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The Australian actor on his role in the TV adaptation of Christos Tsiolkas' The Slap, his parenting responsibilities, changing his accent for US audiences and why is no longer second to god.

What was it like working on Australian production The Slap?
We shot in January and finished in April, which was incredibly fast – Australian budgets are a quarter of US ones, so you are scrambling every day. It was fast and furious, but that brings energy which translates to the screen.

Are there any similarities between you and your character Hector?
He’s going through that classic 40-year-old mid-life crisis, which is something that I identify with, much to my girlfriend’s disappointment.

Is it difficult playing a horrible character and making him likeable?
It is tricky. Christos’s [Tsiolkas – author of The Slap] writing is unapologetic in its presentation of the characters. Often, people want TV shows to run for several years, so they want the characters to be likeable, but I didn’t feel that pressure here. And Hector is likeable … he just does shitty things. Everyone does, but that is life.

In the series, the character Harry slaps another man’s child – what are your thoughts on this?
I have a seven-year-old daughter and there is no way I could ever consider striking her over any issue – that is not my parenting stance. So I am on the other side to my character Hector: I don’t think it is right. But, the way the story is told, I can see why people empathise with Harry to a degree. The way it is set up; it’s a knee-jerk reaction when he was trying to protect his own kid – I get that on some level.

Is it true that you had to work with an Australian dialect coach on this series?
It is true. I came to the US in ‘94 and it wasn’t beneficial to be Australian then, not like now, where it is all the rage. I would go to auditions and walk in with my Australian accent and then do the audition in American, but they would always go, “That’s good but I can still hear the Aussie accent”. One piece of advice my brother [actor Anthony LaPaglia] gave me was to go in and do the American from the start and when I started doing that I never had that problem again. It was hard to flit between the two accents, though, so I decided to converse every day in American and everything got switched over. But then I had the reverse problem on
this project.

Do you ever consider moving back to Australia?
Sometimes. I miss the beach culture and the cities and the attitude towards life. Australians work to live, whereas in the States people live to work.

You started out on a different career trajectory …
I used to be a doctor. I graduated in Adelaide and then I travelled for a bit and then moved to Sydney. I had thought about acting since halfway through my medical studies, but kept putting it off. I guess fear was a part of it – what if I failed at it, or worse, I really got into it and loved it? What was I going to do with medicine? I started taking acting classes at night in Sydney and did that for a couple of years. Then I got this crazy notion that I should study it full time. Within a couple of weeks, I had quit my job and moved to New York. I got my first professional gig on a TV show and it has been rolling since then.

Why did medicine lose your interest?
I graduated high school at 17 but I didn’t know what I wanted to do. How can you expect a 17-year-old to know that? They don’t know their arse from their elbow! I had enrolled in fine arts, I wanted to be a painter or a drawer, but I changed my mind after two weeks. I had a load of buddies going into medicine and I wanted to go to university so I ticked the medicine box. It was that arbitrary, it wasn’t a passion of mine.

Were your family supportive?
Are you kidding me? In my parents world if you are a doctor, you are second to god, so to turn your back on that …! To this day, they still hope I will get over this ‘phase’ and go back to it. My father still introduces me as a doctor. But my brother understood though, because he was a school teacher before he became an actor. We both transitioned late in life.

Does your medical background help or hinder your acting career?
Five years ago, my people were trying to get me in a medical pilot and they got a lot of responses from the casting people saying, “We just don’t believe that he would be a doctor.” And my people were like: “But he is a doctor!” And then they said I “just don’t look like one”. What does a doctor look like?

 The Slap is out on DVD on Jan 2 through Revolver Entertainment












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Interview: Jonathan LaPaglia on parenting, being a doctor and changing his accent
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