Damien Richardson reveals the stories behind some of his favourites
There have been times when the uncertainty of an actor’s career has made Damien Richardson want to quit and do something else.
“But whenever I have decided, ‘That’s it, I’m done, I can’t live like this anymore’, someone knocks on the door and offers me an acting job. So, I keep getting invited back into the fray and that’s kept me in there, for better or worse,” he said.
On the face of it, Richardson’s acting resume looks full. Since graduating from the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA), he’s been a familiar face on Australian screens, with roles in TV movies and series including City Homicide, Blue Heelers, Wentworth and Jack Irish and films such as Rogue and The Hard Word, to name but a few.
But the 50-year-old is refreshingly honest about the realities that most Australian actors face.
“For about three years, I was the voice of Mitre 10 and I got more money out of that gig than I did out of my acting, in that time. I also did a night tour at the Old Melbourne Gaol for a long time, which was another way to (make ends meet). I quite enjoyed it. I was in front of an audience and I added in my own one-liners,” he said.
Little wonder then that the father-of-three (Richardson shares daughters Maisie, 14, Lottie, 10, and son, Albert, 13, with his ex-wife) enjoys playing Gary Canning on Neighbours (6.30pm, weeknights, 10 Peach), a role he’s had since 2014.
“Neighbours has been really wonderful. I love the camaraderie of the work environment,” he said. “You really appreciate it because it can be a long day at home when you aren’t working. People think how good it would be not to have to do anything, but it’s horrible.”
Richardson described Gary as a bit of a “loveable loser” who was really fun to play.
“My character on City Homicide (Matt Ryan) was more dour and serious, which was a challenge and interesting but certainly not where I would sit normally as a person.
“Whereas, I’m a suburban boy from Adelaide, so it’s fun to access the part of me that is Gary.”
Typical Saturday morning
It depends whether I have my children with me or not. All three of them have basketball games to get to, and I’m also the coach of my son’s team. I also have to try to fit in my son’s taekwondo. Depending on the times and locations of the games, I may have to get my mum involved to help me out.
I quite like a teriyaki chicken sushi roll. They are cheap and fill you up and are great for the
kids as well.
My daughters are vegetarian and I cook a lot of pasta; so much so that my eldest always asks why we eat so much Italian food. I also do a good vegetarian roast. But if I was cooking just for me or perhaps Bert as well, I’ll make steaks with roast potatoes and salad. I was also vegetarian for 10 years because my ex-partner is vegetarian and it was just easier not to have to cook different meals. But I’m enjoying eating meat again.
On my bedside table
Right now, there’s a cup of tea and my new reading glasses. I’ve also got some books: John Milton’s Paradise Lost, A Murky Business by Honore de Balzac and a biography of Napoleon, who I’ve always been fascinated with.
I’ve got a fairly long drive to work on Neighbours and recently I’ve been listening to a lot of Metallica, which I’m really enjoying. I also like Beethoven. And a couple of months ago, I was obsessed with Shostakovich’s String Quartets.
Secret domestic skill
There is something about the whole cycle of washing that I like. Putting the dirty clothes into the washing machine, hanging them out, waiting for them to dry, then folding them and putting them away.
My favourite things
This was a house-warming gift from my Neighbours colleague Colette Mann, who plays my mum, Sheila. She came over for lunch and I made her a variation of my signature dish: steaks, chips and salad, plus a trifle for dessert. The reason the orchid looks so healthy is because I’m not allowed to touch it. I am the odd one out in a family of green thumbs so when my mum spotted it, she told me to leave it alone because I would kill it. So, Mum keeps it alive for me. My mum lives nearby and often helps me out and collects the kids if it’s my time with them but I am still on set. I couldn’t do it, otherwise.
My (maternal) grandfather, Robert, fought in World War II. He was a Rat of Tobruk (in Libya) and this is the diary that he kept during that time. It’s pretty day-to-day stuff and certainly not a detailed account (of what happened). He finished school in year 7 and wasn’t a very good writer as he’d taught himself to read and write, to some extent. I had a fractured relationship with my father, as my parents divorced when I was young and I went to live with Mum, but I had a strong relationship with my grandfather. Because he’d left school at a young age, he was very keen that I got a good education because he believed I would be better placed in life. He was very proud of the fact that I went to university because nobody from my family had been to university at that point.
These are my new reading glasses. I’d been struggling to read small print for a while, but, maybe because of denial or just sheer lethargy, I just soldiered on and it took me about 18 months to get myself to the optometrist. I don’t know what this says about the human psyche but, even when I was doing the test, when I got some of the letters right, I told myself that he was going to tell me my eyes were fine, even though I knew that wasn’t the case. I don’t mind the glasses. You do feel a bit more intelligent wearing them. But I keep forgetting them when I need them.
Growing up, I didn’t see a lot of my paternal grandparents, Beatrice and Dennis, as they lived over the other side of town (in Adelaide). But when we did visit, I always remember seeing this blue ceramic rabbit that sat in a glass china cabinet in the corner of the lounge room. They actually had two lounge rooms: one that had the TV in it and then another, which was reserved for receiving visitors. So, we’d have tea and sandwiches in that room, which smelt a bit musty because it wasn’t used very much, and that blue rabbit would be staring at me. After Beatrice passed away, at the hearty age of 94, I ended up with the rabbit. I appreciate the link to my childhood.
Cordial and Coochie are soft toys that I had as a child. They’ve been patched up a bit since then and both have acquired clothes. They live in my youngest daughter’s room. I think my children like that they used to belong to me. When their mother and I split, my kids would come and stay with me and my girls (initially) shared a room. They’d often ask me to tell them a story and I would make up tales about all the things that Cordial and Coochie used to get up to, which they loved.
I’d had my previous laptop for 10 years as I don’t really like spending a lot of money on things for myself. But then it started making noises every time I turned it on, so I thought I’d better get a new one before I lost everything. I do a lot of writing on the MacBook. I write scripts and also had an article published for (the Australian literary and cultural journal) Quadrant, which I was pleased about. I like the writing process, although I sometimes find it painful. There’s something really satisfying about putting it all in place. In 2013, I wrote a play called LockUp, which I ended up taking to the Adelaide Fringe. It was a complete exercise in megalomania as I also cast everyone in it and directed it. Despite making hardly any money out of it, it was the most enjoyable experience. I am definitely going to do that again.