Thursday November 15, 2012
Jonathan LaPaglia talks about his role in The Slap
By KENNETH CHAW
The Slap actor Jonathan LaPaglia shares why sparing the rod may not necessarily mean spoiling the child.
GROWING up, I was quite the “home decorator”. You see, my parents weren’t too crazy about colours, so when it came to painting our walls, it was either in the shade of white or on their most adventurous days ... off-white.
Hence, I took it upon myself to refurbish these dull, uninspiring walls and demonstrate some creative sensibilities to my family. The artist in me began to draw (doodle), colour (scribble), paint (spill paint) and produce what can only be described as a masterpiece that was “out of the ordinary”.
But for reasons unclear to me, they did not share my creative ideals. Upon discovering what I had done, my mum retreated to the kitchen (for what felt like forever) and returned with two items: A ‘rotan’ and a wet cloth.
At that moment, things suddenly became very clear to me about what had happened, and what was about to happen. In my subsequent childhood years, I made sure this same clarity was reflected on the surface of those walls.
“It’s not something I would do to my child,” actor Jonathan LaPaglia said when asked if he believes physical punishment is an acceptable form of child discipline, during a phone interview from Los Angeles, California.
Immediately, I snapped out of the musings on my childhood and began to suspect that perhaps LaPaglia – a child of the 1970s – somehow managed to escape the “old school” way of parenting and grew up in a more liberal environment.
To my surprise, he revealed that he was actually physically punished as a boy: “At school, I got slapped for minor offences like disrupting the class or talking out of turn.”
However, the 43-year-old father to Tilly, eight, said he “thinks differently now”.
“I think kids are learning. They don’t have everything at their disposal to make sound, informed decisions.
“I feel like they are pushing the boundaries to figure out where they are. So, what seems like naughty or bad behaviour is just kids wanting to explore.
“Therefore, I don’t feel any kind of physical punishment is warranted. As a parent, my job is only to show them where the boundaries are,” he explained.
The actor believes in delineating those boundaries by sitting his daughter down and trying to logically explain things to her.
This hard-hitting parenting style is the subject of debate in the critically acclaimed Australian drama The Slap. The eight-episode series, based on the international best-selling book of the same name by Christos Tsiolkas, begins at a suburban barbeque party where three-year-old Hugo (Julian Mineo) throws a tantrum and swings a baseball bat violently, endangering the children playing around him.
To protect his son Rocco (Raffaele Costabile), who is playing with the group, Harry (Alex Dimitriades) intervenes. But after failing to calm him down, he delivers a resounding slap across the boy’s cheek. Harry’s parents Gary (Anthony Hayes) and Rosie (Melissa George) accuse Harry of abusing the child and proceed to press charges.
“The atmosphere was almost electric on the set. It was one of those remarkable moments that don’t happen very often in filmmaking,” LaPaglia recalled the moment the actual slap was filmed.
He added that the production team had a lot of concerns at first in determining how to shoot it, what the tone should be and whether it will work dramatically.
“When we finally shot the scene, everyone’s reaction to the slap was so real and raw that we nailed it on the first take,” he revealed, adding that the seemingly real slap was actually simulated.
In the series, LaPaglia stars as Hector, a likeable, financially stable family man who just turned 40 and has everything going his way. But beneath his smiley, cool-as-a-cucumber exterior, he is struggling to get through a midlife crisis.
“This is how I break down life. In your teens and 20s, it’s a period of exploration; in your 30s, it’s a period of acquisition where you settle down with a partner, get a car and a house. In your 40s, it’s a period of reflection where you stop and ask yourself ‘how did I get here?’
“That’s what Hector is going through. At one moment, there was a level of unpredictability and the excitement that comes with that. Suddenly, he realises he’s 40 and life is very predictable. He knows exactly how life is going to turn out from here on. That can be very daunting,” LaPaglia said, describing his character.
To complicate matters, Hector’s teenage babysitter Connie (Sophie Lowe) kisses him and he begins to develop feelings for her. “Connie represents that youthfulness he longs for but is slipping away. There’s something very exhilarating about feeling like a tongue-tied schoolboy again when he is around her,” he shared.
LaPaglia admitted he had gone through his own midlife crisis and could therefore embody Hector’s struggles well. The actor, who is more used to taking on roles with tougher personas like a cop (The District) or a criminal (Underbelly: Badness), surprises many by successfully conveying gentler and subtle emotions in The Slap.
Being able to sit down and speak to author Tsiolkas for hours must also have something to do with it. “I asked him all kinds of ridiculous questions like ‘What kind of underwear would he wear?’ and he would have the answers. This way, I learned what made Hector tick and what his motivations are,” he said.
The Slap won Most Outstanding Drama Series, Miniseries or Telemovie at Australia’s most prestigious television awards, the Logie Awards, besides a nomination for Best International Programme at the BAFTA Television Awards.
The Slap airs every Thursday at 9pm on Sundance Channel (Astro B.yond Ch 438).