Accountant turned rock star turned renowned Australian actor. Frankie J. Holden has coffee with Candice Rose to discuss local fundraising efforts, Melbourne gangsters and his new TV series, ‘The Strip’, which goes to air in September.
>Hi Frankie, you’re in town for two fundraising events. Tell us about them and how they went?
To give you the background, my father Harry is a tenant at St Agnes Village. The people who run St Agnes told me about a project they had running where they are trying to do some work with AIDS sufferers and general health as well, in Papua New Guinea.
I was only too happy when they asked me to help, and so we decided to do two gigs; one a rock and roll concert called ‘At The Hop’ in which I played, backed up by Kenny and the Cohorts, and The Flaming Bullantz, who are two local groups of musos. That was a raging success! We had 400 people or so, and all the funds and proceeds went to the project that the St Agnes foundation are working on.
On the Sunday, my wife Michelle, Kel Pettigrove and I did a cabaret show for the slightly older audience. Again, all the proceeds went to the cause. They raised $30,000 in a short amount of time, which will give them enough funds to invest and train health workers.
They also had a fun-run and a raffle, combined with the concerts – and they made a lot of money. I have had a long history with Port Macquarie, my family living here for 25 years or so.
> What do you think of the area?
I love the area! But I think Port Macquarie faces an interesting time, because I have seen a change, and I don’t know if all of them are great. I am not one that believes in rampant commercial building or making millions. I have seen these high rises on the waterfront go up, and it scares me.
I live in a little town on the south coast that resembles Port Macquarie as it was 25 years ago, and it’s now at that same sort of crossroads where the locals have to decide if they really want to see malls, resorts, etc. Or, do they want to keep it as it is? But in saying that, I still like Port Macquarie; there is a lot to like about it. It’s just going through some changes, and it’s getting very big and very busy.
> The TV series, ‘Underbelly’ finished a few months ago and was a raging success with audiences. What was it like to work on such a real life project?
It was great fun, because I had lived in Melbourne during the 10 years in which Underbelly was set, when it was actually going down. Every day you would get the paper; first of all you would read the sport and then the second thing you would do is turn to page three. And really, every day for a decade, there were stories about these gangsters and what they were getting up to. So when somebody approached me about the TV series, I jumped at it.
Every actor in Australia wanted to be in it – just look at the great cast. There were some great performances in some relatively tiny roles. But everybody was captured by its imagination. It’s not about glorifying what they did, but it became a soap opera.
In the series Carl Williams would ring Derryn Hinch at the radio station, and everybody knew what these characters were like. It was like our own Brad and Angie, if you like. I was really pleased that the show turned out how it did, because it had to be done properly. There was a risk in them doing it, particularly in Victoria, because they had to be faithful to the story.
To give you an example, Vince Colosimo’s character dies after two episodes, and the network read the script and they said, “You can’t have Vince die after two episodes!” But the writers stuck their ground and said, “Well, that’s what happened, and that’s what we are doing.”
I admired that! As a cop I didn’t get to do the bang, bang, shoot ‘em down stuff; I was stuck in the office issuing orders, but it was a great series to be a part of.
> Critics think that Underbelly had the potential to cause negative sensations in states like the ACT, glamourising crime and mafia figures. What are your feelings about this?
Then those critics are supposing that the viewing public are total idiots, which they are not. The public know that these guys are bad people, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t interesting. That’s what we are trying to put across, and that’s what makes great drama – interesting people. And, not to glamourise it, there is a great story behind it which you will see in the prequel, or so I have heard or read in the papers.
The themes are almost Shakespearian or traditional Greek tragedy. You had this ruling upper class led by the Carlton Crew, and then these other blokes who come from Sunshine led by Benji Veniamin, Cark Williams and those guys. Sunshine is the pits, and they are a migrant group who decided they were going to get themselves out of the pits. And really there are two ways: sport and crime.
They chose crime, for whatever reason. Then this Sunshine mob decide to take on these big guys, and you have the women driving them on like Roberta Williams. These themes make Underbelly this great drama. Did you really think they were sensational? Did you want to be Carl Williams? No, you don’t want to emulate their lives. Their lives were s#*t, and they were dead before they were 34. I don’t want to be like them, and I think these critics aren’t giving the audience any credence at all. Those critics! Bring them on!
> You began your show business career with the legendary rock group ‘OL’55’ and have gone on to be recognised as one of our most versatile and popular actors in Australia. What drives your passion for acting and performing?
My super fund. It was my mortgage, but I don’t have one of them anymore. My children are nearly off my hands (laughs). I guess I find being an entertainer interesting. My first career was as a chartered accountant, which is probably not the most interesting job. Then rock and roll came along by accident, and acting followed by accident, and the rest is really a big accident. I didn’t have a plan, but I have always done things that are interesting and fun.
So I have been blessed to have had a career that has been fun and in the process entertain people. And every now and then I get to use that to do some good in the world – like we did on the weekend, so it’s all a win-win situation.
> Your profile has soared since Underbelly. How do you deal with fame and fans? Any funny incidents?
My level of ‘fame’ is, 98 per cent of the time, a blessing. There are some obvious benefits to it. If you ring a hotel and you say it’s Frankie J. Holden, people want to help you, and it’s the same with restaurants and things like that. It’s great, and it’s fun to go somewhere and have people say, “Oh, g’day Frankie!” It’s like being with friends most of the time.
But every now and then, like everybody who is with their family and friends, there is always the weird uncle who hangs around too long. And that’s the same with fame. I don’t find it a hassle, but every now and then, someone will want your attention more than others, when you don’t really want to give your attention. But I have learned to handle that over the years.
I can’t say it’s an affliction, because you enter in this business knowing that is a by-product of the industry. And if you are honest, people will be honest with you. If I have an issue, I just say, “Look, I’m trying to be with my family,” or whatever it is, and generally they back off.
A funny fan incident? Well, you may have heard of Mark Holden – we were both contemporaries back in the 70s, but he was a pop star and I was a rock star (laughs). Anyway, eighteen months ago, I was at the snow and I was standing at the ski lifts. These young girls came up to me and said, “Hi, you’re you, aren’t you? We can see you under your mask!”
I happily obliged and said, “ Yes girls, it’s me.”
“Can we have your autograph? Can we have five each? We sell them at school.”
“That’s pretty good. How much do you sell them for?”
“$1 each! We get $2 for Mark Holden.” (Laughs.)
So that’s fame for you – it’s an illusionary thing.
> We heard you are also a bit of a passionate surfer. How do you like the Mid North Coast for waves? Any favourite surfing spots?
I grew up in Sydney, and all during my high school and early working years we used to surf all up and down the coast. We had the whole thing going on – the Kombis, the guitars. We would leave Sydney, travel all the way up to Coolangatta and then drive back.
I know the east coast very well. We would surf the back road up here at Plomer and Queens Head, and I am still surfing every now and then. Usually, I ride a 8’2” Malibu, and I actually noticed a great break for board riders here this morning at Flynns.
I find the water relaxing, soothing and cleansing. There are also some great waves on the South Coast, but I am not telling you where they are (laughs). They are my secret spots.
> When you’re not working, what else do you like to do?
I like keeping fit, running on the beach, going to the gym and playing tennis and hanging with my family. My home project at the moment, when I am not on set, is editing the massive library I have of family home movie footage. But I need time to do it!
> Since Underbelly, everyone wants a piece of your talents. What projects are you involved in now?
Currently I am doing a show called ‘Holidays For Sale’ on the Nine Network, which is a travel show. And I am also in the middle of shooting another cop shop on the Gold Coast called ‘The Strip’, starring Aaron Jeffrey, the big hunk of spunk, and a girl called Simone McCauley, who readers might know from ‘Blue Heelers’.
It’s one of those shows like ‘NYPD Blue’ or ‘City Homicide’, for that matter. There’s a murder at the start of the show and forty five minutes later we solve the crime – and we do it every week! It’s unbelievable! It’s due to air in September.
> Thanks Frankie.