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The Advertiser                              (October 18, 2000)

New law for Friels

COLIN Friels - the screen's archetypal easygoing Aussie larrikin - doesn't get angry any more. In fact, for a man who supposedly doesn't like publicity or interviews, he is remarkably at ease and good-natured over the phone.


It's almost as if the veteran box-office and television star is basking in his second shot at life, having beaten pancreatic cancer in late-1997. "An old Chinese doctor, he said to me after I'd done my chemotherapy. . . not to get angry any more,'' Friels says. "I used to get angry a lot. I'd get in a few scraps and stuff like that, sowing the wild oats, I suppose. I'm a late developer.


"I never had trouble with people at work. It'd be out on the street or in a public bar or such places. (I'd) get into a bit of strife here and there. I am very easygoing but I was quite quick to anger.''


When asked why he got angry, Friels says matter-of-factly: "God knows. I don't know. Why do people get angry? Because they don't think enough, I suppose. I never found out. . . I just can avoid it a lot easier now.''


Friels, whose career includes the film hits Malcolm, Cosi, Mr Reliable, Dark City, Angel Baby and the TV series Water Rats, returns to the small screen this Sunday as a successful man whose life is turned upside down - albeit not by cancer. In this case, the culprit is a mad bomber in the telemovie Marriage Acts. Friels plays family law judge David McKinnon whose peaceful suburban existence is blown apart by a letterbox bomb - one which kills a neighbor's dog and badly injures the neighbor.


Judge McKinnon ignores his family's pleas that he go away for a while and returns to work, where he sees his long-term mistress and colleague, judge Miriam Hawkins (Linden Wilkinson).

 

When a second bomb explodes at court, killing another judge, McKinnon begins to revisit his cases, which evokes memories of the angry, sad, frustrated people whose lives, for better or worse, he may have distorted. With his marriage to Jean (Sonia Todd) falling apart, the not-so-good judge embarks on some serious soul-searching.

 

"The dramatic form it takes is as a judge who judges people ending up realising he's not that fit to judge anybody in some senses,'' Friels says. "He's far from the perfect model of (family life) and he doesn't pretend to be either. He's not a happy man, basically, is what it gets down to.  He wasn't in any way a perfect human being, but none of us are. And just the fact that he's a judge and judging people's domestic lives, really, how can any of us truly sit in judgment? There is a justice system, and there has to be, but there's sort of a dichotomy and a contradiction in our lives. That's what attracted me about it, but nothing sort of black and white.''


Aside from Marriage Acts, Friels has two other telemovies up his sleeve. The Farm, co-starring Greta Scacchi, is an ABC film "about the foreign currency loan in the '80s to the farmers. . . how the banks really screwed the rural people and, also, the disparity between the rural and urban life''. The other is Channel 10 production My Husband, My Killer, about Sydney man Andrew Kalajzich's 1986 slaying of his wife, Megan. A run date for either film is yet to be released.

 

Friels says he isn't limiting his work to telemovies. "That's all I get offered sometimes,'' he says. "Old farts like me (he's 47) don't get offered that much. (But) I don't limit myself to anything really. What I seek out is just to tell our own stories in our own place."


"It's very prevalent, divorce,'' Friels says of Marriage Acts. "I always hope that people might see it and might reflect on their own life to see how they can maybe think better of others or realise we all have flaws, we all (stuff) up and life will go on anyway.''


Friels, who left Water Rats after being diagnosed with cancer, has no longing to return to series work. "No one's asked me,'' he says. "They're too hard to do for too long, they're long days and it depends on what it was."

"I like working in TV. What I like about it is its lack of pretension; it's very much a workplace piece. You get in and you have to do it."


"Nobody thinks 'Oh, this is going to be my film. This is the biggest moment of my life, this film. Wow' and all that sort of stuff. As I say to some of the directors, `Look, for all we know two men and a dog might watch this if we're lucky. Let's just do the best we can.''


Friels doesn't draw too many analogies between his cancer and the McKinnon bomber.

"Not really. I didn't dislike myself that much before,'' he says of the judge. "I've always liked life anyway. Oh God, you can go to the end of the world as to why you get cancer or something like that."


"He's obviously not in a very happy marriage. The kids are. . . basically, they're at that age. He doesn't really know what he's doing with his life, he's basically still farting around with life in a sense: "Who am I to judge?''


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