Playing on the dark side keeps paying off for Damon Herriman

Damon Herriman accepting his Australians in Film award (Photo credit: Mac1Photography).

These are heady times for Damon Herriman, who has just scored his fifth AACTA nomination after winning the Qantas Orry-Kelly Award from Australians in Film and wrapping a film with Quentin Tarantino, Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio and Margot Robbie.

Not bad for an actor who doubted when he first went to Hollywood in 2000 that he would ever get a job there but didn’t want to live with the regret of not having a crack.

Herriman is typically modest about the latest accolades. Referring to the previous recipients of the Orry-Kelly Award – Tim Minchin, film executive Greg Basser, producer Bruna Papandrea, Baz Luhrmann, John Polson and filmmaking collective Blue-Tongue Films – he tells IF: “I am in incredibly good company.”

He earned a nomination for best lead actor in a TV drama for his performance as gay activist Lance Gowland in Werner Film Productions/ABC’s Riot. “The nomination is a lovely surprise,” he says, hailing the telemovie directed by Jeffrey Walker as an important story which was filmed during the debate over marriage equality. He felt a special responsibility playing a real person, who died in 2008.

In 2016 he won his first AACTA award for best supporting actor in Matchbox Pictures/ABC’s Secret City following nominations for best performance in a TV comedy in Laid, lead actor in The Little Death and supporting actor in Down Under.

The actor plays serial killer Charles Manson in Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, which follows former TV star Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) and his stunt double Cliff Booth (Pitt) as they make their way through Hollywood in 1969. Robbie plays Sharon Tate, Dalton’s neighbour.

Contractually he is not allowed to talk about his character or the plot of the Sony Pictures-backed crime thriller beyond observing that moviegoers will see a lighter side of Manson. As for Tarantino, he says: “He’s incredibly fun and hard-working. He edits the film in his head before he shoots and is very specific about what he wants.”

Herriman also relished the chance to work again with DiCaprio, with whom he appeared in Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar, the biopic on the powerhead head of the FBI. for nearly 50 years.

Accepting the Orry-Kelly Award he acknowledged he usually plays dark characters, a mix of hitmen, Southern rednecks, meth addicts and crazed killers. Indeed, there are no heroes among his roles in a raft of upcoming Australian films and TV series.

Scott Ryan and Damon Herriman in ‘Mr Inbetween.’

In Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale, which Transmission will launch in January, he plays a crude corporal whom he describes as possibly the most horrible character of his career.

Mirrah Foulkes cast him as Punch, a narcissistic, violent puppet master opposite Mia Wasikowska’s Judy in Judy and Punch, her debut feature as writer-director. The plot sees Judy team up with a band of outcast heretics to enact revenge on Punch and the entire town of Seaside in the Madman Entertainment release.

“Mirrah is a very talented writer. It’s among the best Australian scripts I’ve ever read. She has done an amazing job,” he says.

In Lambs of God, Lingo Pictures/Foxtel’s comedic-drama directed by Jeffrey Walker, he plays Father Bob, a fixer who is called in after three nuns (Ann Dowd, Essie Davis, Jessica Barden) kidnap a priest (Sam Reid).

Herriman played a nightclub boss and gangster in Jungle Entertainment/Blue-Tongue Films’ Mr Inbetween, created by and starring Scott Ryan and directed by Nash Edgerton. Foxtel and US network FX have commissioned a second series and Edgerton has asked Herriman to return.

He’s about go to New Mexico to star in a US cable series which he can’t reveal yet. It would be a surprise if he’s cast as a good guy.