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Sunday Age

Garry McDonald

Author: John Elder
Date: 11/11/2001
Words: 1058
          Publication: The Sunday Age
Section: Agenda
Page: 6
What's the first thing you expect to be asked about these days?

``Are you still working? We never see you on television any more." It happened when I was on the plane yesterday. It gives me the shits. It's like, ``Yeah yeah yeah. What do you think? There are great television comedies just coming out of the air?" But of course you're polite and you explain that you're in the theatre. And they get this look on their face that says, ``Oh so you're not working then". It's sort of like you feel a bit deflated because you might have got a great review from a stage play, and they think you're in retirement. I guess they don't understand. As you get older, you get more picky about what you do. I get very unhappy doing something I don't like. It just destroys me. I hate it. If you want to keep whatever power you have, then you have to get picky about what you do. I've come to realise that. Sometimes, though, it can get very lean financially.

Does the financial side of life worry you?

It worries me a bit. Just in the last couple of years. But I'm kind of working on that. I'm OK, really. I was very wise when I was younger. I made sure I looked after myself. Good investments, good super.

You're a model self-funded not-yet-retiree.

I am actually. (Fellow actor/director) Graeme Blundell said to me, ``The smartest thing you ever did was staying married to the one woman". It doesn't help if you've had three wives.

When I asked about the first thing you expect to be asked, I meant in interviews.

Oh. I don't know. I wouldn't know. I guess, I know: it's inevitable that every interviewer will ask me about depression and anxiety disorders.

Once you put yourself out there with your frailty (McDonald suffers an anxiety disorder, which lay at the heart of the very public depression and breakdown some years ago), does it tend to be mentioned every time you're in the papers?

Yeah, every time. Every time.

How does that feel?

Sometimes I get ... look, human beings are so complex. Sometimes I think I wish they wouldn't go on about it. But then there's such a huge proportion of society that has to deal with anxiety disorders. So there's a part of me that does want to talk about it. You want people to be more aware, less judging. It's not so much crusading; you feel you've got some sort of responsibility in a way.

When you did the interview with 60 minutes about your breakdown, it seemed the interviewer Charles Woolley was looking at you as if you were very fragile.

That's because I was very fragile. I wasn't all right then. I was still buggered.

Wasn't it a bit risky doing the interview, putting yourself out there like that?

Yeah, but I'm a sucker. They said, ``We'll take him fishing". I thought that would be nice. They were willing to go to New Zealand ... take me anywhere I wanted. (Instead they went to a remote river spot in the NSW Blue Mountains, flying in by helicopter.) I wasn't really up to it. I was recuperating, and I was on medication. It was a while before I did the anxiety course. At that there was so much concentration on the depression ... because it's the depression that's gonna make you top yourself. Anyway, I should have another breakdown so 60 Minutes can take me to New Zealand.

If not anxiety and depression, what would you want to talk of?

I'd rather talk about Stones In His Pockets (his first play as director). It's much easier talking about your work, what you're doing.

Then tell us about it.

It's a two-hander. They're two extras on a film being made in Ireland, just dogsbodies in the background. The whole film production is seen through their eyes. You see them commenting on what's happening and then they become what's happening. They play the beautiful film star, the beautiful film star's bodyguard. The rapport between them now, the subtlety of the performance, is fantastic. They're so good. They're so good.

Do you have a director's chair you keep in the boot of your car?

No. No I do not. In fact, the first time I directed, it was hard keeping me in the chair because I kept wanting to get up on the stage.

Will we see a McDonald stamp on the production?

Hopefully, because it will be very funny. I kind of hope not. What I wanted was for it to look as if the guys got up there and did it themselves. One doesn't want any stamp.

You mentioned people thinking you gone from the landscape because you're not on the telly. What does it say about us?

Television is such a powerful medium, and let's face it, I was on it for 11 years in Mother and Son, which has been over for six years. I've done it. I don't want to do sketch comedy again. It's not where my head is at any more. I don't want to do Norman any more. I've sort of gone on to other areas.

In the end, did the public breakdown and anxiety disorder profile help kill off Norman Gunston?

I had it twice today. Two young men calling out ``hey, Norman". That's from pay TV. They wouldn't know about that other side.

When did you start using an electric shaver?

I don't use an electric shaver. I don't believe in them. I like that male thing of soaping up your face. It's the closest thing we have to facials without feeling wussy.

Do you ever cut yourself?

Of course.

Do you ever think, ``Damn! I'm Garry McDonald"?

Like: ``Hey, I'm somebody"? Very rarely, no. Well ... I went for an audition today and they were very pleasant to me and I thought, ``Ah, right. I'm Garry McDonald".

Stone in His Pockets is at the Fairfax, Victorian Arts Centre, for the MTC until December 15. Bookings: 136 166.

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