Antony Starr on why he left NZ
Middle America can be a dangerous place for a lone Kiwi, especially when he's pretending to be a bad, bad man.
Antony Starr might call Charlotte, North Carolina, real "apple pie" country, but within hours of filming for his new US television series Banshee kicking off, he had a stitched-up lip after coming off second best to a cast mate's head. And that was just the start of it.
"It was crazy. By the end of the pilot [episode], I had torn hamstrings, a shattered elbow, I still had the stitches there and everything was just sore."
But that is the price you pay for the chance of a lifetime.
Banshee is without a doubt Starr's breakout role - for American audiences, anyway. The brooding series is driven by Greg Yaitanes, the creator of television show House, and Alan Ball, the man behind game-changers Six Feet Under and True Blood.
With a track record like that, it's fair to say the chances of this HBO/Cinemax drama being a winner are pretty high.
"He's a bit of a force, is Mr Ball. So as soon as you see his name involved, you know that, one, there's going to be a lot of interest in whatever it is, and two, it's probably going to be reasonable quality, do you know what I mean? He's got a very, very good track record, let's face it. It's the kind of track record we all want," said Starr.
Set in a small town in Pennsylvania Amish country, the Kiwi plays Lucas Hood, an ex-con who poses as a murdered sheriff, stirring up as much trouble as he is "employed" to settle.
In true Alan Ball style, there's more darkness than light relief. Starr spends most of the time either frowning, fornicating or fighting - sometimes all at once - as a guy with "a bit of a chip on his shoulder".
But it's an angst borne of love, and lost love at that.
"I wouldn't go as far to say ‘the guy who does the wrong things for the right reasons' because it's not that, it's a little bit more complicated than that. He's definitely someone who, at the base of it all, is a good man gone wrong. And gone very wrong.
"It's good to see someone that is passionate about his ex-lover and also passionate about stomping someone's head open. He's a passionate chap."
All this is a long way from Westie Central and those West twins, dopey Van and razor-sharp Jethro that Starr spent five years playing in Outrageous Fortune.
But after time was called on the juggernaut television series in 2010, the Auckland actor fell into a familiar trap, struggling to find work and beat people's expectations.
"It was pretty barren [after Outrageous Fortune]. You know it's interesting, I had a film and a tele-feature come out in that year, so everybody thought I was really busy. But I was doing nothing - I couldn't get a job here."
Starr turned his attention overseas, securing an agent in the United States, picking up work in Australia and getting some "forward momentum" everywhere other than his homeland.
"That was sort of the life after Outrageous; it was about leaving, really.
"It wasn't 100 per cent by choice, but as much as I say the world will take care of itself, I do have ambition and I don't want to be doing nothing.
"I'm not someone who's going to just wait around for someone to present something to me for free - if it's not happening then I'll go work and work at it."
The plan worked. Not only is Starr the main man in Banshee, but he has just picked up an AACTA Award nomination for his role in hit Aussie flick, Wish You Were Here.
The ultimate end-goal was always the bright lights of America. Or in Starr's case, the slightly dulled flicker of small town North Carolina, where the cast and crew of Banshee - many of them imports, just like Starr - had to bond out of necessity.
"You become each other's support network and friends and family, away from friends and family. So there are a lot of positives to that. In saying that, I was there for seven months and I was pretty glad to get out by the time I did.
"It's different to everywhere - you can steal apple pies off window sills. It's that American, apple pie, middle America."
Starr wasn't always the front runner for the series. He got the role of Hood after the original star didn't work out, prompting the casting director to convince everyone involved to "take a look at this Kiwi".
Next minute, the 37-year-old is front and centre of what is being touted as the next sex and violence-fuelled hit series.
Starr said it would be easy to get overwhelmed, but in reality there isn't much difference between making television in the US and making it in Henderson.
"You do feel that pressure, but it's like anything unknown. As soon as you get in you go ‘oh, this is actually the same thing, it is no different'. It's just different people and there's a little bit more money thrown at it and the scale is a bit bigger, but it's all the same.
"There was no ego, there was no bulls...."
And these days, that's just how the actor likes it - no game playing, no calculations.
"When you get to the end of the day, I think it's all about the people that you work with and the experiences you have had, not whether you are sleeping on a bed of money or you are having photos taken of you, or people know your name in a magazine."
Luckily for this Starr, sometimes that sort of thing just happens.
Banshee, Tuesday, 8.30pm, SoHo
- © Fairfax NZ News
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