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EXCLUSIVE: Matt Day looks back over four decades of TV Roles

''I wouldn't be that brave now.''
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Matt Day was 15 years old when he saw the Grim Reaper ad on TV.

It was 1987, and the ad was meant to make people aware of the dangers of AIDS.

”It certainly scared the crap out of my teenage self and everyone around me,” Matt, 51, tells TV WEEK.

Nearly four decades later, Matt is playing the health minister responsible for putting that ad to air in ABC drama In Our Blood.

”I’m at that stage of my career where they put me in a suit, give me a briefcase and a legal pad, and then walk me off down a busy corridor,” he says.

”I think you get to a certain age in this industry, and you start playing officious men.”

”Fate stepped in,” says Matt of his career.

(IMAGE: TV Week)

Back when he was 15, Matt was just beginning his acting career. He’d fallen in love with drama while living in the US with his journalist father and had joined a youth theatre when he returned to Melbourne.

”Fate stepped in,” he says.

”An agent came and saw one of the plays we were doing and sent me off to an audition.”

Matt scored the role, in children’s drama C/o The Bartons.

But it was a role he took on at 17, troubled teen Luke Ross in A Country Practice, that made him a household name. The rural medical drama was hugely popular, but Matt didn’t know much about it.

”I was an inner-city kid who was into punk music and David Lynch and weird cinema and I didn’t really watch it,” he remembers.

”I really didn’t have any idea how big it was until my first episode went to air. There was always this demand for interviews and appearances. It was an eye-opening experience for a teenage kid.”

As Richard Roxburgh in Rake.

(IMAGE: Supplied)

After a few years as Luke, Matt quit.

”When you’re a kid, you just think, ‘Oh, that’s enough, I’m going to go now.’ I don’t know if I’d be that brave now, at my age.”

Matt spent the next couple of years ”just managing to string a living together.”

Then he was asked to play Brice, who gets frisky in a beanbag with Toni Collette‘s Muriel, in P.J. Hogan’s movie Muriel’s Wedding.

”If I’m honest, when I read it, I was like, ‘Who’s going to want to see a film about this depressed girl who loves ABBA and is obsessed with marriage?”’ he admits.

”It’s a testament to PJ’s vision that the film became what it did. Everything changed for everyone, really, who was involved in that.”

Matt’s a politician In Our Blood.

(IMAGE: Supplied)

Matt went on to work in the UK, where his most memorable role was as Australian photographer Frank Hurley in the miniseries Shackleton, about a 1914 Antarctic expedition.

”I was playing opposite Kenneth Branagh, so I knew I really had to lift my game for that one. I certainly knew all my lines when I got to set on those days!”

After eight years, Matt and his wife Kirsty Thomson decided to return to Australia.

”We had a kid,” he explains.

”It was questions of where do you want to raise your children, where home is.”

Matt in a Country Practice.

(IMAGE: Supplied)

Matt and Kirsty’s two sons, Jackson and Rufus, are now in their teens, and neither of them have expressed an interest in acting.

”Thank God!” Matt laughs.

He says his wife, who is executive producer of 60 Minutes, understands the industry he’s in and its ”precarious” nature. But, he says, there are some good things about living with an actor.

”You’ve got someone who’s there most of the day to do the laundry and tidy up!”

With Toni Collette in Muriel’s Wedding.

(IMAGE: Supplied)

After nearly four decades in the industry, Matt is ”very grateful” for the way things have turned out.

”I’ve just finished a play in Melbourne and every time before I step out on stage I try and clear my mind, just to calm the nerves, and remind myself how lucky I am to get to do this.

That’s how I approach life, really.”

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