12
Oct

Sinister role, but important story relives gay hate crimes.

Craig McLachlan is the first to admit he is a close ally to the gay community.

Many friends in his inner circle are gay.

“I am the best ‘straight gay man’ they know! People say they’ve always been in touch with their feminine side, but clearly I’ve always been in touch with my gay side,” he reveals.

“To be absolutely honest with you, the closest male friendships that I have nurtured over the years are pretty much all gay men. They’ve been wonderfully supportive of me when things have been tough.”

Yet despite having played Rocky Horror‘s own Dr. Frank N. Furter for more performances than he cares to remember, little prepared him for what was to come in SBS drama Deep Water, as bar manager Kyle Hammers.

“He’s a piece of work. He carries a lot of hatred with a really sinister agenda and black history.

“The scripts are really confronting but really saying something.

“I read the character and thought ‘Holy shit!’ So it was challenging. But in the producers hands it was also a joy to do.”

“It was as if people didn’t care enough.”

The four part contemporary drama is based on gay hate murders in Sydney in the 80s and the 90s. A topline cast is led by Yael Stone and Noah Taylor, with William McInnes, Danielle Cormack and Jeremy Lindsay Taylor.

Deep Water depicts brutal murders and references the cases of dozens of gay men whose deaths went largely ignored, simply because of their sexuality.

“I’m old enough to remember that stuff in the news,” McLachlan recalls.

“I can remember the coverage in the newspapers about these dreadful acts was pretty scant. It was almost like ‘Do we really want to report on this?’ It’s just awful and frightening to think those crimes were perpetrated.

“It was as if people didn’t care enough.”

McLachlan worked with Blackfella Films on Redfern Now and was determined to team up with producers once more. They called him for Deep Water, but despite the grim role it was an important story.

“I just felt strongly it was a project well worth doing,” he continues.

“Even though I was immersing myself in this horrendous world it was a joy to work with Noah Taylor, and I’d never had the chance to work with him before.

“Yael was amazing. I can’t say enough about her. Clever, clever gal. Like most people I’d seen her in Orange is the New Black but she is just a dynamo.”

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“I was so naïve. I found myself in situations without even realising.”

Many gay murders also resulted in a diminished conviction for the perpetrators, known as the ‘gay panic defense.’ A defendant could claim they acted with temporary insanity if it was linked to a homosexual advance. It has since been banned in NSW, Victoria and Western Australia, but yet to be repealed in both Queensland and South Australia.

During his pin-up boy days in the 80s McLachlan says he used humour in situations where flirting was uninvited (he even reversed it by flirting with male casting agents himself).

“I just treated it with humour,” he says.

“I was so naïve. I found myself in situations without even realising.”

One early modelling agency was keen to give the surfer from the Central Coast a shot at fame.

“I can remember ringing my mum to say ‘The boys running the agency are so sweet. To save me going back up and down the coast wasting my money on train tickets, I can just stay with them!’ he laughs.

“So mum said ‘Come home and have a talk!’”

On another occasion McLachlan found himself linked in tabloid stories in which Jason Donovan was suing UK magazine The Face, for suggesting he was gay.

“I thought it was riotous,” he recalls of seeing his name linked.

“I went to the Logies and won a Silver Logie and during my acceptance speech I said ‘I only just flew back into Australia and you can imagine my surprise when I read in a Sydney newspaper that Jason and I were gay? In fact I said to Jason in the shower before the ceremony, can you believe it?’”

“For days it haunted me that such hatred was directed at a friend of mine”

But there were other experiences much darker, including watching a gay friend being harassed in a London café.

“It’s hard to grasp such a simmering of vile hatred if it isn’t inherently part of your personality,” he says.

“A bunch of young men filled with booze took one look at him and of course it was on with insults.

“I thought ‘This could go either way here’ and with any attempt I had to say ‘knock it off,’ they were very quick to turn on me.

“For days it haunted me that such hatred was directed at a friend of mine because he looked a little bit different to everyone else in the café.”

Deep Water will air in 4 parts, with SBS also set to screen a feature-length documentary Deep Water: The Real Story hearing from police, advisors, victims and families of actual murders during the 80s and 90s.

With fears the looming same-sex marriage plebiscite could incite further homophobia and hatred, SBS will raise thought-provoking questions during a sensitive climate.

“Intolerance is still out there, let’s not forget.”

Deep Water begins 8.30pm Wednesday 5 October and continues Thursday 6th on SBS.

Deep Water: The Real Story airs Sunday October 16 at 8.30pm on SBS.