“I am very frustrated with the lack of acting opportunities. I would dearly love to be doing more TV drama.”
Interview by Joanne Kmaid
Let’s backtrack 23 years… How much did Strictly Ballroom shape you into the person you are today?
Every experience shapes, develops and contributes to the person you are. You keep growing. Of course, Strictly Ballroom was a significant milestone on my journey. That said, I was 28-years-old when we filmed the movie, I had been married for 4 years, had a daughter and my wife was pregnant with our second child. I also had a significant career as a dancer and choreographer travelling around the world with the Sydney Dance Company. The experience of Strictly Ballroom certainly added to who I am, however, I developed my core beliefs in my late teens and early twenties, and those beliefs have informed my life decisions.
There was a graceful rumour going around that you were bold with attitude…
Do you mean bald with attitude? I am not bald… Yet! I do have a fairly good bald spot which I refuse to acknowledge because I can’t see it! That is my attitude!
You have a humorous streak. Ever thought of getting into comedy?
I have met lots of comedians, and whilst they are generally lovely people, they are not typically funny in real life! They are often introspective, shy and not a people person. They are probably happiest sitting at home with their goldfish, contemplating why the world goes round as it does. I empathise with them, because when they are out at the pub, everyone expects them to be funny, but they are just like any other person unwinding in a pub. The same happens to me when I am at the pub. People will come up to me and say, “Hey Mercurio, cook us some wings will ya” or “Hey Merc, do the Paso Doble dance for us,” and it is often followed with, “Geez, you’ve put a bit of weight on since the movie!” Ah yeah, so much can happen in 23 years and I am super human! Better still, all I want is to enjoy a quiet beer!
Of all your talents – dancing, acting, singing, presenting and cooking – what brings you the most joy?
The one that brings me the most joy is the one that I am actively doing in that moment. That said, my dance days are well and truly over, which is fine by me, as I am too old to dance at that level. I must admit, I am very frustrated with the lack of acting opportunities. I am an actor and love acting, but have not received acting work of late. My singing is best left in the shower, but hey I reckon I sound good. I highly enjoy presenting on TV and for corporate events – I can occasionally be funny! As for cooking, that is my most consistent creative outlet, and without that, I would be a grizzled old unhappy man.
Career-wise, you have mellowed down…
If you mean by mellowing down, I am not doing as much as I used to, that is not my choice. In this business, people like to put you in boxes, and by people I mean directors, producers and casting directors. Countless times, those people have said to me and to my agents that they assumed I did not want to act anymore. Why? Because I was doing my food show or performing in a musical or I was a judge on Dancing with the Stars or I was doing TV commercials. I am an actor, so I must have my finger in many pies as it is very difficult to make a living off acting alone. I would dearly love to be doing more TV drama and shooting more of my food show, Mercurio’s Menu.
Every dream takes time and a massive climb…
I am currently starting out on what will be my 11th career, and let me tell you, that is a challenge. Let’s face it, without challenges where would any of us be? You need to challenge, push and embrace life fully. To rise to the challenge is to know you are fully alive, and when you are fully alive, you dare to dream. That is what it’s all about.
What did you think of the theatre production of Strictly Ballroom?
I have never seen the stage show. I was invited to the opening in Sydney in a half-hearted vague way. When the show came to Melbourne, I was invited very late and could not attend. I sent them an email wishing all of the cast and crew the best for a successful opening night and season. That was enough for me.
Are you still in contact with Tara Morice or any of the cast?
I am not in touch with anyone from Strictly Ballroom, not because we don’t like each other or we don’t get along, but actors tend to be gypsy-like. You do a movie, work together, have fun and climb mountains, etc. Then when it’s all done, you go home and live your real life. Movies aren’t real, they are make-believe.
What is the nicest thing a fan has ever said or done?
I am incredibly fortunate in that I have always engendered a positive and feel-good reaction within people. My varied careers and interaction with fans have been fruitful, because I work from the heart, and I attract a joyous and positive response from them.
Have your children followed in your artistic steps?
My wife was a ballerina with the Australian Ballet Company and also with the Sydney Dance Company, so between the two of us, our three daughters were a shoo-in for a theatrical career. Our oldest is a stage manager, the middle is a musical theatre actor and writer, and our youngest is studying to be a vet nurse and also does gigs as an indie pop singer. They are all great cooks.
Will you be cooking the Christmas feast this year?
It’s a family affair – I cook the stuffing for the turkey then cook the turkey on the Weber. My wife and the girls will help with the veggies and the salads, and pour the champagne. We all pitch in and laugh a lot!
Your father, the late Gus Mercurio, is a memorable figure as an actor and boxer. He must have been a proud father.
My dad was a complex man. He had a very tough upbringing in Milwaukee. With a gun-toting mafia member for a father and a restaurateur for a mother, there was not much focus on proper parenting. Consequently, he did not know how to be a proper parent either, and he felt very bad about that. He was a very proud man and did not want to fail at anything, but ultimately, fatherhood was not an easy or natural role for him. He loved my achievements and always joked that the moment he became Paul Mercurio’s Dad (instead of me being Gus Mercurio’s son), it was a proud but bittersweet moment. I can’t say he taught me anything, but I did learn a lot from him.
You developed your talents at a tender age. Did you miss out on a fun, typical childhood?
I had a very typical childhood with the one exception that I was a young boy who danced and did drama. Mum and Dad separated in 1969; we went to live in Western Australia whilst Dad stayed in Melbourne. I grew up in housing commissions in Perth, an area surrounded by rough and fairly violent people. Thanks to my focus on the theatrical arts, I got through all of this with relatively minor problems. I was blessed in that I had a strong focus; not that I wanted to go off and become a dancer or an actor, but I loved getting involved in plays and dance within a creative and collaborative environment. My blessing was having a supportive mother, who in the face of hardships, did her very best to encourage us and simply talk to us. Communication is the key I embrace today – I tell stories and take people on journeys. Dad was not a great communicator, but he certainly was a great entertainer. Mum was not an entertainer, but she was a great communicator. Maybe part of them rubbed off on me? Ultimately, I am a typical guy aiming for his best. I want to keep on growing, keep on loving, keep on living by example, keep on discovering who I am, keep on giving something positive to this world, keep on being there for my wife and my daughters, keep on smiling!
This interview was submitted by Cinema Australia contributor Joanne Kmaid. If you have an article or interview you would like to submit for our consideration please contact us today.