For most of his acting career, Jonathan LaPaglia has played characters on the right side of the law, such as former US Navy SEAL Frank B. Parker in Seven Days and Det. Tommy McNamara in New York Undercover.
All that changed when he signed on to play Anthony "Rooster" Perish in Underbelly: Badness, the fifth in the true crime Underbelly franchise, covering 2001 to 2011.
"I think any actor at some point, they want to play the bad guy," he said by phone from one of the show's sets in Sydney earlier this year. "There's definitely something appealing in that, not to glorify that in any way. It's because it is so outside of who you are it is a challenge and it is exciting from that point of view."
Perish was jailed in April, having been found guilty with Matthew Lawton in the NSW Supreme Court last year of the 2001 murder of convicted drug dealer Terry Falconer.
Falconer's dismembered body was found in plastic bags in the Hastings River, sparking the long-running police investigation, Operation Tuno, headed by the determined Det-Sgt (now Inspector) Gary Jubelin (played by Matt Nable of Bikie Wars and East West 101).
Perish's younger brother Andrew "Undies" Perish (played by Josh Quong Tart of Home and Away and The Great Mint Swindle) was found guilty of conspiracy to murder. The brothers believed Falconer was responsible for the double murder of their grandparents in 1993.
Anthony Perish flew under the radar for years and few outside of NSW have ever heard of him.
There was little information for LaPaglia to draw on outside the script.
"There really aren't many photographs of that guy; I think we have two," he said.
"We definitely know he sported a mullet at one point and a goatee which I have. He is shorter than me, I think he is about five-nine (175cm) and he's stockier. There is not much research I could really do, there's really no information out there about him. There was no one for me to talk to, no video, no audio. All the information, a lot is from court transcripts.
"I'm a crazy actor so I probably would have tried but there was really no one; I tried to get in contact with his counsel and stuff like that but because the case is so fresh I couldn't organise it. It was really left to me and the writers to create stuff."
For many years LaPaglia, who was a doctor before turning to acting, was better known here as the younger brother of Lantana and Without a Trace star Anthony. That changed last year with his role as the philandering Hector in the acclaimed ABC series The Slap.
Underbelly is only LaPaglia's second Australian role and the mullet he sported to play Perish raised some eyebrows.
"There's no wig and that is going to be the irony, they're going to go 'Shame about the wig'," he said.
"But it is really my hair! I came back a couple of times after The Slap had aired so I would get a lot of catcalls; I'm walking along the street and people are driving by saying 'Hey Hector'. A lot of that going on.
"That has since died down and I now have people crossing the street wanting to get away from me."
Surprisingly his wife Ursula Brooks didn't mind the mullet but their seven- year-old daughter Tilly found it mortifying. She also found it confusing to hear her dad speaking with an Australian accent
"In America, when I go back I slip back into it. It is honestly kind of difficult going between the two, it drives me a bit crazy so it is easier for me to live in one. So when I get these jobs and I start to go back into the Aussie accent, she's like 'Dad what are you doing, stop it'."
Before filming Underbelly, LaPaglia had been making regular trips from the US to visit his parents in Brisbane because of his father being unwell.
He had no firm roles lined up for his return to the US and wouldn't rule out more work in Australia.
"There is no preference but I have to say I am really enjoying working in Australia and if I can continue to do that; that would delight me very much."'I think any actor at some point, they want to play the bad guy. There's definitely something appealing in that, not to glorify that in any way.'
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