After Tony Briggs spent a year playing Pete Baxter in Neighbours, his screen debut, he discovered the producers had debated whether to identify his character as Indigenous.
He was not aware of those discussions and was very pleased when he found out another actor on the serial had advised the producers that wasn’t necessary.
That was in 1988. Since then he has played numerous characters whose nationality was not mentioned in Rosehaven, Rake, Cleverman, The Warriors (which he co-created with Robert Connolly), Seven Types of Ambiguity, Nowhere Boys and Wentworth, alternating with multiple stage roles.
The creator of The Sapphires is serving as the artistic director of the inaugural BIRRARANGGA Film Festival, a celebration of Indigenous filmmakers from around the world, which will be staged at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image from April 26 – 29.
He is gratified to see more Indigenous voices and stories on screens and stages, observing: “We are the very fabric of this country. Our culture is the foundation of what Australia is about.
“If we can’t tell our stories in the way that we want to tell them, as musicians, actors, writers and dancers, then we aren’t really telling the story of our country.”
Currently he is directing The Sapphires musical, which will play at more than 140 locations around Australia in 2019-2020.
Last year he directed his first short film, Elders, funded by Screen Australia’s Short Blacks initiative. Scripted by Tracey Rigney and produced by his wife Damienne Pradier, the drama based on a true story deals with a 4-year-old boy who must find his way home at the behest of his grandparents. It will screen on the ABC and play the festival route.
In June he will co-star with John Batchelor (Red Dog) in Storm Boy, which Tom Holloway has adapted for the stage from the Colin Thiele novel. Sam Strong will direct the play which will feature life-size puppets, a co-production between the Melbourne Theatre Company and Queensland Theatre in association with Dead Puppets Society.
In October he will return to the MTC in Nakkiah Lui’s Black is the New White, a comedy billed as a cross between Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and Meet the Fockers, which had two sell-out seasons at Sydney Theatre Company.
He is developing a feature film (subject under wraps) and a TV series, a supernatural sci-fi drama which he likens to a cross between Deadwood and True Blood.