Actors plot their way through the pandemic crisis

Erik Thomson (Photo: Alex Vaughan).

In a perfect world Erik Thomson would have just wrapped filming of Amazon Prime’s Back to the Rafters and have started pre-production on the ABC dramedy Yes, Chef!

Stateless star Fayssal Bazzi would be preparing to go to the US to meet with agents and producers and looking forward to the May release of Paul Ireland’s Measure or Measure, in which he co-stars with Hugo Weaving.

After roles in Amazon Studios’ historical drama The Underground Railroad and the BBC and Netflix serial-killer drama The Serpent, Damon Herriman was set to star in a film in New Zealand.

Roz Hammond was getting ready to perform alongside Lachy Hulme in director Tyran Parke’s stage adaptation of Ken Kesey’s novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at Her Majesty’s in May.

All of that is now on hold, of course, curtailed by the COVID-19 crisis. “Mainly what I’ve lost is momentum, but I’m fine with that,” Bazzi tells IF.

“My concern is for our industry – both stage and screen. I am hoping for the government to step in soon with a package to back our professions and highlight our value to the economy and everyday life – so the transition back to work is supported and not as dire as it appears to be at this moment.”

Seven Studios was forced to stop production of the Packed to the Rafters reboot with just three weeks to go. Thomson was relishing the chance to revisit Dave Rafter, observing: “It was lovely to come back. The scripts are strong and it’s like catching up with old friends after seven years and finding out what’s been happening in their lives.”

Thomson is producing Yes, Chef! with Closer Productions’ Rebecca Summerton. Co-created by Julie De Fina, Thomson and Matthew Bate, the show will star Thomson as a notorious celebrity chef who is forced to flee to his hometown in the Adelaide Hills after his latest outburst goes viral.

After he forms an unlikely business partnership with his 18-year-old pastry prodigy niece (yet to be cast), he has to navigate a whole new world order – except old habits die hard.

The actor had a busy year playing Dick Mannering in the historical, New Zealand-set BBC drama The Luminaries directed by London-based Aussie Claire McCarthy, based on Eleanor Catton’s novel; Corporal Briggs in Roderick MacKay’s debut feature The Furnace; and a character named Hoaggie in Kiwi director James Ashton’s low budget crime thriller Coming Home in the Dark.

Mannering is a sleazy publican and whoremonger. Briggs is one of the troupers in pursuit of a young cameleer (Ahmed Malek) and a bushman (David Wenham) who are on the run after stealing Crown gold in the 1890s.

Hoaggie is a school teacher who is forced to confront a brutal act from his past when ruthless drifters take him and his family on a nightmare road trip.

“I had a lot on the go but it’s all on the pause button,” Erik says.

Fayssal Bazzi and Claude Jabbour in ‘Stateless.’

Bazzi turned down three plays this year to concentrate on screen work. He was hoping Josh Reed’s experimental feature Spiders, in which he played a character named Ahmed, would premiere at festivals this year.

Shot in sequence and mainly filmed on surveillance cameras inside a house four years ago, the plot follows a gang and their meth lab.

“Only the director knew the whole story,” he says. “Before every scene he’d take the actors aside individually, give them their own character brief for the scene and the dialogue was improvised. I haven’t seen it yet to know if it’s any good but it was certainly a unique filming experience.”

Herriman played Martin Wells, who is sympathetic to the cause of freeing slaves in North Carolina in the mid-1800s but is terrified of getting caught in The Underground Railroad. Based on Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, the series was directed by Moonlight’s Barry Jenkins.

In The Serpent he is cast as Laver, a drunken Australian diplomat in 1970s Thailand. “I’ve filled my time by catching up on some writing and watching some series I hadn’t had time to get around to,” Damon says.

A regular in both series of the ABC’s The Heights, Hammond tells IF: “I think actors are generally a resilient lot. I’m spending down time recording my favourite poems, teaching myself more advanced editing skills in iMovie and doing lots of yoga, meditation, reading and embroidery.

“When I’m not worrying about my parents in WA or having to apply to Centrelink or for a mortgage freeze, I’m actually quite calm and content.”

Duncan Fellows is looking forward to the Seven Network premiere of Fam Time, a narrative comedy created by Seven Studios’ Michael Horrocks and scripted by Erica Harrison and Jack Yabsley.

He plays John, aka ‘Handy Andy’, second husband of Michala Banas’ Belinda Box, matriarch of a dysfunctional blended family.

“Fortunately I have a little bit of voice over work to tide things over and that can be done from home studio,” Duncan says. “I have slotted into a stay-at-home dad role while my partner works remotely, and taking some time to build up some teaching practice and making audio content.”