John Brumpton on how to sustain a 30-year screen career
John Brumpton in ‘Measure for Measure.’
One of Australia’s hardest working actors, John Brumpton rarely turns down offers – except when he is asked to work for free.
In the past year he has played a station hand in Stephen Johnson’s Western High Ground, a gunslinger in the second season of Mystery Road, Hugo Weaving’s protector in Paul Ireland’s Measure for Measure and a worried dad in Jamie Helmer and Michael Leonard’s short The Diver, which premieres in competition in Venice.
IMDB lists 95 credits for the actor who made his screen debut in The Flying Doctors in 1989 and took up the profession after working as a surveyor and professional boxer.
“It’s a tough industry and surviving this long is an achievement,” he tells IF. “My approach is: ‘Just be yourself.’”
He was inspired to become an actor by watching Bryan Brown in Stir, Breaker Morant and Two Hands and by Rolf de Heer’s movies, later starring in de Heer’s Charlie’s Country and Dance Me to My Song.
After studying at Theatre ACT when he lived in Canberra he moved to Melbourne in 1986 and began a degree at the VCA. He candidly admits he was kicked out after the first year, recalling: “I did not understand the way to work.”
Fortunately for him, several weeks later the dean invited him to come back and he completed the course.
In his breakthrough role he played Magoo in Geoffrey Wright’s debut movie Romper Stomper in 1992, alongside Russell Crowe, Daniel Pollock and Jacqueline McKenzie. His mate, director Lawrence Johnston, told him about the project and gave him Wright’s phone number. When he rang the writer-director he was told the film was fully cast. A few weeks later he got the role.
So he was chuffed when, 25 years later, Wright invited him to reprise the role in the Stan-commissioned Romper Stomper. Brumpton starred in Johnston’s debut film Night Out in 1990.
Among his other credits are the movies Sucker, Fell, Red Hill, The Combination and Gettin’ Square and TV’s Deep Water, Gallipoli, Catching Milat and Killing Time.
John Brumpton in ‘Pawno.’
In action-thriller High Ground, he appears with Simon Baker, Jack Thompson, Aaron Pedersen, Callan Mulvey and David Field. His character Donovan is shot in the bottom, which he describes as a “good death scene.”
He hails Measure for Measure, a modern take on the Shakespeare play set in Melbourne’s crime-infested commission flats, which Umbrella Entertainment will release next year, as “absolutely wonderful, Australia’s Goodfellas.”
Like everyone else involved in the film, he was devastated when the co-writer Damian Hill, who was to play a fallen angel named Angelo, died two days before shooting was due to start. Brumpton describes Hill, with whom he worked in Ireland’s 2015 movie Pawno, as a “gem.”
The cast and crew regrouped and started filming a week later. “We were a really tight group and Paul dragged the performance out of me,” he says.
That was his second collaboration with Weaving; they first worked together in Glendyn Ivin’s Last Ride.
The Diver follows a socially awkward young man (Nicholas Denton) who lives at home with his parents (Brumpton, Dana Miltins). They encourage him to grow and sell vegetables and to go diving. His underwater explorations are fueled by stories from an eccentric older woman (Kaarin Fairfax). Denton’s performance, he says, is “wonderful.”
One of his favourite movies is Sean Byrne’s 2009 horror/thriller The Loved Ones, in which he co-starred with Xavier Samuel and Robin McLeavy. He played a sadist who, with his daughter (McLeavy), captures and tortures a teenager (Samuel). “That film gave me nightmares,” he says.