Old pals learn new tricks

Two of Australia's favourite actors - Bryan Brown and Sam Neill - have joined forces to make the new ABC drama, Old School.

Longtime friends in real life, in Old School they are born enemies forced to become reluctant allies.

Brown plays Lennie Cahill, a locks man just released from prison after serving a long sentence for his part in the unsolved 2001 Sterling Nickle armoured car robbery.

Senior detective Ted McCabe (Neill) was shot in the chest during that robbery and it brought his career to an end. He believes the man who masterminded the robbery was the shooter and Ted wants justice.

Lennie just wants his $300,000 share of the loot but he finds that most of the gang are now dead and his money has gone missing.

Stony broke, he is forced to move in with his law-student granddaughter Shannon (Hanna Mangan).

When Ted's bank account is hacked, the cash-strapped pair realise they have no one to turn to but each other.

They are both relics of a pre-Underbelly Sydney where there were unwritten rules that both sides of the law recognised and the gap between the cops and robbers was not that large.

"Lennie has got standards and that is also true of Ted," Neill said. "He was an old-school cop where in interrogation there were many ways to crack a nut and I would say that Ted knows all of those."

It is a Keystone Cops type of relationship, with car crashes, fights and the odd stolen car thrown into the mix. At one stage both men hide in a skip only to have litres of sump oil poured in on top of them.

The eight-part series was created and written by Paul Oliver and executive produced by Gregor Jordan (whose debut feature as a writer/director Two Hands starred Brown) and WA-raised Tony Ayres, with WA's Peter Templeman directing several episodes.

Other cast members include Aaron Jeffery, Sacha Horler, Peter Phelps and WA's Mark Coles Smith.

Neill, speaking from Melbourne where he was helping to market wine from his New Zealand vineyard, said that the Old School shoot had been exhausting because as well as being in many scenes the pair also did most of their own stunts.

"We certainly enjoyed ourselves but at the end of the week you were pretty stuffed," he said, laughing.

"They were always fighting, these two. I am still feeling the effects of that. I got one decent biff in the eye.

"At the end of week one you think I am so buggered I don't know if I am going to be able to get through this thing at all but you get kind of match-fit in a weird way."

Brown and Neill have been close friends since meeting decades ago at a film festival in Italy. They are the same age - 66 - and, according to Neill, try to meet every decade for a joint birthday party.

Neill hopes that Old School will be successful enough for the ABC to order a second series but he was on his way to the UK after we spoke to begin filming a second series of the 1919 gangster show Peaky Blinders and is booked for other jobs.

He is also a policeman in Peaky Blinders, which will premiere in Australia when the new pay-TV channel, BBC First, launches in August.

"I have had a bit of a run with the cop thing," Neill said. "Peaky Blinders is fantastically good and I play a slightly psychotic policeman who is a great deal of fun. I think the thing about Ted is he is kind of an everyman but this other cop, he is someone you would pray you would never run into under any circumstances, a very dangerous man."

Neill, who has been acting since 1975, says he enjoys having a heavy workload.

"I love getting on a plane and starting something new. Much as I miss my grapes and my little vines I love getting stuck into it."

One film he will not be making is the fourth in the Jurassic Park franchise but he is philosophical about it and is looking forward to seeing where the story goes.

'At the end of week one you think I am so buggered I don't know if I am going to be able to get through this thing at all but you get kind of match-fit in a weird way.' SAM NEILL

The West Australian

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