Actor David Wenham has the knack of inhabiting a huge range of different personas.
Despite becoming famous for his enigmatic and charismatic character Diver Dan in the iconic 1998 Australian series SeaChange, David has managed to avoid being typecast.
In 1999 he played Father Damien in Molokai, based on the true story of the priest whose life’s work became ministering to leprosy suffers on that remote Hawaiian Island, eventually contracting the disease himself.
In the 2003 film Getting’ Square, David became Junkie Johnny, with a greasy mullet hairstyle and cold sore on his lip.
But he acknowledges that it was SeaChange that catapulted him to fame.
‘Things changed when SeaChange went to air—suddenly I was presented with a profile,’ the laidback actor told Sunday Style.
Wenham soon made good use of his ‘celebrity’, agreeing to become an ambassador for Sydney’s Wayside Chapel in King’s Cross.
‘I thought it was a perfect way to bring some profile to a place that achieves minor miracles daily,’ he said.
Growing up as the youngest of seven in a big Catholic family, David was educated by the Christian Brothers, an upbringing that gave him an interest in theatre.
‘There’s no history of performance in my family, but growing up Catholic with the rituals within the church possibly nourished a theatrical interest in me. Being the last child with a Catholic upbringing isn’t something unusual in this business,’ he told The Age.
David recalls his own upbringing as extremely happy, and has never needed acting as an escape from reality. His motivation comes from a different place.
‘From a young age, I loved being told stories and I love the opportunity to tell stories. In its simplest, basic form, that’s what actors do; they tell stories. The effects can be wide and varied, but that’s essentially what it is. And we happen to play characters within those stories,’ he explained.
While David is one of the most recognisable Australian actors on our screens, his appeal has spread far beyond our shores, with roles in the films Moulin Rouge and two Lord of the Rings films, The Two Towers and The Return of the King, in which he played Farimir.
David enjoyed acclaim for his role as New Zealand detective Al Parker in the dark BBC television series Top of the Lake and he is currently filming the next Pirates of the Caribbean film, Dead Men Tell No Tales.
Away from the camera he has two daughters, Eliza Jane and Millie, with long-term partner, actor Kate Agnew, and is also a dedicated AFL Sydney Swans fan. But perhaps if the young David had been a model student, we wouldn’t be having the pleasure of seeing him on our screens.
‘I was 11 when a teacher suggested to my parents that they should send me to drama classes to curb my disruptive ways in the classroom!’
And for that, we give thanks.
David Wenham stars in this week’s feature film preview Lion.