DESPITE two decades of acting experience, Aaron Jeffery believes that, when it comes to landing a great part, it all comes down to luck: ''It's a fluke. Sometimes I find the roles and sometimes they find me.''
On McLeod's Daughters, in a role that had him jumping on and off horses for eight years, he played Alex Ryan, a heartbreaking former rodeo rider and full-time larrikin - perhaps a trait Jeffery shares with his character, if his 2007 Silver Logie Award-winning speech is anything to go by. Accepting the award, he announced: ''We've got some great actresses on the show - definitely the best boobs in the business, and it makes coming to work every day very easy.''
Since then Jeffery has worked on a range of productions from East West 101, Water Rats and Wild Boys to Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries.
While actresses of a certain age often lament the dwindling number of interesting roles on offer, Jeffery finds his advancing years have helped secure some of his most challenging and satisfying roles. ''I'm 42 now and I'm getting the opportunity to play 'characters', rather than in the early part of my acting career, when it was often a leading man part. If I had to choose, I'd pick the character roles because those are the parts that are interesting to play. The 'straight and narrow' lead guy role can be a bit mundane - I want to play characters that have an edge, a spark, something that sets them apart.''
Recently he was was virtually unrecognisable as the paranoid criminal Frank, who gives evidence against murderer Anthony Perish (Jonathan LaPaglia) in Channel Nine's Underbelly: Badness. With a shaven head, pot-belly and prison tatts, he expertly played a menacing man who is slowly being driven mad by an erratic, violent life of crime.
''I'd be really pleased if some people had trouble recognising me in this role,'' he says. ''This was a character I fell in love with.
I grabbed this opportunity with both hands and ran with it. I didn't do much research because it was such a brilliantly written part. Roles like that are gifts.''
Jeffery considers himself an ''organic'' actor, someone who doesn't over-analyse performances. ''Usually the roles just shape themselves,'' he says. ''I try and layer them up but, for me, I have to just trust the acting process.''
That trust, he says, comes from experience and, while he has enjoyed his time playing the good-looking male lead, he's more attracted to the complicated characters. ''I'm an older guy now,
so more of these character roles are coming up, and I love that.''
This might seem incongruous given Jeffery's next role is in Australia's longest-running soap, Neighbours, but he was thankful for the opportunity. ''I was invited to take on the part and I jumped at the chance … For me, Neighbours is an institution that helps young actors develop,'' he says.
Jeffery moved from Sydney to Melbourne for the role in Neighbours. He plays the new deputy editor of The Erinsborough News, Bradley Fox, a rakish bloke who ends up having an affair with the much younger Summer Hoyland, played by Jordy Lucas.
''I stole this description from Richard Jasek, the executive producer, who says, 'He's a cross between Peter Pan and Ernest Hemingway - he's a guy who still thinks he's 20 years old','' Jeffery says.
He says he found the experience of working on Neighbours inspiring because of the creative, positive energy. ''All the actors work so hard, and they put a lot of time into rehearsals,'' he says. ''I can see why some of these actors go on to have international careers. It's a great training ground. For me, it confirms that if you're going to set up an environment that's healthy and positive, only good things will come out of it.''
Although the New Zealand-born actor never grew up watching Neighbours, he has a poignant anecdote about the show. ''I was about 17 and I suppose I was a little lost in the world,'' he says. ''I was living in a factory in Kensington, sleeping on a mattress. I had a portable radio and I remember listening to an interview between Kylie [Minogue] and Jason [Donovan] talking about Neighbours. That was a long time before I had any aspirations to become an actor; in fact, my only aspiration at that time was to get my next meal.''
Jeffery won't be drawn on the details (''We'd need a couple of hours at least'') but at some point he was able to turn things around and he graduated from NIDA in the early 1990s, getting his first break on the children's show Ship to Shore.
''Like everyone, I've had lots of adventures and heartache,'' he says. ''We're all fallible, we make mistakes, experience pain and all those things feed into human experience. As an actor, I suppose I bring that to every role. I don't ever want to feel like I've nailed acting. I've been through periods of my career where I haven't always loved acting, but I've never stopped learning.''
In the past decade, Jeffery has taught drama at NIDA and other organisations. ''Teaching kids is so invigorating and it reminds me that the profession of acting is constantly evolving,'' he says.
Beyond his two-month role on Neighbours, he sees nothing but opportunity. ''I don't have anything lined up. I've had to learn over the years to trust that something will turn up and not freak out every time it happens. My next project is Project Dad - my daughter's nine years old and I'm more than happy just spending time with her.''
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