After spending the last six years starring in West End musicals, Simon Burke plans to focus on films and TV in 2013. In mid-January the popular actor starts shooting Australian indie comedy Super Awesome!, his first film since 2003's Travelling Light.
He'll follow that with Return to The Devil's Playground, a six-part series for Foxtel that centres on the character he played as a 13-year-old in his breakthrough film in 1976, Fred Schepisi's The Devil's Playground, 35 years later.
Guy Edmonds and Matt Zeremes are writing, directing and will star in Super Awesome!, a caper about two straight actors, Gary and Mark, who try to revive their floundering careers by creating a musical about an issue they know nothing about - gay marriage. It's the feature directing debut of Edmonds while Zeremes co-directed Burke & Wills and Strangers Lovers Killers.
Burke will play Jack Simpson, an Australian action movie star who has a successful career in Hollywood and comes back to lend a hand to the boys and gets involved in their crazy project.
“Guy and Matt describe the plot as two straight guys who put their butts on the line for marriage equality,” Burke tells SBS Film on the line from Auckland, where he's starring as Mr Banks in Mary Poppins; the season ends on December 30. “It's like Dude, Where's My Car? meets Smash.”
Patrick Brammall will play Fairfax Waters, a pretentious successful theatre director who is Mark and Gary's bête noir. Brett Stiller is returning from Los Angeles to play Kip, a “heartthrob” actor who's being hailed as the next big thing with the impending release of his vampire film 'Suck'.
Simon met Matt and Guy in 2010 when those three and Jane Turner appeared in the West End production of Tommy Murphy's Australian play Holding the Man, based on Timothy Conigrave's memoir of his turbulent 15-year relationship with his lover John Caleo, from their first meeting in high school to Caleo's death in the early 1990s.
Edmonds and Zeremes have raised enough money to shoot the bulk of the film in Australia and are seeking to garner a further $50,000 via crowdfunding platform Indiegogo to film the climactic scenes in London. “If we don't reach our goal we'll use what we raise to go to London anyway... maybe by boat,” they say. “It's an expensive venture but one that is pivotal to the film's climax and great in giving an indie film some big budget scope.”
Burke will shoot his scenes in Sydney in between rehearsals for the Sydney Theatre Company production of George Bernard Shaw's Mrs Warren's Profession, in which he'll appear with Eamon Farren, Drew Forsythe, Martin Jacobs, Lizzie Schebesta and Helen Thomson.
In Return to Devil's Playground, he'll play Tom Allen, a psychiatrist who becomes a secular confessor to Catholic clergy and gets embroiled in political and theological intrigue. “It's a psychological thriller about sexual repression in an era when reports of sexual abuse by priests were starting to emerge,” says executive producer Penny Chapman of Matchbox Pictures. Burke is also serving an executive producer. There's a strong film pedigree among the creative personnel: Rachel Ward and Tony Krawitz will direct and the scripts are being written by Blake Ayshford, Cate Shortland, Alice Addison and Tommy Murphy.
“I went to London six years ago and worked almost exclusively in musical theatre and other plays, which meant my film and television work has gone by the by,” says Simon, whose stage credits include The Sound of Music, When the Rain Stops Falling and La Cage Aux Folles. “I'm getting back into that area in earnest.”
He's delighted to be so involved in a sequel to The Devil's Playground, observing, “It's a total dream to have the opportunity to revisit a character from such an iconic film and kind of go back to where I started. It's a full circle story.”