Jack Thompson has seen and done it all. He tells SBS about why he has embraced television, playing the mentor, and what he'd do if Marvel came knocking.
Dan Barrett

21 Nov 2018 - 2:32 PM  UPDATED 17 Dec 2018 - 4:59 PM

Meeting Jack Thompson was a unique thrill. With roles in Wake In FrightBreaker MorantThe Man From Snowy RiverMystery Road, and The Sum Of Us, Thompson has defined Australian screen culture - he's an Australian acting icon who is revered both locally and internationally with a career spanning decades. It's easy to be intimidated when meeting Thompson for the first time, but within moments he has you at ease with his genial nature. He's a warm, gracious, and funny bloke. 

Thompson is one of the cast members of the compelling new Australian drama series On The Ropes in the role of Strick, a seasoned veteran of the boxing circuit. This isn't the first time Jack Thompson has been part of an SBS show - he was the very first person featured on Who Do You Think You Are? back in 2008. 

During some downtime on the set of On The Ropes, SBS had the opportunity to chat with Jack Thompson about taking on the role of Strick:

SBS: You’ve done everything and have a lot of offers on the table. What was exciting to you about On The Ropes?

I choose this the same way I choose anything. It’s the script and it’s a very good script. The role is good - I’m not in every scene, but it’s a pivotal role there. Strick makes decisions that effect the lives of all the other characters and what they do affects his life. It’s a good role.

SBS: Thinking about the roles you take... Older actors these days fall into one of two types of roles - they're either serving as a mentor, or older people going on holidays having profound, but inconsequential life experience changes. But you don’t seem to do that kind of thing that often. I was wondering if it’s a conscious choice to choose roles that are on the outside.

Not really - I haven’t been rejecting roles of old people having life changing experiences [Laughs]. I have said yes to roles because they are interesting and exciting. They’re roles with people who are involved in life. In Strick’s life he’s not so much a mentor as much as a man who has been there with Sami, the older man, for some time. He knows the business. These are the older people in the group. They’ve been there before this young group of people who are coming up and changing things, making waves.

SBS: This is a show that is led by two young female actors, with women writing and producing the series. The strength of women is very much at the core of the show. It's reflective of a broader cultural shift right now. As someone on a lot of international and Australian sets, I was wondering what you have noticed about the industry changes in recent years.

Over the last 20-30 years I have watched the increasing number of women involved in the making of film and television. When you get something like this with women producing, women directing, the leads are all young women. It’s very refreshing.

SBS: Is the tone on set different...?

No. No, no. Once you’re in front of the camera where it’s all happening, where you’re right there in the centre of where you’re making the series, where you’re making the movie, that’s the same wherever you are, anywhere in the world regardless of if it’s America, Britain, Europe, or Australia. Whether there are a lot of women or not a lot of women, that is always the same.

SBS: You’ve done a lot of film work with a bit of TV here and there. What do you find appealing about TV - I’ve noticed you’ve done a bit more of that in recent years, particularly in prestigious projects like Devil’s Playground.

Television drama has come of age. It has to do with blockbusters taking over in the movie world. Drama for the screen occurs predominantly in television. You’re getting really good material and really good people to work with in television.

SBS: Star Wars aside, you seem to avoid big blockbuster films. Is that a conscious decision, or its not coming across your radar.

It’s the scripts that I am attracted to. Scripts about people, about real-life. That’s what I’m attracted to. Real characters rather than Marvel comic characters.

SBS: If Marvel came knocking, would you say no?

Was that an offer? [Laughs]. Of course I would. Once again, it would depend on the script.

SBS: Is there a superhero that you’d want to do? I can’t imagine you getting into tights anytime soon.

No - maybe a very elderly superhero. The retired superhero.


On The Ropes airs Thursday night at 9:25pm on SBS. Episodes will be available after broadcast anytime, anywhere, for free via SBS On Demand. 

Join the conversation #OntheRopes

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