If you asked Sullivan Stapleton where he lives, he'd reply, “Wherever the work takes me.” That's not a glib answer because the Australian actor has criss-crossed the globe since his breakthrough performance in Animal Kingdom.
Last year, Sullivan spent six months in South Africa shooting the US cable TV series Strike Back, then went to Los Angeles to work alongside Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Josh Brolin and Emma Stone in the Warner Bros./Village Roadshow movie The Gangster Squad.
After a three-week break over Christmas staying with his mother in Melbourne, Sullivan returned to South Africa for the second season of Strike Back. In June he heads to Bulgaria to play the lead role of Themistocles in Warner Bros.' 300: Battle of Artemisia, the sequel to Zack Snyder's 2007 blockbuster.
In 2013 he's signed up for a third series of Strike Back and WB has an option on his services for a second film which might be another edition of 300 or an entirely new project.
The actor, who paid his dues in the late 1990s as a regular in Neighbours, Stingers and Something in the Air and later in The Secret Life of Us, is modest about his accomplishments since Animal Kingdom. “It's quite unbelievable; I never dreamt this would happen. All I wanted was to be successful enough to buy a house and look after my family,” he told SBS Film on the line from Cape Town.
He confesses he was a bundle of nerves on his first day on the set of The Gangster Squad, the saga of the LAPD's efforts to take back their city from a Brooklyn-born Mobster, set in 1949. “I thought 'holy shit, I don't know what to do'. It was pretty intense and kind of scary.” But Gosling and Penn soon put him at ease and he looks forward to seeing the film, which was directed by Ruben Fleischer.
Playing the Greek general in the 300 sequel, he'll appear alongside Rodrigo Santoro as Xerxes, Eva Green as the goddess Artemisia and Jamie Blackley as the teenager Calisto, with Noam Munro taking on the directing chores from Snyder, who is the executive producer.
Stapleton said he went through “quite a process” with auditions and screen tests in Los Angeles to win the role for which Joel Edgerton originally was in the frame.
After he finishes that project in December, the actor declares he's “keen to come home and speak in my own accent” before he heads back to South Africa.
In between acting gigs, Stapleton has worked on building sites and as a grip (lighting technician) on numerous film and TV productions.
When he's in the US he's now being recognised from his work in Strike Back, in which he plays a former US Delta Force operative who was discharged on the eve of the US invasion of Iraq and now roams the globe with a top-secret intelligence agency known as Section 20.
His mates on building sites and grips keep him grounded, as he cheerfully acknowledges, “I don't think there is any danger of my getting too far up my own arse.”
When his commitments allow, he's keen to work again in Australian movies and says, “I have read a few scripts but I don't know if they'll happen.”