Photos of Conan in Movies

How I Started As An Actor In Movies

Wednesday, 16 August 2006

I started acting at the age of 6 when I played one of the three wise men in a school held Christmas play - much to my mother's chagrin I did not follow through with the wise man career path - in fact many would say I took the exact opposite route.

Here is how I started working as an actor in movies... 

When I was a kid I never thought I would be an actor, even as a teenager I dreamed of being an actor but never really made any effort besides the basics to make it (there was no acting scene in my hometown). 

I grew up in and around Newcastle, Australia, and the Australian way of life has left its mark. With a love of the beach and the outdoors, a happy go lucky attitude and an undying love of the outdoor barbecue, and an undying wariness of spiders, snakes and pretty much anything else that moves.

Newcastle Beach

Newcastle Beach where I (mis)spent my teenage years 

High school (age 16) saw my first introduction to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bodybuilding. The day my mates and I first saw Arnold acting in "Conan The Destroyer" I declared that one day I want to look like that, and so our quest began.

3 months of gym training and eating a more controlled diet (and giving up long distance running as a sport) I managed to put on 20kgs (44lbs) of mass and more than tripled many of the weights I had started out pushing, I was a bodybuilder, though I felt too ashamed of my physique to openly call myself that, I was still far too shy to even wear a singlet (tank top).

It was at this time a group of my mates decided that they were going to become professional bodybuilders and they dared me to tell my mother the same thing. I hesitated, only because I knew most of the pro-bodybuilders were short, then I declared that I was going to be the next Hulk Hogan and become a Professional Wrestler. My mum was not impressed, she already disliked the gym intensely (lucky I never told her that I was going to be an unemployed actor).

Leaving school I entered University, where I discovered girls and beer! Fast forward to 18 months later. I was very popular on campus, everyone knew me (with attitudes varying widely), I had attended almost every party within a 50km radius, held the drinking record and was the Vice President of the Engineering Fraternity (even though I was 'studying' Economics). This is where I had my first introduction to advertising and marketing and to public speaking which is always a good skill for an anyone, but especially an actor, to have.

As part of my duties as the "President of Vice" for the Frat, membership numbers swelled from just under 200 to over 650 in those 18 months, though I claim no brilliance in my marketing strategies except that I let everyone know that you could get as much beer as you could drink for $2 just by joining up - an easy sell to students really.

At Uni I also joined the Army Reserve for the University of Newcastle Company, my motivation was twofold, I believed that everyone should do some form of National Service and I thought that one day it would be very helpful if I knew how to handle weapons professionally asd it would show on screen. Along these same lines as "The Frat" I was also the top recruiter for my time with U.N. Company. Here we learned how to fight with and maintain weapons from the bayonet to the 84mm Carl Gustaf RPG (anti-tank rocket), including rifles, machine guns, bayonets, explosives and everything in between.

Though I had no idea how I was ever going to get into movies at that stage, I knew that these were skills I would need in action movies. In fact I still had no idea how to become an actor except to chose opportunities as they presented and keep my focus on the long term goal.

I saw another opportunity and took Drama I as one of the three outside subjects that we were allowed to take as part of my economics degree. I attended class which was practical but the theory lessons I went about 1 time in 5 and it was always the same rubbish - ancient Asian drama from before Christ, I could not see the relevance and it seemed to me to be a bunch of wacked out hippy types who were waving their arms in the air saying "I'm a tree, I'm a tree". It seemed particularly ridiculous at the time deciphering the meanings of these ancient Chinese plays when no one in the class had any experience with Asian culture.

Not to mention that modern acting skills were non-existant in the re-enactments of 2000+ year old plays. In short I was not impressed or interested, this is not what I thought acting was about. Everything we were doing was impractical - I do not think any full time actors had come out of that facilty. 

 2015 UPDATE: As a side note I also took Law as one of my 'outside' subjects as I knew I'd like to be able to read and understand contracts later in life - this has proven very useful as I have progressed in my career working as my own agent and managing my career myself. TIP: ALWAYS read and understand ANYTHING before you sign it, if you do not understand get professional advice before you put pen to paper - it'll save you and Producers a lot of headaches later.

I left Uni after 2 years as I realised that I most definitely did not want to spend my days seated behind a desk in an air conditioned office wondering if this is all there was to life. So I got a job as security guard and worked some of the more entertaining parts of town. It was a lot of fun back then as people did not stab or shoot each other unless you did something really wrong, unlike the all to common wanna-be gangsters running around these days.

After University I was approached by comedian and local identity - Super Hubert. At the time he had his own children's show on TV. He approached me to do a charity stage show to raise funds for the cancer patients wing of the new hospital. The show was a success financially though numbers at the live show were not as high as hoped, the resultant news stories brought in more donations. That was my first acting gig and I was very happy being a part of such a successful show.

After this time I registered with the local acting/modeling/talent agencies in Newcastle but over the next year I was never contacted and neither was anyone else I knew. All the work was done in Sydney, the state capital, only 160km (100 miles) away.

Next year I was called up by my friends mother asking if I would like to act in a stage show for a comedy act from England. They wanted two bodybuilders. I asked why her boys were not interested, twin Mr. Australia's.

Mrs Wingett "There is a catch and the boys won't do it"
Conan: "What's the catch?"
Mrs Wingett "It's Julian Cleary's show and he is gay and it is a gay show"
Conan "And?"
Mrs Wingett  "The boys don't want to be in a gay show, they worry what other people will think, will you do it?"
Conan "No problem, I'll give Stuart a call too, I am sure he doesn't care either"

And so I was to appear with Julian Cleary on his "Sticky Members Tour"


Backstage with Julian Cleary the "boys" 

That was the entire extent of the acting scene in Newcastle besides the amateur theater run on a regular basis, though as a young man the prospect of acting for free did not gel with me, considering I could go to work instead, and get paid to go to the most popular nightspots with all the benefits of being an employee.

I got my first real taste of stardom after the Julian Cleary show as many people recognised me from acting (well extra-ing) in the Julian Cleary show. I had girls approach me out of the blue, people I did not know congratulating or thanking me... wow, I could handle more of this. 2015 UPDATE: lol again, fame is the bane of every successful actor's life.

I had a flatmate move into my house a about a year after this - he had a strange hobby that got me hooked instantly. He would dress in medieval armour and hit his friends with big weighted sticks - "swords" as he called them.... welcome to the Society Of Creative Anachronisms (SCA).

I immediately joined and went about learning to hammer out my own armour, to knit chain mail links from fencing wire and to sow thick padded woolen armour with industrial sowing machines. AND THEN I got to hit my new friends with big authentically weighted rattan sticks and laugh about the heavy bruising afterwards.

Here I learnt to fight with sword, mace, axe and shield. My character for the SCA was a Viking type warrior with appropriate armour and clothing, not to mention size and strength.

As part of the fun everyone had a character though in truth nobody acted their character until later in the night when you'd end up with a bunch of big hairy guys swaggering around talking about chopping people up and launching invasions.  


If you can't beat them, run then over 

"Hey man, have you heard Pizza Hut has a competition on for a new TV show called Gladiators. They are looking for big guys to act in it, I reckon you could get on it"..... "WHAT?" Off to Pizza Hut we race, grab the entry form fill it out on the spot and express post, Guaranteed Next Day delivery of the form as tomorrow was the cut off day for applications.

I made it to the Gladiator TV show auditions, I was interviewed by Australia's biggest newspaper - The Sun Herald. Myself and the current Playboy centerfold posed for a photo that headlined a nice large article.

At the auditions there was an aggression test with padded staff's and American Football protection, including helmets. The test just before me one girl smacked another in the face and stopped "oh my God, sorry, are you alright?" I watched the assessor place a big red cross through her name and call "Next!". I was not going to make the same mistake.

Staff fighting at the audition. Me trained in medieval weaponry, my opponent another big guy trying out with no weapon experience. I let him strike first, I block and flicked his staff downwards, at the same time bringing the other end of the staff down heavily on his helmeted head. Bang he's stunned, a quick rowing motion, and I bring the other end of the staff down on his head... BANG.... a second heavy blow.... he staggers, tilts back just keeping his balance, continuing the rowing motion I bring the first end of the staff around to bear down again, luckily for him as he staggered backwards he instinctively raised the staff and was able to deflect most of the third blow and avoid being driven into the ground.

"STOP!" yelled the assessor "You win".

Now my chance to act - I threw my head back raised the staff over my head and roared as loud as I could "NEXT!" then glanced around menacingly at the other applicants - no one stepped forward. I pulled off the helmet laughed and went to check if my opponent was OK - he was.

They judged me too dangerous for the show. WTF?. They wanted a show and they got one. With my experience I knew how hard I could hit him and hit him hard enough to get the job done but not hard enough to injure him. I was disappointed, that was my first chance at a professional acting role and a chance to get out of Newcastle and now it was blown because some unqualified people were judging the acting. 

Over the next several years, no acting work was available and nothing came up. My friend Steve moved to Sydney and every week he would call me up. Come down and visit - No. Next week come down and visit - No. Next week come down and visit - No. For about 8 weeks, finally I said if I come down will you stop bugging me - Yes. Ok I'll come down this weekend.

I drive to Sydney in my Kingswood for a Sunday night out at Coogee Bay Hotel. I was talking to one of the doormen who was 6'6" and also a bodybuilder, he was a nice guy and ended up being a friend for years. After a few drinks he comes up to me and says there is a guy here who wants to meet you, he is famous, and he is a nice guy.

So it was that I met Graeme Murphy, world famous choreographer and Director of the Sydney Dance Company. We had a chat over a drink then he proposes that I try out for his next Ballet show, it is going to be dark and evil and he has a character in mind of this giant wading through a sea of corpses in WWII Germany. I give him my phone number and ask him to call me if he is serious.

To my surprise a couple of days later he calls up and we organise an audition. A week later I drive to Sydney for a tryout and to everyone's satisfaction - I pass.


Sydney Dance Company Poster for "Berlin" 

Two months later I am living in Sydney working in Australia's most prestigious dance company as a professional actor! You know what, even though before that my dance experience was rather limited I never once doubted that I would pass the choreography audition.


Onstage with Sydney Dance Company 

At the same time that I was acting in Berlin I was contacted by Andy "Animal" Harpas, the only active professional wrestling trainer at that time. Under Animal Harpas' tutelage we went on to win the Australian Tag Team Championship and my wrestling career was launched.


Tag Team Champions Aussie Giant & Animal Harpas

With three months of training and preparation for the show "Berlin" the launch practically coincided with my Tag Team Title. This was then used as the story in the media, Professional Wrestler debuts with Sydney Dance Company.

I did an interview with national radio, I was in all the newspapers, Who Magazine did a full page article on me, Drum Media put me on the front cover and had a massive two page article, I was invited to grand openings, people recognised me in the street, and the show had 3 hit singles from the music score, plus the album went platinum (in Australia and Germany) - you'd hear the music everywhere. As you can guess the show was a huge success, we toured Australia and New Zealand, and did 7 full seasons at the Sydney Opera House.

Man, this was the dream - a successful actor and pro-wrestler.


Sydney Opera House & Sydney Harbour Bridge 

During this time I was contacted and then contracted to act in my first TV commercial (TVC) - my first paid film work. The TVC was for Arnotts Biscuit's TV Snacks. I called my wrestling arch nemesis Marc Mercedes and brought him in to wrestle with me on the TVC, things went badly in the first 30 seconds I received a heavy blow to the jaw stunning me, I was blinded and staggering. I held it together and the director did not even notice. I shot the the most televised bit in the next 15 minutes where I could barely see 3 feet in front of me - and it hurt.

I got to act in the role of a wrestler, so to be truthful it was not really acting, though technically it is character acting. 

A wrestling friend introduced me to a couple of the old time (1960's to 70's) wrestlers whom I started to meet for lunch once a week. Wrestling legend Larry O'Day proposed to me that I travel with him on the next wrestling tour of the South Pacific Island of Fiji, the money on offer was good and at the time Fiji was a popular holiday destination for Australians.

A month before we were scheduled to do the wrestling tour a civil war broke out and people over there were chopping each other up with machetes and spearing each other in the streets. End of tour. Shortly after Larry passed away.

Len Holt, nephew to the Ex-Prime Minister Harold Holt, then told me about his old contact in Thailand. They used to wrestle there with WCW and wrestling was enormously popular (still is), his old contact was now the CEO of one of the TV stations - he faxed him and told him a date we organised for me to go over and meet. This was to be my first trip out of Australia.

To cut the story short the fax never left his the secretary's desk and the CEO had no idea who I was or why I was there. He also did not have the imagination (to put it politely) to see a use for me on his TV station - even though I could not walk in the street without a huge crowd gathering. At this time there were not many foreigners in Thailand. Khao San Road was a small collection of wooden hotels with dirt streets leading off the main short street. Police with M16 rifles openly strutted around the police station at the end of the road. It was on this trip that I developed a taste for travel and for Thai food. Never one to waste an opportunity since the acting / wrestling plan had gone awry and I had 10 days left I spent the time in Wat Po - a buddhist temple learning Traditional Thai massage, a skill that has served me time and again.

After acting / dancing with the Sydney Dance Company I got a job as a Broadband Internet Helpdesk Operator, as my flatemate at the time was third in charge at the major ISP I knew more than the guys interviewing me so it was not too hard. This was my first and last foray into the corporate world.

For the first time in my life I got a regular paycheck, the same amount every week, if I was sick I still got paid and I had holidays accumulating, I also achieved my objectives and received not only 2 pay raises in 3 months but also recieved performance bonuses on my 2nd and 3rd month and the money was actually pretty good. Many of the guys were hired away from this firm into much better positions with appropriate wage increases on a regular basis. I got myself on nightshift and worked my own computer consulting business in the daytime and did nightclub security fri/sat nights and wrestled on weekends. Things were sweet, though it did not last too long.

I had been there 3 1/2 months when I was called from an acting agent for some current photos - I sent some in and recieved a call back. "We have a client in Delhi, India who wants you to fly over and act in a TVC for Mirinda Softdrink, it's owned by Pepsi". I told my boss I was taking a week off to go to India to act in a TV commercial, she was angry and told me that I would loose my job if I did.

That was a risk I chose to take. I called in 'sick' from India, though I am pretty sure the International long distance beeps and the dodgy telephone line gave the game away instantly.

I chose to increase my acting portfolio and went to India for 4 days, and when I came I was surprisingly fired even though I was the top performng agent.

End of corporate career. No matter, Colum O'Murchu contact me through a friend to ask if I would like to act in his film festival short  movie,  playing the part of skinhead leader at an illegal gun buying "tupperware style" party. It was fun and my first time shooting an actual movie, though it was very informal as everyone knew each other and not like other sets I have since worked on.

I had continued my professional wrestling, doing shows at various venues generally every weekend at this stage, sometimes 3 wrestling shows in a weekend which was very exciting for us at the time. Wrestling was becoming popular again. I got myself on TV I think it was 4 times on National and a couple of (two) times on regional TV. The shows were doing well and some shows drew in 3000-3500 people.


A popular wrestling champion 

Over the  years in wrestling there were several times that talent scouts from Japan would come to the shows and watch us, discussions where made that I was never privy to (I have since learned to do all my own negotiations) and nothing ever came of it. I think it was 3 times in total that we met guys from Japan.TIP: Never let anyone speak for you without knowing what the offer is.

After these disappointments I took matters into my own hands and mailed off some wrestling demo tapes and bodybuilding style photos with an introduction letter and contact details to both the WWF and the WCW in America. I never heard back from either of them. So I did what any other stubborn bastard would do - I booked a flight and went knocking on doors.

The front receptionist at WWF in Conneticut was arrogant, but not as arrogant as the young 7ft Thunder and to be sure I blew my best opportunity. Upon reflection I learnt from this.

So I flew to Atlanta, Georgia to see Ted Turner's WCW. Where is WCW? No one knew. I asked everyone, no one knew. I was in Atlanta, Georgia same as WCW, everyone knew they were around as they would see the wrestlers occasionally. After 5 hours of asking everyone from police to information to the telephone operator, hotel staff, people in the street, anyone, I turned to that age old source of all information on local happening s - the taxi drivers, 3rd driver I asked knew. He drove me there. An old unmarked apparently disused carpet factory in the middle of nowhere. Fully secured and a mirror tint on the windows. The taxi dropped me off and I went to the front door, pressed the buzzer and waited.

A security guard answered, I told him my story "I am a wrestler from Australia, I have reached the top of the ladder there so I have come here to ask for a chance to train and show you what I can do." A couple of minutes later I am let in and showed around, then driven over to the training center to meet the head wrestling trainer the famous wrestling chjampion - "Mr Wonderful" Paul Orndorf .

Paul Orndorf was a great guy, very down to earth, straight up no BS, and a very powerful presence. I met him again twice more much later and I can say I have a great deal of respect for this man. Also if you get the chance he has some great stories from the his wrestling career days with old ladies pulling cut throat razors on him as he beat her favourite wrestler and some others too. 

To cut the story short I caused quite a stir turning up like that, but in the end it was decided that they were not taking any more guys on until they moved the training center which was scheduled to happen in 3 months, then the plan was for me to come back and train with Paul's own son. I returned to Australia and hit the gym hard and get as big as possible before returning. I was offerd financial elp from someon I trusted, this never eventuated and I was disappointed in this - Don't count others for anything, plan on doing everything yourself and if help comes welcome it but plan on doing it yourself.

If your plans rely on others then your plans can be put on hold by someone else. Be responsible for the control of your life. This is something I see many younger people doing again and again, don't make the same mistake I made. 

9 months later I had not heard back from WCW, I had sent letters, more wrestling tapes and I had called and left messages (you could not get hold of a live person). I had not been idle though, I had managed to pack on more muscle and lost fat in that time, I was now officially huge. I booked another flight.

Just before the flight TNT asked if I would like to do a quick wrestling tour of Australia. I did and this is when I recieved my nerve damage.

Regardless of the injury I pushed ahead and flew to Atlanta for my second visit. Paul Orndorf was still head wrestling trainer and he filled me in on what was happening - at that point he could not even get his own son a spot to train. WCW was in a mess, front office was being sacked every 4 weeks, ratings were down and it was loosing money. Ted Turner had done the unthinkable, he had put his baby up for sale. I met Ross Perot there one day during the 'rumoured' negotiations he was conducting. 4 weeks after I left WCW was sold for a song to WWF and WWE was born.

For the next 4 years I did not have an acting agent, I did not go to any castings and I did not do any acting work, I still wrestled occasionally after a 2 year lay off. The acting agents I had previously had forgotten me (as I wasn't active) so that when they shot Star Wars and were looking for a bunch of Wookies 6'6"+ that no one called me and they ended up bringing in a bunch of guys from America at massive cost. I should have remained at least a little bit active.

 Due to the physically incapacitation from the nerve damage I opened a computer business and ran that.

Then one day I got a call from nowhere from an acting agent that I hadn't spoken to in 5 years, I went in for a acting casting and got a TVC for a mutual fund for the US market (cannot remember the name now), some of the guys I worked with put me onto their agent. I called her up and met with her and after a discussion joined her new agency.

Next week I got a TVC audition for Telstra Bigpond (the same company I had worked help desk for in my corporate job) and scored a part, while we were onset shooting the TVC she called me and said how would you like to play Title Role in a major US production? They are looking for "a muscular male, minumum height 6'4" preferrable height 6'8"+ has to be fit and professionally dance trained" I told her to call them and hold my part for me. She asked what professional dance training do you have? I jokingly replied Q-bar 2am sunday morning boop boop boo... She wasn't impressed. Then I reminded her of my work with Sydney Dance Company.... now she was impressed.

I auditioned and got the part of Manthing.

Manthing On Set

Man-thing behind the scenes 

After that I was to be on a TVC for a large UK Magazine but the director quit 1/2 way through as the people from the magazine were difficult, they were sending all over the world to try to get these 'special shoes' that would be worn in a dark nightclub by the main character and no one would notice them anyway. Due to many demands like this the budget went way over , timings went way over and the director was getting flak for doing so. So he did what any reasonable man would do - he fired his client.

Then came the Retravision TVC and print campaign that I acted as a delivery man, I have no idea why they chose me in this role but I was happy for the work.

Retravision Instore Poster

A year goes by and still no work. 12months later exactly Retravision call me up - we want to run the ad again, is that alright with you? Yes of course, I replied. This meant that I would get paid 1/2 the original contract money again and all I had to do was sign a new 12 month contract. Perfect.

This is when circumstances arrange so I received my pay two days before I left Australia and moved to Thailand to act in the Powerkids movie for Baa Ram Ewe and so my Asian acting career started...

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