It was a bleak day. The forecast, which I am so often loathe to defer to, warned of storms and heavy rain. The clouds were bloated, heavily shaded, monochrome and greyscale. They were rumbling already, as if ill with overindulging in whatever had been evaporated recently into the smoke scented skies of bushfire ravaged Victoria and New South Wales.
It all seemed fitting. We were visiting a prison. A fictional, made-up prison, the set of a TV series. It was nonetheless foreboding, set or no set. Large nondescript buildings with caging and security fences around areas. We checked for signs and directions once in the larger compound. Distracted by meandering paths, puzzled over where we should go. We asked directions, worried about how we would get our equipment to the sets through the downpour, where would we be shooting (please don’t be alarmed, it is our language for photographing and filming)?
Today we were talking with Bernard Curry, who has spent more than a few years working at that “prison".
For him, it’s almost a home. He’s worked on the iconic Australian TV series “Wentworth” for the last seven seasons. They are currently filming eight and nine (although they have paused now due to the current situation). He loves it. He’s a key actor, and his role has been one of a prison guard on the series.
Spending some time with Bernie brings you up. It’s his demeanour, his assuredness. Not something natural to everyone, he exudes a buoyancy.
“I’m hard-wired to think that way, as a positive person. I really am the eternal optimist. Even when my wife says ‘You know, that was really shit,’ I’m convinced there will be learning from it, and at the very least a great story to tell.”
And that brings us to the greater point. Bernard knows how to tell a story. A natural craftsman at it. He was born into it. His father was into language, having won trophies for elocution whilst at school. He would read poetry, and quotes, and understand intricacies of grammar and intonation, nuances that weren’t missed by Bernie.
"I like language. I like it being used correctly. I like it when language is used in a poetic way, and then in a very concise way. I like to swear. I think in a grammatical sense the word f**k is one of the most versatile words in the English language. You can say f**k about anything, anything can be f**k.”
I won’t continue with how floridly he accordingly used the word, but he was concise, poetic and eloquent as expected.
He’s expressive as he talks, his hands like a symphonic conductor's, bringing you into the discussion, keeping the words flowing, lilting, like a chorus or a stanza. They are a form of punctuation. His blue eyes focus, soften and capture your attention. There is nothing deadpan about him. He connects, and you follow what he’s saying, he keeps you engaged. I’m sure some of this has been honed in years of acting classes or disciplines of his craft, but it feels honest, nothing about him seems contrived. He’s not that kind of guy. We’ve spent a few days together now. The stories roll out effortlessly, one after the descriptive, compelling other.
Being raised alongside his siblings, they all were involved in performing arts, which have become his metier, along with music, which has been his buffer to the harder times between roles. He’s masterful at both singing and the guitar, has toured often, and continues to perform with a variety of bands and musicians at venues across the country.
“I’d always had this idea of going to LA, and having a crack at the scene over there. It’s been a deep, driving force in my acting career.”
As any Australian actor, he had entertained the thought of making it big in Tinseltown but had always pushed it away, telling himself it was not the right time or he didn’t have enough money. Any type of setback was insurmountable to put him in that possible position of being rejected or failing over there. Until a pivotal moment. When prodded by a well-known acting coach (Ivana Chubbuck) to go there, he felt he had no more excuses.
“At the end of that class (a masterclass with her), she said to me, ‘You need to go to LA, that’s the place where you should be.’ That was the moment I said to myself, no more excuses.”
Bernie made a decision with his wife and their 9 month old son to move to Los Angeles, to beat down the doors of Hollywood. It's a well-worn path, with few making any grand successes from walking it. They packed up everything. The timing couldn’t have felt worse in so many ways, yet it was time to take that risk.
There was nothing easy once making the move. For the first year of not getting work from any auditions, and going to plenty of them amongst the most competitive arena in the world for actors, Bernie remained driven. The following four years turned around from that start that could have defeated lesser people. They became years of a journeyman actor. No series regular roles on a TV series, but having guest star roles and recurring roles on well known shows. Working consistently but not landing that break that would mean he had ”made-it”. Whilst by no means a failure, he wanted more… and still with that glass half full attitude.
Bernie’s take on what he learnt from the move is unique. It was a long masterclass of auditioning.
“One of the main things about being in LA is that you do so many auditions, and you don’t get every role of course. I see it as, exercise. Your go over there and you audition, audition, audition. It makes you better at auditioning. Auditioning as a craft is different from acting. The muscle that you use, and the protocols you use to get the best out of yourself, and to be in the right frame of mind, it’s a different process, a different beast to acting.”
“I feel like even though you might have been to LA and you feel like you haven’t had the success you wanted, when you come back to Australia it will have been a successful thing for you as a person, as an actor. It builds character, it builds resilience.”
Consequently, he auditioned in LA for a role back in Australia, which he won. It was for the role of Jake, the prison guard at the very prison we spoke in. Whilst the day poured buckets outside, inside didn’t feel anywhere as bleak anymore.
Resilience is a good word.
Bernard loves working on the prison set. He loves the series and believes it is iconic and meaningful to Australian culture.
You can watch Bernie in Wentworth on Foxtel.
Many thanks to Fremantle Productions and Foxtel Publicity for allowing us onto the Wentworth set.
(There have been no spoilers about the new season through this story, by the way).
Bernie also performs in the musical production ”End Of The Line”, a tribute to The Traveling Wilburys, alongside a cast of Australian Rock Royalty.