Sunday Magazine – 2 May 2010Story: Joanne Hawkins
He’s been dubbed Australia’s ‘next big thing’ more times than J-Lo’s been called a diva. But, as her onscreen love interest, can Alex O’Loughlin finally scrap his own back-up plans?
Alex O’Loughlin loves his job. “It’s the best job in the world,” he exclaims on more than one occasion. And on the surface, it’s hard to disagree.
The 33-year-old lives in Hollywood, has starred in a string of TV shows in the US and has hung out at Jennifer Lopez’s Long Island mansion. It’s a long way from unblocking drains as a teenager in the middle of a cold Canberra winter. “That was my worst job,” he remembers. “I was covered in sh*t, having a rotten time. I vowed, ‘One day, I will not clean up other people’s poo.”
But appearances can be deceptive. The Hollywood home is rented and the shows have a chequered history. Cult series Moonlight – in which O’Loughlin played vampire Mick St John – suffered a drawn-out death after one season. The actor had high hopes for his turn as a heart transplant surgeon in Three Rivers, but its life support was switched off in January.
In spite of this, the NIDA graduate, who rose to prominence in Australia after playing the troubled Jack Flange in the film Oyster Farmer, believes he’s been fortunate. “To be honest, I think I’ve been really lucky to work at all,” he says quietly. “It’s hard out there.”
Still, things could be looking up for O’Loughlin (pronounced O’Lachlan, and spelt that way until he reportedly changed it to honour his late grandfather). This month sees him star in his first big-budget Hollywood film, The Back-up Plan, opposite the aforementioned J-Lo. Tired of waiting for Mr Right, her character, Zoe, is artificially inseminated through a sperm bank, before, rather inconveniently, falling for O’Loughlin’s Stan. The rom-com is her first film since becoming a mum to twins and anticipation is high. Surely this will be O’Loughlin’s big break?
“I hope so. But I have to maintain perspective, because that’s the only thing that gets me through the gaps of unemployment,” he muses, running his hand through hair flecked with grey. “I always say to myself, ‘This moment will pass,’ whether it’s good, bad or indifferent. I think people are going to see the film because they haven’t seen Jennifer for a while. She’s really good, and everyone’s happy with what I did, so, hopefully, that will equate to more work for me. But, right now, it’s business as usual. I’m reading scripts and spending time with my family. And growing a beard,” he grins.
As for working with the artist reportedly renowned for her demanding behaviour, O’Loughlin says he didn’t see any evidence of it. “Never once. She’s a class act. She’s ‘Mama’ to her bubs, who were on the set a lot. And my son [Saxon, 12] was there a lot too. It was lovely. I’d heard stories about her being a diva. Maybe she was a pain in the arse when she was younger. I was,” he laughs.
This is my second interview with O’Loughlin – the first was for the 2005 release of Oyster Farmer – and although still friendly, he’s more guarded now, especially when it comes to his relationships. He split from singer/actor Holly Valance in 2009, after almost four years, and declines to name his current “lady friend”, but rumour is, he’s dating his former Three Rivers co-star, Aussie actor Amber Clayton. “She’s a beautiful girl,” is all he’ll say. “I’m really enjoying spending time with her. But relationships are hard. That stuff I keep pretty close to my chest because it’s no one’s business.”
(Whenever I see the quote above, of ‘keeping things close to his chest’, I always see this picture of Alex and Amber in my mind – of course it was a paparazzi photo taken months after this interview and was not used in the article)
We’ve caught up during one of O’Loughlin’s trips back home. “Australia will always be home,” he muses, gazing at the view from the city skyscraper. “You feel it in your stomach and your heart. But LA has become home as well. Because of how my life has panned out, I’ve had to learn to adapt,” he says, alluding to the fact his parents split when he was two and he spent his childhood shuffling between Canberra and Sydney. “I went to a lot of schools and lived in a lot of places, so I learnt to make a little sanctuary wherever I was.”
Earlier, he piled on the affable charm at our photoshoot, winning over the team with his easy-going attitude and self deprecating wit. It was probably the same charisma that won over Lopez, who had the ultimate casting vote on her co-star.
Director Alan Poul says it was important to find someone who could hold his own against Lopez: “We had to make sure she didn’t overpower the guy. Alex has a gravity in what he brings to the screen.”
Convinced he’d found his man, Poul flew O’Loughlin to Lopez’s Long Island home for a once-over. “I’m not going to pretend he wasn’t nervous – who wouldn’t be?” recalls Poul. “But Alex is so naturally charming, he knew when to concede the floor to her. There’s a cheekiness he turns on with great charm. And he’s not in it for fame or money; he’s in it because he loves acting.”
O’Loughlin was bitten by the performing bug while doing a school play. “I found it amazing, but I never thought I could do it as a career.” He says he spent his teenage years “drinking and bumming” out, and then a series of dead-end jobs followed – including that sting as a plumber. Acting wasn’t considered, until a friend intervened.
“We were watching the footy and I was commentating in a Roy and HG-style, and everyone was laughing,” O’Loughlin recalls. “At half-time, [my mate] asked what I was doing. I quipped, ‘Preparing my second act’. But he said angrily, ‘No, I’m serious. What are you doing? You have a talent and it’s so frustrating to see you do nothing about it.”
After some commercials, 22-year-old O’Loughlin was accepted into NIDA. But it wasn’t an easy decision to go back to school, especially as he’d become a dad to Saxon at age 20. “I told his mum I wasn’t going to have much money for three years, but she was like, ‘Just do it.’” The couple split when Saxon was young and O’Loughlin agonised over his move to the US in 2005. “Part of me was saying, ‘You can’t go and live in another country when your son is back home.’ But another part was saying, ‘You only have one chance.’” (Nowadays, Saxon is a regular visitor to his dad in the US. “We’re very close. My whole world revolves around that little bloke.”)
The Aussie did it tough in LA at first. He’d had a leading role in the mini-series about [transported convict] Mary Bryant and thought he was on his way, but Hollywood had other ideas. “I must have done 250 auditions that year,” he says. “I was like, ‘Why won’t anyone employ me?’ I questioned myself, my talent and my capacity to exist in this industry.”
So, what stopped him booking a ticket home? “A belief in myself and not wanting to let my son down. I also thought of my grandfather. He was a tough old bastard from the Snowys. I’d hear his voice saying, ‘Stop moping. Shut up and just get on with it.’”
The actor is refreshingly – some might say foolishly – honest about his ability: “I’m not a great talent. I’m a medium talent, but I have a good work ethic. I’ll work because of that. But I knew I had to chase it.”
Peter Andrikidis, who directed him in Mary Bryant and likens him to Russell Crowe, disagrees: “[Alex] has had a hard life. But what makes a great actor is when they bring that life experience to the screen.”
O’Loughlin recently finished shooting a pilot for a remake of Hawaii Five-0, in which he plays Detective Steve McGarrett. If the series gets the green-light, this could prove to be his year. But if not, that’s OK, too, because this former plumber will just keep plugging away. “I love my job and life, but if it all goes wrong, I’ll come back to Australia to dig holes while I work out what to do next. Outside of the people I love, nothing else matters. This is just icing on the cake.”
O’Loughlin and fellow Aussie Holly Valance blamed the demise of their relationship on busy careers.
- Interesting that the article refers to Amber as Alex’s girlfriend of the time, but they chose to post a picture of Holly and Alex. (Maybe because Holly is more famous than Amber in Australia, and everywhere)
- But the funny thing is the description with the photo – ‘busy careers’ as the cause of their brake-up, while Alex did not do any acting for many months at the time when they broke up. (Just shows you can’t believe everything you read 🙂 )
- What is interesting to me, is to see what others have to say about Alex – Alan Poul (Director of TBUP) about Alex: “And he’s not in it for fame or money; he’s in it because he loves acting”.
- Always interesting to me to see that most fangirls can’t stand JLo, mostly because of her public diva image. I myself enjoy most of her movies and never followed her personal life, so I just judge her by her acting work. And she shared the screen with some of the best leading men in Hollywood (Alex had big shoes to fill, starring opposite her).
- I think Alex will always see the best in people he meets, but his positive thoughts about Jennifer in all the interviews, always sounded genuine to me. – “I’d heard stories about her being a diva. Maybe she was a pain in the arse when she was younger. I was,” he laughs.