Alexander Bertrand in ‘Les Norton.’
After landing his first lead role in Roadshow Rough Diamond’s Australian Gangster, Alexander Bertrand set his sights on playing the title character in the same production house’s Les Norton.
That was no sure thing: Despite his performance as the Sydney crime figure in the upcoming Seven Network drama, the actor had to fight hard to win the Norton role in the ABC series based on Robert G. Barrett’s Australian novels set in the 1980s.
“There were five or six people up for the role, including a couple of heavyweight Hollywood names,” he tells IF. “I had to do a couple of call backs.”
Jocelyn Moorhouse, who co-directed the 10-part series with Fadia Abboud, David Caesar and Morgan O’Neill, loved Australian Gangster and championed his cause.
“Jocelyn told me she put on the brass knuckles and went into bat for me,” he says. “They took a shot on me. Within two weeks people were thanking me and I got some amazing messages as we finished the shoot. I was super grateful.”
In Les Norton, which premieres on the ABC and iview on Sunday August 4 at 8.30 pm, he plays a knockabout bloke from outback Queensland who flees to Sydney after an unfortunate “misunderstanding” in his home town.
Hired as a bouncer at a notorious illegal casino in Kings Cross, he quickly becomes embroiled in the dirty dealings of his boss Price Galese (David Wenham), and Price’s motley crew of former pro boxer turned casino doorman Billy Dunne (Hunter Page-Lochard), gun-for-hire Eddie Salita (Justin Rosniak) and casino manager Georgie (Pallavi Sharda).
He also tangles with Doreen, a brothel owner in the Western suburbs, and her identical twin sister Dolores, both played by Rebel Wilson.
Morgan O’Neill, who created the series scripted by Christopher Lee, Samantha Winston, Shanti Gudgeon, Malcolm Knox and Jessica Tuckwell, describes Les as a “modernist brute” who is utterly non-judgmental in the way of many great Australian characters such as Crocodile Dundee.
Alex says: “Morgan has created a Les for the modern day, a very likable bloke who is a fish-out-of-water in Sydney. He’s a cross between Dundee and Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy. It’s outrageous, heightened reality, a neon dream and very funny, with some great drama.”
He learned heaps from watching Wenham (“an absolute powerhouse”), Wilson (“a gorgeous soul”), Rosniak, Kate Box as Les’ housemate Lozza and Steve Le Marquand as crooked cop “Thumper.”
Alexander Bertrand (L) and Hunter-Page Lochard in ‘Les Norton.’
Playing the lead in Roadshow Rough Diamond’s gangster series directed by Gregor Jordan was a quantum leap for the actor who graduated with a Diploma of Screen Acting at Screenwise in 2015. He made his screen debut as an extra in Brendan Cowell’s Ruben Guthrie , followed by roles in Home and Away, Matchbox Pictures’ Hyde and Seek and Arenamedia’s The Warriors.
He describes working in Australian Gangster as a “trial by fire,” not least because he was in every scene except for six pages and he had to spend four hours in make-up each day, being adorned with his character’s tattoos and having his own tatts covered up.
Before his audition, he spent four weeks with Moodi Dennoaui, the self-proclaimed Diet Doctor, to bulk up for the role of the steroid-abusing crim. As the actor is a huge fan of Jordan’s Buffalo Soldiers and Ned Kelly it was a dream come to work with the director.
Jordan shot the series in a highly unconventional way, with long-running A and B camera takes where the DOP becomes the editor.
Next up he will play a police sergeant in a TV drama set in the 1950s, title under wraps, which shoots next month.