Kicking off on Rialto Channel this month is a new Aussie TV series called The Principal premiering Tuesday 4th October, 8.30pm.
It’s a four-part drama series starring award-winning actor Alex Dimitriades (The Slap, Underbelly) as Matt Bashir, a former history teacher and Deputy Principal at a prestigious girls’ school, who is promoted to Principal of a notoriously violent and difficult Sydney school, Boxdale Boys High.
His appointment is a last ditch attempt to save the school from being shut down, although not everyone appreciates his radical approach to reform. Faced with conflict on all fronts, Bashir finds himself professionally and personally challenged; and when a student is found dead on school grounds, all hell breaks loose.
The Principal was created by award-winning producer Ian Collie (Saving Mr Banks, Rake), along with Rachel Turk and Kristen Dunphy, and directed by multi award-winning Kriv Stenders (Red Dog, Boxing Day).
The new crime drama showcases a range of high calibre Australian talent, including AFI nominated Aden Young (Rectify) and AACTA award-winning Mirrah Foulkes (Animal Kingdom, Hawaii Five-0), as well as some fresh Australian talent, including Rahel Romahn (Underbelly, The Combination), Aliki Matangi (Jonah from Tonga), Tyler De Nawi and Thuso Lekwape.
Alex Dimitriades has been busy working on a couple of new projects since filming The Principal, but kindly took the time to chat about this confronting and real series. While it screened a year ago in Australia, people are still talking about the series, so we started off by talking about the public’s reaction.
Rialto: The series screened in Australia in 2015 – what was the reaction like?
Really strong actually, it seemed to touch a lot of nerves in the right places. It was quite personal for a lot of people, even despite the fact they may not have come up through similar surroundings. It really touched a diverse range of people in a really special way that I hadn’t experienced first-hand like that in some time…it seemed to get a lot of people charged, talking and thinking. That real sense of touching, and really making them feel like they want to talk about it and discuss the issues, is a real win for me.
I suppose being involved to that degree, and with that type of part, social media was a lot to do with that as well and people hitting me up all the time. It was great, but a lot of hard work fielding all that. I lot of people really loved my part, and he was quite an inspirational man and the reaction was awesome. I couldn’t have hoped for better actually.
Rialto: On a boldness scale – how bold do you think the series was for Australian drama?
AD: Now, if someone was to do something like that again, maybe not so much. In June or July 2014, I was in Melbourne doing a show with a theatre company and one day a call came through from my agency; the agency boss wanted to talk about the series, and the director and the producer wanted to meet. She was “it will be really good - just from whose involved.” She told me a little bit about it and at the time I was like, umm, sounds really controversial and I don’t know about this. But I met up with the guys and we chattered and got on incredibly. You really put the trust in these people’s hands when you do something that is of a controversial nature. When it’s you who is the face of it and who will be at the front line of all the discussions, it’s tricky territory, you really are placing trust in those people’s hands.
It did feel very bold but we handled it with the right amount of care, and everything about the production did the controversy justice. So now looking back it doesn’t feel like a big deal, but I remember clearly at the time that feeling when I took that call – oh, I don’t know about this one, we’ll see, we’ll meet up with them and talk, but I can’t really say which way this is going to go.
Rialto: You won a Logie Award for your role – what does that kind of accolade mean to you?
AD: At the time I wasn’t really fussed so much because I didn’t think I was going to win. I was also in the middle of another shoot and that was quite gruelling and there was a lot of travel involved weekly back and forth from Sydney to Melbourne. I was like, oh, an awards night, do I really care? I’m nominated, thanks, but I’ve been to these things before, I’m not going to win.
Rialto: So you didn’t prepare a speech?
AD: No speech prepared whatsoever. As it drew closer, something was telling me I might actually win. Which was kind of strange but I’m glad I turned up. I actually almost did not go and that’s no word of a lie. But after the fact I was really, really, super proud. It meant a lot more to me after the fact. I’m actually stoked that I have this award because I won a AACTA Award for Best Actor award for The Slap a few years back, and that meant a lot at the time, it’s a different organisation and it has a different type of credibility and in the industry it used to be seen as a little more important, the more serious awards. I have one of each now so that’s great. I underestimated how much a Logie is actually worth. It’s a great award and I finally got one. I use to say all the time, I’m never going to win, I didn’t think I fitted the mould, which is a stupid way to think.
Rialto: What was it like working with director Kriv Stenders – this being his first television series?
AD: It was great. He’s a really funny guy, we had a good time and the relationship was very easy and he’s obviously super smart. By watching the way he works, you can just tell. I’ve worked with directors like him before but no two people are the same in the way that they work, especially when they’re as experienced as that. He was great, always charging forward and kind of crazy and it worked. All the kids loved him and it was a real family affair.
I was a little apprehensive actually when I first went in. I thought, how am I going to handle all these teenage guys? I just imagined all of them to be like me – like, how am I going to be dealing with 50 younger versions of myself? What a nightmare! But they were all very sweet and very patient and respectful and just grateful to be there. They were an awesome bunch, and Kriv was like the funny uncle. He was great with them and they loved him and it was a good experience.
Rialto: Rialto Channel screens the series Rectify as well, but it’s nice to see Aden Young back in an Aussie production – had the two of you worked together before?
AD: Funnily enough we haven’t. He was one of the first actors after starting off, apart from the people in the first ever production I did, on a social level he was one of the first I ever met. He used to be with Claudia Karvan [his The Heartbreak Kid co-star] back in the day. In the early 90’s they were a young, hot film pair. He’s quite intimidating and he hasn’t changed a single bit, he’s definitely an interesting character who is on another level; an individual. But it was great to finally do something. I hadn’t seen him in a very, very long time so I didn’t know what to expect, no, I did know what to expect… he hasn’t changed one single bit and it was a good dynamic between those two characters. I think it worked out well.
Rialto: How did you prepare for the role?
AD: It’s hard for me to say because you’re unconsciously preparing without even knowing it. I was non-stop thinking about this guy, where he’s coming from, where he’s going. Going on the journey and immersing yourself in it and thinking about that all the time. In terms of actual preparation, I took a visit down to the school where we actually shot, and hung out with the Principal for a day, and just followed him, basically shadowing his movements around the place. Witnessing his interaction with the kids up close and from afar as well, I was a bit of a spy that day. He was really lovely and helpful, and I kind of took a few character cues from him; the way he talks and walks in a particular way kind of stuck with me, I liked it and felt comfortable with it.
That was really beneficial because that’s always a thing, you’re trying to play the truth of the story as much as possible, but little character things like that - there’s always a risk it’s going to seem unacceptable or tacky, or like how much do I do, or how little do I do, so that was a nice additional angle to bring to it. And you know Kriv and I spoke a lot before the production rehearsals and had fun piecing it all together. It’s hard to talk about actually things. Every night you go to bed and that’s what’s on your mind – knowing or unknowingly. Once you’ve got your head around the scripts, it’s part of you, in your blood.
Rialto: You’ve been acting now for over 20 years – are you still learning?
AD: Absolutely. That’s one of the great parts of this job – you never stop because humans are an interesting bunch, and artists are always serving up new and interesting different stories, so there’s inspiration to be found everywhere. I think it’s just never-ending and you yield to it with age, types of parts reach and find you and it’s an awesome job. I can do this forever. God willing! If I stay healthy and don’t go completely nuts.
Rialto: TV drama globally is in really good state – what’s it like in Australia at the moment?
AD: Pretty good. The job I just finished in Melbourne called Seven Types of Ambiguity is I think possibly one of the strongest things I have been involved with. Which is a big call, but we will wait and see when it comes out. It just felt really right and the talent involved is really super strong, so definitely in a healthy state at least from that point of view. Television is the place - it’s the format.
Rialto: If you could walk onto a film set with one Aussie actor tomorrow – who would it be?
AD: Probably Ben Mendelsohn. He’s just won an Emmy overnight. I’ve known Ben for long time, we’re not mates or anything but I’ve always liked him and always been a fan of his work and as a person as well. He’s a very lovable character and he’s been quite troubled over the years as we all have, it’s never just roses, and so it’s great to see him getting there. Was it about 5 or 6 years ago he did The Place Beyond the Pines with Ryan Gosling, and since then we’ve seen him go in leaps and bounds. It would be great to work together.
Make sure you catch The Principal, Tuesday 4th October at 8.30pm.