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Interviews > Ben Barrack

When Gus Cleary, an old colleague of Max Hoylandís from the oil rigs turned up in Erinsborough in 2004, his sinister actions and threatening attitude made him one of the most villainous of Neighbours characters. However, as we later learned, Gus was suffering from a mental illness and his actions were rooted to an unhappy childhood. During Gusí time on the show he impregnated Isabelle Hoyland, who in turn pretended to the world that the baby was Karl Kennedyís Ė despite knowing full well who its real father was. And so began one of the most gripping stories in the programmeís history. In this exclusive interview, Ben Barrack, the actor behind Gus, tells us a little bit more about the roleÖ

How did you get involved in acting and did you do anything else before deciding on the industry?
I studied law straight after leaving school. After that I travelled for 5 years, working in construction and boxing amongst other things. I was actuallycoaching a guy in Sydney when I returned from England and he asked me if I wanted to be in an ad. I said "you bet!" and I haven't looked back! I started off doing a bunch of ads and guesties on the cop and hospital dramas. I was also lucky enough to be cast in Ivan Sen's film Beneath Clouds, which was a real kick.

How did the Neighbours audition and casting session come about?
I was in Melbourne filming another guestie, as a drug dealer on Stingers when I got the call about this gig. Jan Russ wasn't at either of the auditions that I had to get the gig, although I assume she cast me - she's an awesome chick and the cast adore her. Apparently they'd seen a lot of people and were having trouble casting it. However, I got a call 4 days later asking me to move to Melbourne for 6 months. I was stoked.

Were you aware from winning the role that Gus would be a pivotal character in the Izzy/Karl/baby storyline?
No. I had an idea of the basic arc of the character, but there were always a few surprises week by week.

What was it like working alongside Natalie Bassingthwaighte, Alan Fletcher and Steven Lovatt in most of your scenes?
Awesome. I love all three of these guys. Great actors and great people. Working with them was always a lot of fun. Although I don't think Natalie was too happy about the kissing scenes!

Neighbours have been criticised by some organisations for not properly explaining what mental illness Gus suffered from, and for not doing such illnesses any favours by making Gus's actions all negative. What's your take on this?
I think Neighbours is a drama first and foremost. There's are many dramas that don't paint particularly flattering pictures of their villains. I actually think in the end of people felt a lot of empathy for Gus. He did a lot of bad stuff, but he was clearly a pretty mixed up fella. That was in the writing. I think sometimes organisations look for things like this to publicise their own cause.

How much, if any, research did you do for the role?
I did a little research on schizophrenia and I thought a lot about the things that had happened in Gus's life which led him to act in these ways. I always saw him as almost childlike in his need to be liked and accepted. I think a lot of us have similar needs. Who doesn't want to be loved? Maybe we don't all go to the same extremes as our little mate Gus.

Some people feel sympathy for Gus's plight, though not excusing his actions. Do you think the character was misunderstood by a lot of the Ramsay Street residents?
Yes, but I think that served the narrative. If everyone sat around feeling sorry for him and being completely understanding of him, where's the drama in that?

Towards the end of your first stint on the show you and Stephen Lovatt were involved in a stunt involving your characters falling from a first floor landing. Tell us a little about filming these scenes.
It was a great day. Steve and me were feeling a little upset because our time working together was coming to an end, which I think probably heightened the feeling in the scenes. We filmed the fall in 2 parts. First from the top level where we were harnessed in, then we shot it from ground level and Steve and me fell backwards onto a mat, but we had to shoot it 4 times because after we'd fallen out of shot our legs kept popping back up into frame!

With Gus having returned for episodes for the explosive 2004 series finale, and his subsequent apparent death at the hands of the Lassiterís fires, is there any chance that Gus could ever return, and would you want to if asked?
I guess if the storyline was a good one, Iíd always be tempted. Iíve got a real soft spot for Gus!

What has public reaction been like towards you since being on air? Have you had any negative reactions from the public at all?
Nothing negative. I think people just get excited when they see someone they have in their living rooms every night. They feel a strange sort of intimacy. Kids get a little bit freaked out. Yesterday a girl in David Jones said "Hey, it's the guy from the gardening show!"

Finally, what do you have planned for the future?
I'd like to continue working in Australia for a couple of years before taking a look at the U.S. and Britain. Iíve also got a couple of plays we're putting on next year.

Interview by Rhys. Added on 15th January 2005

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