Profile: Garry McDonald
February 11, 2001
Reporter : Max Cullen
Producer : Marianne Latham
When Garry McDonald showed an interest in acting as a boy, his mother contacted his headmaster to ban his involvement in any of the school's drama activities. Thankfully the headmaster took no notice.
Best known for his madcap character Norman Gunston and the dour Arthur Beare of Mother and Son, Garry McDonald is one of Australia's most successful actors. He has starred in both comedy and serious roles on the stage, screen and television since finishing NIDA in 1967.
Garry told Sunday's Max Cullen that from as early as he can remember, he wanted to make people laugh. He loved Woody Allen, the Marx Brothers and Laurel and Hardy. But it was when he saw the famous Italian movie Mondo Cane as a teenager that the character of Norman Gunston was born.
"There was a statue being unveiled to Rudolph Valentino in his home town in Sicily and the world press was there and every young man slicked back his hair and put on mascara to be discovered," he says.
"And one guy had this protruding lower mandible, and that really struck me as being quite amusing."
It was during his stint as Kid Eager in the crazy Auntie Jack show that Garry tried out the character from Wollongong with the protruding mandible. It was so successful that he became Norman Gunston, with an eponymous show on the ABC. Norman became an icon, interviewing the likes of Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, a hysterical Sally Struthers and a disbelieving Elliot Gould.
Norman Gunston disappeared off our screens for a while and we then saw Garry in a variety of films, including Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Picture Show Man and Ginger Meggs. He also starred in the highly successful television show Mother and Son with Ruth Cracknell. But Norman Gunston was not happy being left behind. In 1993, Garry had another stab at Norman, but after only a few shows, suffered a nervous breakdown and Norman was retired forever.
Garry went on to star in more episodes of Mother and Son. The show was so successful it was translated into French and Spanish. English, Swedish and Chilean copies were produced.
Garry's most recent film is Baz Luhrmann's soon-to-be-released Moulin Rouge.
Now, for the first time, Garry has become a theatre director. Stones in his Pocket is currently playing at the Sydney Theatre Company's Wharf Theatre, before moving to Melbourne.
When Garry isn't acting or directing he is at his country getaway with wife Diane Craig, tending his garden or fishing. When Max Cullen visited him there recently he said that apart from becoming a National Living Treasure which was the nicest thing that had ever happened to him having a nervous breakdown made him realise how much he is loved by the public.