Interview: Martin Sacks

Martin Sacks as Jimmy in Mack Lindon's Rise.

Martin Sacks as Jimmy in Mack Lindon’s Rise.

Nominated for six Logie awards and winner of five, Martin Sacks is arguably one of tellies most recognised professionals and one of the Australian public’s most loved actors. For twelve years he played Detective P.J. Hasham on Blue Heelers – a role he would become most famous for – but it was The Love Boat in the mid 1970s that launched a respected career that has seen him star alongside a pantheon of all-time greats in shows like A Country Practice, Police Rescue, Underbelly, City Homicide, Sea Patrol, Jack Irish: Black Tide, Rake and A Place to Call Home.
While he usually plays the good guy, irresistible to the ladies, Sacks has taken on the role of bad-guy-turned-mentor, Jimmy, in Mack Lindon’s autobiographical feature film, Rise.
Like most Aussies, Sacks seems to have a great work ethic and Cinema Australia found him to be a very grateful and humble man. “I’ve enjoyed the ride so far. It’s been great. Especially on something I’ve enjoyed making. I’m really happy to be talking about this film.”

Interview by Matthew Eeles:

Tell us about your relationship with Mack Lindon. When did you first become aware of him and what was your first impression?
Mack contacted my agent and we met in Byron Bay over a hamburger. He told me his story and I found it to be really fascinating, especially the fact that it was a true story. He told me the story of Jimmy – a fella he met in jail who mentored him – and I just thought it was going to me a massive challenge to have a crack at a character like that. I thought about it for a while and I said, “I’m in.”

You were also cast in Rise of The Underdog, the short film of which Rise is based. How much did Mack grow as a director between that short and this feature.
Oh a lot. Immensely. Mack is always open to suggestions and ideas and incredibly collaborative. He grew a huge amount. His main strength was that he was very clear about the story he wanted to tell and he was also very open to ideas.

Was it confronting to shoot the film in a real prison?
Absolutely. We shot it at Ipswich Prison. Obviously you do your homework. I was playing a bikie and an armed robber so I did my research on that. Once you get in the prison you really soak up the environment that it provides you. Also, we were surrounded by extras which included some ex-bikies and ex-criminals who had spent time in jail. All of that creates the right ambience. The prison was closed temporarily so all of the prisoners who were serving their time there weren’t there at the time, but there were a lot of other boys who were brought in who were the real deal. It was fantastic to get them involved.

Was the prison closed temporarily because of the film or for other reasons?
Well it was actually closed because of renovations on the prison and there were other issues they had to fix. There was a small window and Mack jumped in and shot the film then. He was very lucky.

Are you the kind of actor who buries himself in research before jumping into a role?
Well this was a character who I haven’t explored before. I love to do research and find out as much as I can. Jimmy was a real person but unfortunately I didn’t get to meet him but I did my research on people and guys who had been institutionalised from a very young age as Jimmy was. I researched their motivations and survival techniques for how they survived in jail and what their lives were like in jail. But also having some good chats with fellas who spent quite a lot of time in prison always feeds your imagination a lot.

Did Mack provide a clear enough picture for what Jimmy was like in real life or did he leave it all up to you?
Well he gave me some great ideas but I just wanted to create what I thought would be an accurate portrayal. He basically said that Jimmy was a wonderful person to him and someone he considered a mentor. I’m not sure if they keep in contact still. I thought it would be best for me to start from a fresh page.

You’ve well and truly earned your stripes as a veteran of Australian screen not only as an actor but as a director on Blue Heelers and All Saints. Did you find yourself offering advice to Mack or did Mack look to you for advice at anytime?
Thank you. If Mack needed advice and if I thought I had a better idea than him I would. [Laughs]. Mack had a very clear idea about what he wanted to do but if he had some questions or if something was unclear then I was more than happy to jump in. I was always available if he needed someone to consult with but he did all of it himself pretty much.

Would you like to direct again?
Possibly. I enjoy doing small independent films and I like actor based stories. I love very simple little family dramas, that’s my thing. If the right script came around I give it a go.

You studied acting in New York at the Stella Adler Acting School. Did you always intend to come back home to Australia to work or did you have intentions of a more international career?
Well I just went over there to learn as much as I could. When I was there the global nature of the industry wasn’t quite what it is now. It’s fantastic what’s happening with all the young actors now – they’re experiencing amazing success. I’m more than happy to be here and plod away doing my thing.

You’ve been in the industry for a while now and you’ve had a career most young actors would really admire.
Thanks. [Laughs]. I’ve enjoyed the ride. It’s been a great ride.

You’ve obviously done more television than film. Do you feel a different level of excitement when you step on to a film set compared to a television set?
Not really. I approach a role the same way. Sometimes there can be more toys when you’re doing a film, not necessarily Rise because it’s a low-budget independent film but I’ve done 3D and a few features. At the end of the day the principles are the same but there’s just more toys. [Laughs]. When you shoot in 3D the cameras are so big – they’re the size of a mini-minor – and they’re hard to forget about once you start rolling and the thing cranes toward you.

You’ve been consistently working since the late 70’s. You must have a heap of stories about your experiences in the industry. What’s one of your most memorable that you’d be willing to share with our audience.
Mate, you have really got me on the hop there. There have been so many things that have happened. I know it might sound strange not to remember one thing but there have been so many things that have happened in terms of my work that I’ve just loved the entire ride and the entire experience.

Rise will open in cinemas across Australia on November 6.

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