Several weeks ago, Samuel Johnson began training in earnest for a shot at the Mirror Ball Trophy on Dancing With The Stars. He can't say he wasn't warned.
The Victoria-based actor, who earned the TV WEEK Gold Logie award in 2017, had done a bit of research before signing his contract to appear on the reality show, speaking to a few people who had "danced the dance," as he calls it.
They told him the experience would be intense, and he was OK with that. What he didn't expect was how adding a bit of tango to his life would awaken his inner sexiness.
"I'm unlocking a part of myself I've never known before," Samuel, 41, tells TV WEEK after a day of rehearsals with professional partner Jorja Freeman, 27. "There's something magic about dance – there's black magic in there somewhere. It can transform life.
"It doesn't just change the way you feel," he adds, his enthusiasm growing. "It can change the way anyone around it feels! I'm tapping into something very powerful."
At this point, Samuel searches for a better way of articulating how he feels.
Being fleet on his feet, he concludes, "can bring out possibilities you didn't know were there. And that's the thrill of the journey. If I can find just one moment where I actually feel free or sexy, or in control of my body? Then that's a first and that's what it's doing."
It's a revelation to hear that the actor who shot to fame as charismatic writer Evan Wylde on the 2001 series The Secret Life Of Us would ever lose – let alone never think he had – a bit of swagger.
But Samuel says he's gaining confidence through dancing.
Jorja sees it daily during intense warm-ups that focus on flexibility and core.
"Just this week, he's been able to touch his toes; a few weeks ago, he was at his knees," she says.
"I think Sam is enjoying how dance has the ability to transport you to another time, era and character. As an actor, he's so used to relying on dialogue. However, this is enabling him to express himself through movement."
Samuel says he's just grateful to be pushing himself again.
"My body is creaky and battered because I've lived a full life," he says. "But I'm surprised how well the old girl is standing up."
Durability is the least of his worries. After all, in 2013, Samuel rode 15,995km across Australia on a unicycle to raise money for cancer research, setting a Guinness World Record while doing so.
"I spent a year on a unicycle with a pole up my bum for 12 hours a day, so I know what discomfort is," he says with a laugh. "Nothing can be harder than having cancer or unicycling around the country. They just can't hurt me."
His work to ensure that began last year during an extended fundraising drive on behalf of Love Your Sister, the cancer research charity Samuel began with his sister Connie. By the end of 2018, he had raised more than $8.6 million.
"It feels weird to be doing this on my own still," Samuel says of continuing solo towards their $10 million goal after Connie died aged 40 in September 2017. "But I no longer harbour the fears that I might fail without her. I've realised I can do this."
When competition begins in earnest, members of the Love Your Sister community and, possibly, Connie's sons Willoughby, 12, and Hamilton, 11, will cheer for him in the studio seats.
"They can decide whether they want to watch it on TV, come along or not watch it all," Samuel says with a laugh. "I'm not quite sure what they'll think. But they're pretty used to Uncle Sam doing silly things."
It's Samuel who has fallen out of practice having a laugh himself.
"I've kind of had my head up my ass the last few years," he admits. "As I've gotten older, I've become too serious. I've become very serious about my job and being the custodian of my sister's legacy. And, unbelievably for a guy who was nicknamed Mr Happy when he was a kid, I kind of forgot to have fun.
"It feels good to be back, in a sense. I got so immersed in my work, I forgot to have fun – all I knew was how to be serious. So it's great to have a break from fundraising and do something kind of fun, selfish and childish."
Dancing With The Stars airs Monday, 7.30pm, on 10.
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