ambitious period epic, Climo takes centre stage on our small screens for the first time.

”It’s a really nerve-racking time at the moment,” Climo says at a Fitzroy cafe near the house he shares with his wife, hospitality trainer Michelle Louis. ”It needs to rate really well. I’d only had the opportunity of being behind part of a new drama once before [1994’s Snowy River: The McGregor Saga], and it was quite a different genre. This is something I feel my heart is much more connected with, and I feel much more of a desire for it to work, so I don’t know if that clouds my thoughts. I think all the ingredients are there.”

According to Climo, locally made retrospective drama is important for Australian television to maintain.

”We’re setting out to ask the question, ‘How far have we progressed?’ We try, without it being a history lesson, to remind people what the period was about. Through the series we explore the social issues of the time against this extraordinary backdrop of melodrama. I think for my parents’ generation it will bring back all sorts of memories. For a younger generation, perhaps a little bit of learning and knowledge. Any period drama helps us to answer questions about progress, and I think that’s relevant.”

In the role of George Bligh, the conflicted heir to a wool fortune in A Place to Call Home, Climo found similar qualities to his stepfather, a man he has admired since he met him at the age of 11.

”The thing I really liked about George was his gentlemanly quality,” Climo says. ”We don’t often see those men onscreen. I just responded to that decency that is inherent in the writing. My stepfather, David Watt, is a gentle man – he’s a gentleman and he’s a gentle man, and his respect for women I learnt from a young age and it influenced me. I really wanted to colour George with that.”

It was a role for which Climo had to fight. After an initial rejection, he was called back following a horde of ”much bigger names” who had tested.

”I said, ‘Look, I really don’t want to put myself through this because I want this too badly and I’ll be so disappointed if I don’t get it. I need to know that I’m close here.’ My agent reassured me that it looked OK so we went to Sydney and we met with [producers] Chris Martin-Jones and Julie McGauran and the audition went very well with Marta [Dusseldorp, who plays George’s love interest, Sarah]. So it was the waiting game.

”I finally said to [creator Bevan Lee], when we were in Sydney rehearsing, ‘What happened?’ He said, ‘When you walked in and we saw your tape we thought you were too right for it. It was too easy. We thought something that easy can’t be right, so we had to keep [looking]. I had to forgive him for the pain that he caused.”

Having learnt his trade on the job from the age of 16, Climo at times found working with classically trained Dusseldorp ”intimidating”.

”Apart from the director [Marta] was the most prepared person on set, so I hope I learnt from her. But I also think different styles form a lovely chemistry. We do come from different worlds, but at the end of the day it’s about communicating, really listening.

”Acting is not the hardest thing to do in the world. The more pressure you put upon it and the more you worry about it, that’s what makes it challenging. I suppose I rely very much on emotions and I like being spontaneous, and so does Marta, but, technically, she’s quite something – as is Noni [Hazlehurst, who plays matriarch Elizabeth]. I was surrounded on set by two incredibly strong, formidable women, and the character of George is in between these two women. As an actor, it worked for me because I was equally impressed by both of them.”

Filming the series, at a historic property in Camden and a Sydney studio, was, according to Climo, ”luxurious”, compared with the gruelling schedules and restrictive budgets of earlier television productions.

”The way we make drama is completely different. I remember in days of Sons and Daughters, the shooting styles were different. We all looked incredibly ugly under those harsh downlights, whereas now the mood onscreen is so much more flattering, and it’s such a sophisticated look. Technology is extraordinary.

”Are we telling the same stories? I don’t know. There’s always going to be a police drama. There will probably always be a medical drama. Those environments are fertile for writers, but I’m happy that we still have drama. I’m happy that drama rates. I’m just happy that people want to tune into it, because there have been a lot of other genres that have become popular, such as reality TV. And there’s nothing wrong with that. People have a right to watch that. Goodness me, if you want to produce that and you get someone watching, fantastic. As long as people want to watch drama as well, isn’t that a wonderful thing?”

A Place to Call Home is on Channel Seven on Sunday at 8.30pm.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.