3 Jun 2009 - 3:42 PM  UPDATED 26 Feb 2014 - 4:07 PM

Anthony Lapaglia - The Bank

After making his name overseas in films like The Client, Betsy's Wedding and Sweet and Lowdown, Australian-born Anthony LaPaglia has been doing some of his best work locally. He spoke to Erin Free about his role in the new Australian film The Bank.

The story of Anthony Lapaglia's road to Hollywood is now a well-worn one. Born and bred in Adelaide, he bypassed the local industry and instead headed straight for the states, where his Italian heritage (and a New York accent that he'd picked up by closely studying the work of Al Pacino) gave him a lock on roles as gangsters and thugs. After slots on all kinds of TV shows, from The A-Team and Magnum PI to Hunter and The Equaliser, LaPaglia finally made his big break into movies with his charming turn as a big hearted mobster in Alan Alda's comedy Betsy's Wedding. From there, he nabbed roles in films both big (So I Married And Axe Murderer, with Mike Myers, Spike Lee's Summer Of Sam, Woody Allen's Sweet And Lowdown) and small (the grim thriller Phoenix, Steve Buscemi's directorial debut Trees Lounge, the excellent and vastly under rated 29th Street), while also making the odd film in Australia too (the thriller The Custodian, and Brilliant Lies, opposite his wife, Australian actress Gia Carides). After a winning turn in Looking For Alibrandi, Anthony LaPaglia turned up in two new Australian films: the powerful drama Lantana and the financial thriller The Bank.

After great success overseas, LaPaglia was drawn to The Bank for a number of reasons. “It was three things actually,” Anthony explains down the line from Los Angeles. “It was the strength of the script. I really liked the writing. Also, I really wanted to work with David Wenham. I was aware of his work, and I'd seen several films that he'd done, and I was a big fan of his. And thirdly it was [director] Robert Connelly, who I spoke to on the phone a lot prior to the film. His ideas for the film, and his vision for the film, really appealed to me. So the combination of those three things is what got me back there. I'm also very fascinated by the protests that were happening around the world against the world money federations. Young kids were congregating on the net finding out where the next world financial meeting was taking place, and then they'd show up there and protest the idea that major money is making all the decisions in the world. At heart, I'm a dissident and I love that kind of dissidence. I love it when people fight back, and there was something really appealing in the script to me about the idea that a little guy can take on the big guy and he can actually win. Given what's actually been happening in the world at this moment, I thought it was perfect timing.”

The character of Simon O'Reilly – a silky smooth but tough as nails bank manager with a dollar sign in place of a heart – was also a big lure, letting La{aglia get under the skin of a truly venal individual. “I've never had more fun in my life!” he laughs. “It was delicious! When you get to play someone that amoral, it's fantastic! There's nothing better. I felt sorry for David Wenham all the time because he was playing the good guy. But Simon was different to anything I'd played before. I usually play quite urban characters, and he's got much more refinement than the general thug I've played!”

Despite having worked with some of the biggest, most acclaimed names in Hollywood, LaPaglia doesn't get too hot and bothered about it. “I'm excited to work with them, of course,” he explains. “But sometimes those experiences are not what you think they're going to be. Everybody's human, and nobody can live up to those kinds of reputations. I think we as audiences build up images of actors or celebrities in our heads, and the media does that too. And usually it's only 50 percent correct. These people are mortal and they're human, and they're not always as glowing as you might think. Often they are, but usually they're not.”

And even with hot shots like Sean Penn, Woody Allen, Spike Lee, Richard Gere and Winona Ryder on his work list, LaPaglia is rarely caught in the headlights of their star shine. “Never happened to me except for once. I did a movie called The Road To Perdition, with Tom Hanks, Paul Newman and Jude Law. It's directed by Sam Mendes. I had a scene with Paul Newman, and it was the first time in my life that I was in the middle of a scene, and I looked into Paul Newman's eyes, those trademark blue eyes, and I lost my train of thought altogether. I thought 'Oh, my god, I'm doing a scene with Paul Newman!' That was like my internal dialogue as I was mouthing the words. And that's fair enough! It is Paul Newman.”

Refreshingly relaxed and unscarred by his years in Hollywood, Anthony LaPaglia still puts the work first, and that's what marks him as a major talent in an industry full of fakes. “The basic essence of a film to me should be that everybody on that set knows every line of the script because everybody should be there for the same reason – not for the pay cheque, but because they want to tell the story. And if you get that attitude going, then you're bound to make a good movie. It's bound to happen, but it also makes you so much happier about what you're doing. It's about what's in your heart when you're doing it.”