The Doctor Blake Mysteries is an Australian television series that premiered on ABC TV on 1 February 2013. The series stars Craig McLachlan in the lead role of Doctor Lucien Blake, who returns home to Ballarat in the late 1950s to take over his late father’s general medical practice after an absence of 30 years. Doctor Blake is a keeper of secrets and a solver of mysteries. The series is produced by Tony Wright and George Adams.
10 Questions: Craig McLachlan, actor, 49 (Jill Rowbotham from The Australian interviews Craig McLachlan about Dr Blake)
FROM young hunk Henry Ramsay on Neighbours to middle-aged physician cum detective on The Doctor Blake Mysteries in a career of 29 years and counting. Was that the plan?
I certainly hoped I’d still be performing at 50 and of course it was all I ever wanted to do. But I was aware of the potential for years of “drought” from the get-go.
You played Henry in the late 1980s, which you call the “Jason/Kylie golden era” of Neighbours. What was that time like?
I am continually reminded just how big the show was here and in the UK, where it was pulling up to 20 million daily. It was akin to any pop mania you care to think about. It was the era of big hairdos and even bigger shoulder pads.
Do you remember how you felt about it at 21?
I embraced it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I was a kid from the NSW Central Coast. At first I was on a six-week contract; I had to get my head around three moving cameras, how the lighting worked, how not to cast shadows on my colleagues. I remember thinking “I cannot stuff this up”. It was punishing, especially if the character you played became popular – you found yourself in virtually every scene every day.
You say all that stood you in good stead. How?
On the set of The Doctor Blake Mysteries the director will often comment on my exacting grasp of continuity. That comes from filming so many scenes a day and shooting out of order on Neighbours.
Three years and a Gold Logie later, you left Ramsay Street, did more TV and then, in 1993, wowed London’s West End in Grease. Why did you go there?
I wanted to experience everything. Music, musical theatre, theatre, film. I was in love with the stars of the golden era of Hollywood, those genuine all-rounders.
Prospective employers were sometimes confused about whether you were a musician, theatre actor or screen actor, weren’t they?
Yes, there was a period of that but I have been very blessed that there’s never been a protracted time out of work.
How have you stayed sane through the highs and lows?
Being a bit loopy helps. I have a completely no-bullshit family; they are not in show business, they keep me well grounded when I’m tap dancing on the peak and when I’m trawling through the cold valley.
The Blake series is about to go into its third season. Do you like the doctor?
Yes. Lucien’s complex and there is a quirky side to him that I like. He drives me crazy sometimes: his inability to tell [his housekeeper] Jean Beazley that he loves her drives me nuts.
You’ll go from that to reprise your award-winning role of last year as Dr Frank N. Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. What’s the transition like?
They’re very different doctors. Sometimes I break into the voice of one of them when I’m supposed to be delivering lines of the other. It was lovely to be asked to go back for the 40th anniversary. I said to the creator, Richard O’Brien, “I’m glad you’re asking me for the 40th and not the 50th because I don’t think I’ll have the arse for it in another 10 years.”
You first played the role in 2003. What’s changed?
In this selfie-obsessed, social media-oriented world audiences are way more outrageous. One lady stood up very quickly one night, pulled her top up and took a selfie with Frank N. Furter in the background on stage, but she had to face the rest of the audience to do it and a riot almost ensued. I’m competing with that!