"It's a hard career. You chase work constantly, and I went where the work took me."
The 2010 Australian crime movie Animal Kingdom proved to be quite effective in vaulting its cast onto the world stage. In the wake of its release, Jacki Weaver earned two Oscar nominations, Joel Edgerton saw his international career rebooted, newcomer James Frecheville won roles in a number of US productions and, well, there's hardly a high-profile project that Ben Mendelsohn isn't attached to these days. But one of the biggest boosts was that experienced by Sullivan Stapleton.
Already working fairly consistently prior to landing the role of volatile crim Craig Cody in Animal Kingdom, Stapleton's career went into overdrive and he found himself in demand as an action hero, both on the small screen in the counterterrorism pay-TV drama Strike Back, which recently came to a conclusion after five seasons on the air, and on the big screen in films like 300: Rise Of An Empire.
"It's a hard career," Stapleton says of acting. "You chase work constantly, and I went where the work took me. But things did change after Animal Kingdom; they changed for all of us. And it certainly opened a few more doors for me. I'm a lucky boy."
"And if we run out of stories, we can always add more tattoos."
Still, Stapleton hasn't abandoned the local scene altogether, returning home to star in the thriller Kill Me Three Times and now the '70s-set crime drama Cut Snake, in which he gives a powerhouse performance as the fresh-out-of-jail Pommie, whose re-appearance in the life of fellow ex-con Sparra (Alex Russell) is the catalyst for some hard-hitting criminal activity and some unexpected developments.
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While Cut Snake doesn't hinge upon a major plot twist, it does reveal aspects of its characters that take the story in fascinating directions, and Stapleton describes that part of the project as "scary but exciting".
"It was challenging but it was also so well-written," he says. "And it was great exploring what drives Pommie and all his different layers."
However, one of the most appealing aspects for the actor was the chance to work with veteran producer and director Tony Ayres. Stapleton had known Ayres for years but Cut Snake was their first collaboration.
"We've wanted to work together for a long time, so when this came up I jumped on board right away," says Stapleton. And it turned out to be worth the wait: "With the collaboration and teamwork we had, everyone felt very comfortable and confident to explore. Something like that makes the job much enjoyable."
Stapleton has now set up shop in New York, where he's currently filming the TV series Blindspot opposite Thor star Jaimie Alexander. (The series premieres in Australia next month on Seven.) The conspiracy thriller stars Alexander as an amnesiac woman whose tattoo-covered body holds the clues to a string of upcoming crimes, and one of the tattoos is the name of Stapleton's character, FBI agent Kurt Weller.
"We try to find out the connection between these two people, and these mysteries start to unfold," says Stapleton. "It could go anywhere, and that's exciting to be part of. And if we run out of stories, we can always add more tattoos."