Aussie invasion

Down Under actors climb up TV ladder

Anthony LaPaglia, Simon Baker and Poppy Montgomery are just a few of the Australian actors now making their mark on American TV.

Countrymen Portia de Rossi, Rachel Griffiths and Judy Davis have been gracing the small screen for some time, while the bigscreen Aussie invasion of Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman, Heath Ledger, et al, has been documented ad infinitum.

“We’re always being asked ‘Who’s the next Nicole Kidman, who’s the next Hugh Jackman,’ ” says Ann Fay, whose Sydney-based company, Maura Fay and Associates, is Australia’s biggest casting agency for offshore TV series. “There’s definitely a buzz about Aussies.”

The steady stream of thesps collecting kudos in Hollywood these days is a welcome distraction for filmmakers sweating over the fact that it’s been six long years since “Shine.”

The latest Aussie to throw his shrimp on the small-screen barbie is Calvin Klein model Travis Fimmel, who anchors WB’s upcoming fall series “Tarzan & Jane.” The Oz industry cannot take any credit for Fimmel — he has no acting experience at home.

Sarah Wynter is another Down Under native with a burgeoning career Stateside. The 30-year-old from New South Wales stepped into the spotlight when she joined the second season of Fox’s “24.” The role was the culmination of years plying her trade in Hollywood — she has no screen credits from Oz.

“General Hospital” heartthrob Ingo Rademacher is another with a U.S. profile who is largely unknown at home. The German-born 32-year-old moved to Australia as a child and broke into acting via the short-lived Queensland soap “Paradise Beach” before ankling for Hollywood.

Alan Dale, on the contrary, was so well known in Oz that he had to leave to rejuvenate his career. From 1985 to ’93, Dale played dad Jim Robinson in Australia’s long-running popular soap “Neighbours.” These days he’s gigging on “The West Wing,” “24” and “The Practice.”

La Paglia’s wife, Gia Carides, is a vet of the Aussie film industry, probably best known to Americans from her award-winning role in “Strictly Ballroom.” She and fellow Aussie Louis Mandylor followed the success of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” into “My Big Fat Greek Life.”

Of course, there are many others, some with high profiles, who ankled Oz with stars in their eyes, only to return months or years later, embittered by the Hollywood experience.

When Griffiths received a Golden Globe for her work on “Six Feet Under” she gushed about Australia’s taxpayer-funded industry.

The government funds university drama courses (in full until 10 years ago, now students contribute less than 20% of the course cost, about $2,000 a year to their tuition).

Montgomery suggests the successful Australians share a strong work ethic. “And they don’t get caught up in the bullshit. They just care about the work,” she says.

Plus there’s a freedom to fail that comes from trying to break into an industry that is very foreign and a long way from home. “Initially I was pretty fearless,” she recalls. “I thought I’d give it a year or six months.”

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