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Articles: Guest Speakers

Mexicans with Mobiles

Peter Whitford (Actor) – Guest Speaker on 28 July 2001

Peter Whitford, who’s been a stage and screen actor for 37 years, spoke about his exciting and interesting career. Introduced as “the man who danced with Paul Mercurio in Strictly Ballroom”, Peter pointed out that the two had actually done a fast walk – the fun being working out the pace, forcing the camera to keep alongside and keep them in focus.

While working at Fox Studios in Sydney on Moulin Rouge, Peter was briefly on the set with Nicole Kidman. He provided some sobering details on how Australian talents are used but not highly rewarded on such projects. “The Americans call us ‘Mexicans with mobiles’ and our dollar ‘The South Pacific peso’. Apart from the stars we all worked on Moulin Rouge for the Actors Equity base minimum salary.” During the filming there was a poster displayed on the wall. It read: “Life’s like a Dog Sled race -if you’re not the lead dog the scenery never changes.”

The situation is similar to that in Canada 30 years ago – the status of local talent is subordinate.

Peter reminded the enthusiastic MAG audience that Australia once had a strong movie industry. “Then Americans bought up the cinemas and simply started showing U.S. movies rather than Australian”.

Blue Hills then No 96

Our guest first appeared on stage at the age of five in King of Hearts. Twenty years later, while at the National Institute of Dramatic Art, he appeared in an ABC Radio production of the play!

On the long-running radio drama Blue Hills he played Jack Parker, “the good guy, the clean-living guy”. In 1956 he appeared in an early TV show, a variety program with Carol Rae; in the 70s he was Guy Sutton in No 96, “the racing car driver who married Vera.”

The extent to which TV viewers ‘live their soaps’ is remarkable. Peter said that at ABC Radio, when a character in Blue Hills became pregnant, the Kings Cross studios would soon receive gifts of baby clothes! During No 96., when a character was ‘written out’ of the series and their flat became vacant, the TV station would receive applications to lease it.

Peter Whitford’s next screen role is in “The Man Who Sued God -made for one tenth the budget of Moulin Rouge”. The film is due for release in October this year.