James Stewart has been through hell.
He's been arrested twice, lied to his partner and threatened his friends – all the result of a crippling painkiller addiction so severe he once tried to fish crushed up pills out of a drainpipe clogged with hair, dirt and goodness knows what else.
No-one ever said living in Summer Bay was easy. And for the Home And Away star, playing his character Justin's devastating downward spiral in recent weeks took an emotion, physical and mental toll.
But life always had a way of bringing him back to reality.
"I'd spend at least an hour washing off the day straight away at work," James, 45 tells TV WEEK of playing the emotional scenes.
"Then I'd get home to (daughter) Scout and have to make the Jasmine doll pretend to be Rapunzel. Your priorities shift and very quickly life's about broccoli and carrots and playing with the toy panda."
Having played Justin Morgan on HAA for five years, James is used to intense story arcs – last year Justin had a life-threatening tumour on his back. But this was different.
"I put everything into this," he says of Justin's pill addiction story arc, which stemmed from a surfing accident."
As an audience member, you watch someone going into hospital and you feel for them and you're watching someone being vulnerable. But this (addiction) storyline leaves room for audiences not to like you.
That's a really hard thing to do, especially in this gig.
"I know so many actors that would love to run up the beach with a perfect six pack with a girl in a bikini a surfboard under their arm. But I love doing the dark kinds of things."
James' says his own experience with prescription medicine is pretty minimal. He broke his arm skateboarding as a teenager and had to get a local anaesthetic.
"I don't dig it," he says of painkillers. Inspired by one of his favourite actors, Heath Ledger's work in Candy and Leonard DiCaprio in Basketball Diaries, James worked hard with the writers, series producer Lucy Addario and co-star Ada Nicodemou to bring an authenticity to the addition arc.
In short, James was "proud" to become some kind of "monster" on screen. He has a favourite quote from Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, famous for his song "Hallelujah", which says, "There is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in."
"It's OK to be ugly, it's OK to have cracks," James says. "That's why I'm proud of this storyline. Sure, I may have got a word or shot wrong, but I was proud of my approach to it. And I'll be able to tell my daughter, it's OK."
Scout, James' nine-year-old daughter he shares with former fiancée, actress Jessica Marais, is old enough to watch dad in Home And Away, and old enough to start asking questions about what he's doing up on screen.
At the time of interview, Scout was yet to see her father's bad behaviour on TV, but he's prepared for what happens when she does. "I know Scout is going to say to me, 'Dad what's happening there?'" James says.
"I'm then going to be able to bring up a bunch of topics like unhealthy use of medication, unhealthy relationships, lying. And the great thing is, we'll have an ice-cream afterwards and chill out." WATCH: James, Sarah and Scout behind the scenes our exclusive shoot. Story continues below.
Sometimes James will get home from work to find Scout watching HAA with his mum or with wife, former co-star Sarah Roberts. "She closes her eyes at the kissing scenes," James says of Scout.
"But she really watches it and I've taken her on the set quite a few times and she's really starting to take a shine to drama and TV."
And she's showing a real interest in storytelling.
"What she's saying is, 'Watch me read this story about this kid who is scared of a snake, see me be scared'," he says.
"When she's being scared she puts two hands under her chin and shakes them like she's blowing wind under chin and I'm like, 'Is that scared acting?' And she says, 'Yes dad! Urgh!"
But acting and performance isn't all she's keen on, with Scout also getting a kick out of karate, swimming and now science ("It's a massive deal"). James wants her to "love everything".
Scout is growing up fast, whether James likes it or not. That can have surprising benefits.
"After a while, they start helping," he laughs. Yet James is very aware that as an only child, Scout has "spent a fair bit of time around adults".
As such, her perception of the world and the way she converses is perhaps a little different to some other children, James adds.
"She's had to grow up quickly," he says. "I'm trying my hardest to let her be a kid. Sarah helps me with that. I suppose I might have been a strict single parent because I was a bit worried (about Scout). But Sarah's put this great ease into how the family runs. She makes it so easy to be a part of. It's so beautiful. We're loving life here."
Interestingly, while James' character Justin might have perfected lying to Leah, James is not so lucky with Sarah. "Some mornings, I'll say, 'See if you can tell my lie face'," James reveals.
"As husband and wife, you get to really know someone. And Sarah will say, 'I know when you do this, it means you're probably going to watch footy with the boys. She can really identify my different types of grins." Sounds like a happy marriage.
- PuzzlesThe Australian Women's Weekly Puzzle Book Issue 71
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