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Anthony LaPaglia stars in two new Australian films – The Bank (opened the Melbourne Film Festival) and Lantana (opened the Sydney Film Festival). Meanwhile in America, LaPaglia plays the big end of showbiz town, Los Angeles; it’s a good balance, he tells Andrew L. Urban.

With a place to call home on both sides of the American continent, Anthony LaPaglia and his actress wife Gia Carides are firmly on the A list of expatriate Australian actors. As LaPaglia picks up the phone in his Los Angeles home for our interview, Gia can be heard in the background, sending greetings home. Things are going well: two new Australian films which star LaPaglia open within a month of each other at home, and there’s a list of US films also in the wings.

"I listen to myself more"

"Things have got better because I listen to myself more," says LaPaglia. His ‘people’ weren’t overly supportive of him working in Australia. "It means leaving the US, being away from the market here, which they didn’t like. They preferred I didn’t do them, in fact."

And indeed, when the role of Simon, the CEO of The Bank was offered to him, LaPaglia turned it down. He was waiting to hear on a bigger role in a big budget Hollywood film. But after passing on the job, it began to haunt him. "Over the next few days, I kept thinking about it. I couldn’t get it out of my head. I told Gia and she said that’s the one I should do. So I threw myself back in and luckily it wasn’t too late. So my heart made the decision on that."

The Bank, which opened the 2000 Melbourne Film Festival, also stars David Wenham as Jim, the clever maths and computer expert with a fancy new program in development that promises to fatten the bank if and when the stockmarket crashes – it will even predict when that will happen. LaPaglia plays Simon O’Reilly, the banks boss, who embraces this idea, paying no heed to the financial ruin caused to others. LaPaglia turns in a terrific performance as the villain of the story, a corporate iguana with a taste for blood money.

"a David and Goliath story"

"I really loved the script and saw it as a David and Goliath story," he says. And he was happy to play Goliath . . . "But I was also fascinated by how it taps into the global movement of people protesting against large financial institutions. In a way it reminded me of the revolutionary feeling of the 60s. And then there was David Wenham – I’m a big fan of his."

But what appeals most to LaPaglia these days – now that he’s listening to himself more – is that he can choose to take roles in modestly budgeted Australian like Simon, or indeed that of Leon the unfaithful homicide detective in Lantana, alternating with Hollywood-size payrolls in films as varied as Autumn in New York (with Richard Gere), as well as ones coming soon: The Salton Sea (with Val Kilmer), I Faught the Law (with Kiefer Sutherland and Australia’s Radha Mitchell) and I’m With Lucy (with Monica Potter), among others.

"This business has always been quite complex," he says, talking about the eternal dilemma for actors: take the money and the fame, or take the low road to artistic satisfaction. "Some people say the more famous you get the more choice you have so you get better material. For others it’s a simple matter of lifestyle."

It’s difficult to find big star vehicles that also have substance, he feels; "if you’re aiming for mass appeal, you have to reduce it to the lowest common denominator."

For LaPaglia it’s a treat to be able to have both: in the US, his ‘people’ (the agency which represents him) bring him scripts with money – and sometimes it’s good material as well. In Australia, he can work in the Australian idiom and chose juicy roles – like Simon and Leon. "I finally feel I’ve got the balance right, both in terms of what I’ve done and what I’m being offered."

"the best part that has ever come my way"

The role in Lantana – the film opened the Sydney Film Festival - was a long time coming – and came along a winding road: Gia Carides had worked with Lantana director Ray Lawrence years ago on Bliss, and LaPaglia had met the director six years ago over a lunch. "We decided then that we’d like to work together one day…"

When he read through Andrew Bovell’s script, he was amazed. "I couldn’t believe what a good script this was. They’d sent it to me but hadn’t told me which role they wanted me for. And as I was reading it, I kept thinking, ‘please let it be Leon’. It’s probably the best part that has ever come my way."

Published September 6, 2001

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Anthony LaPaglia in
The Bank
Release Date: September 6, 2001

Release Date: October 4, 2001

Read Brad Green's The Bank SOUNDTRACK REVIEW with audio excerpts

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