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He saw her on the tv, cast her to star in his movie – and now he’s married her. Belinda McClory tells how the writer/director of Redball, John Hewitt, found her. ANDREW L. URBAN reports.

John Hewitt was watching Janus, the police drama series on ABC, back then in 1994, and was struck by Belinda McClory’s on screen presence and her overall acting skills. Effortless, natural, vulnerable, sensitive, strong…his mind ticking off the qualities. He set about writing the screenplay for his intended ‘police revenge fantasy’ Redball, with Belinda playing the central role of homicide detective JJ Wilson. She was to portray a frustrated detective – one of several – who is hamstrung in her efforts to bring a criminal – a child killer - to justice.

Hewitt didn’t realise then that McClory was the daughter of a cop and knew all about police lives being shattered by the work.

"It was a bit scary," of the Matrix West Hollywood Premiere

Now, five years later, with the film releasing (finally) and being launched internationally at the 1999 Cannes film festival, McClory and Hewitt are married, and have spent two of their eight married weeks in America, specifically for the premiere of The Matrix, in which McClory plays Switch, a revolutionary in the company of Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne).

"It was a bit scary," says McClory of the West Hollywood premiere. "I hadn’t been warned how vocal the American audiences can get…when we got out of the limo there were a couple of thousand people and they just screamed!"

With McClory in the limo were husband Hewitt, and Matrix co-star Hugo Weaving with his partner Kirsty.

The contrast between these two films in which McClory appears could not be greater. Redball is a low budget thriller shot over a few weekends in Melbourne; the actors had to turn up in their own clothes and they got paid late. The Matrix is a big budget sci fi action drama with hundreds of special effects, shot over five months in Sydney.

But it is in Redball that McClory’s talents are showcased to the full: effortless, natural, vulnerable, sensitive, strong…

"You can’t not be effected by what you see every day."

"My father was a cop until I was 12," she says. "He was in plain clothes CIB…he adored the job but it changed him and he brought that home. No-one but police understand it…it made him an insomniac and an alcoholic. Our home was violent….because police carry around the horror perpetually. You can’t not be effected by what you see every day. That’s why this character of JJ Wilson appealed to me."

And that’s why McClory is concerned that the film is upsetting some police (particularly the Victorian police) with its brutal honesty about police procedures, the temptations and the ugly side of law enforcement. "I did it for other motives – and John wrote it as a revenge fantasy for cops; he loves the police."

McClory thinks she has been naïve about this; "I thought people would see it on a human level, perhaps with some understanding of what these people go through. They have to shut off half of themselves to do the work. I never expected the film to be seen as an indictment. And I though the police would at least privately acknowledge the struggle involved in dealing with the job…."

Hewitt gathered a lot of his material like many writers do – just living his life. He once worked in a Melbourne pub where the major crime squad gathers to drink and unwind. "He heard their stories, and there is also stuff that comes from the papers. But what doesn’t come across in the papers," says McClory, "is the cops’ humanity. We both love cops – so much so," she says, "I took a role in Blue Heelers as a good cop just to show the Victorian police I was an actress – I could play good cop, too."

"It was very free and organic"

McClory thrived on working with Hewitt (but she hastens to add that it was not an on-set affair. "I was very Irish about it – I didn’t sleep with him until a year later…"). "It was great – John let us do what we felt; the camera just followed us. It was very free and organic, to coin a wanky phrase."

But that freedom clearly worked for McClory (indeed, all the cast) because her performance is sensational. "At the time," she says matter of factly, "I knew I was doing something but I didn’t know what that was. It wasn’t until I saw the finished film that I realised I was doing a good job." She says this with no sign of self-aggrendisement, but clearly some pride.

We are sitting in one of the smallest cafes in East Sydney, a new place with about eight small tables shuffled into a wedge shape space adjacent to a tiny kitchen. McClory is still jet lagged and tired from the Los Angeles trip, which included a side-trip to Las Vegas so they could reenact their wedding in the ‘Elvis’ chapel. For fun. McClory orders chicken done in green tea and I go for the cold rare roast beef salad.

"very happy to be doing this kind of role"

McClory overcomes her jet lag and talks amicably, occasionally animated by the subject; no doubt about it, she has an emotional investment in her role and in the film. "Look, at 30, I am very happy to be doing this kind of role. There aren’t many scripts with big female roles like this. Here is a detective doing her job – and I want people to be clear that she’s cracking up not because she’s a chick but because of the work."

Indeed – the men she works with are also dealing with their demons.

Adjusting to married life, McClory and Hewitt have also teamed up professionally – as writers. They are working on several projects, but one that stands out is called Grim. "John is writing this one on his own. We’re hoping to shoot it later this year. It’s a one take movie, shot in two hours over one weekend. It’ll take a lot of co-ordination but I think it can be done."

It’ll star Belinda McClory (Hewitt won’t work with any other) and one male actor.

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Redball – A high-priority case which generally places investigating officers under extreme pressure.

Chickenhawk – Paedophile whose penchant is for boys.

Rockspider – Paedophile whose penchant is for girls.

Knock – To murder someone.

Scrumdown – Meeting of detectives to compare notes and align stories.


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