GARRY McDONALD has one of those rubbery faces that stretch and change
character in an instant. In a serious moment his brown eyes look out intently
from under awning-style eyebrows, before his mouth hangs open to drop a guffaw,
or his face creases into a Mo-like leer.
He is easing back into his eastern suburbs home after spending the past
few months in Melbourne on tour with the musical comedy Sugar Babies. The show
finished early in Melbourne, making possible the four-week return season at Her
Majesty's in Sydney.
McDonald had a sleepless train trip from the southern capital, but appears
fresh and full of energy.
Having been warned that he didn't enjoy interviews I couldn't bring myself
to immediately enter his domain when I arrived 15 minutes early. I stood
outside hoping not to be noticed. After all, this was the man who - in the guise
of Norman Gunston - had reduced international film stars to tears.
But Garry McDonald proved easy to talk to. Dressed casually in a white
skivvy and jeans, he lay back in a chair and clasped his hands behind his head.
The unexpected return season in Sydney is a bonus, allowing him to spend
four weeks at home with his actress wife Diane Craig and their two children,
Kate and David. Then, it's off to Sugar Babies in Brisbane.
Now is McDonald's opportunity to hit Bondi Beach, fishing rod and tackle
in hand. He and other cast members have taken to the sport.
Before a recent series of boating sorties into the grey Victorian waters,
McDonald had tossed a line or two into Botany Bay. The American star of Sugar
Babies, Eddie Bracken,
went as far as to stand waist-deep in waters that have been known to carry
the odd shark. "Still, he'd never caught a fish," McDonald says.
McDonald admires the ageless Bracken and is enjoying working with him.
"There's a hierarchy in burlesque. In this show Eddie is number one and
I'm the second comic. When we play around and there's ad libing, it has to be
left with Eddie - he finishes it. You could never better him anyway, but that's
the way it works."
McDonald talks enthusiastically about his work, and becomes even more
animated when the conversation turns to burlesque, or the famous Mo, whom he
plays in the show.
Asked whether the material really was smutty, McDonald simply says "oh,
yeah" and pushes his hands into his jeans pockets. His face becomes Mo's as he
goes into a "pocket billiards" routine.
Norman Gunston brought Garry McDonald fame, relative comfort, and a gold
Logie that sits on the bookshelf above us. Wouldn't he like to revive Norman, or
another long-running character?
"Why, why, why - apart from the money - why? A mate of mine suggested it
recently but I just couldn't get excited about it.
"I was lucky with Gunston because I had good writers and good direction.
The one-man thing is good, but working in a team is terrific fun. I like
watching the skill of people working together."
McDonald keeps talking after the notebook has been closed, discussing
compact discs and where to get recordings of little-known groups. Music is an
important part of his private life.
So too, apparently, is the model railway he heads for with yet another
interview out of the way.