How Aussie heart-throb hit rock bottom
It seems like Alex Dimitriades is in the midst of a second coming. Truth is, the 45-year-old actor never truly went away. Because even if it does not feel like he's everywhere you turn anymore, he remains one of the most familiar faces in Australia. And it is thanks to some consistently good choices.
It didn't start out that way; after breaking out in the title role of The Heartbreak Kid opposite Claudia Karvan in 1993, his CV grew patchy. And yet, he tellsStellar, "I thought it was the other way around! I felt like when I was younger I was overexposed."
So when Dimitriades hit what he refers to as "rock bottom" nearly a decade ago, he tried a different, more low-key tack. And in the intervening years, the kid actor we took for granted has clawed his way back with a bounty of good work, adding something crucial to many of the best television series of the era.
"I'm happy with how it's fallen into place," he says. "But there's always room for growth and improvement and elevation." This quieter, more mature Dimitriades feels comfortable. "Now I'm consistently working on very good projects. Good sh*t." He is collaborating with people he admires yet, he says, "I don't get my balls busted."
His new four-part ABC miniseries The Cry features Ewen Leslie, Asher Keddie and British actor Jenna Coleman. The drama filmed early last year in Melbourne and Scotland and has already aired in the UK, much to his chagrin - he was fielding excited text messages from friends there as they watched it. Still, he says, "It's a great series with a phenomenal structure - and it has the kind of scope that can really latch on to a wider audience."
In this second phase, any adulation or respect coming his way is "more engaged - and it's not just hype. People really mean it," says Dimitriades. At the start, he was enveloped by hype and teenage enthusiasm. "Now I'm in the shadows doing interesting stuff. The quality's high - but also, my privacy is high somehow."
It's not luck: there's been a conscious effort to pull back from the hedonism of his youth. Episode one of Dimitriades's story was a boy's own adventure of work, travel, parties, romances (including an eight-year relationship with shoe designer Terry Biviano) and tabloid troubles. Given his second TV role was in the seminal crime series Blue Murder, one presumes life must have looked easy.
"Look, we were living in the moment and doing the thing," he muses. "You do a couple of weeks or months out of your life and then you move on to the next thing. Or nothing. And there's lots of nothing. And that can test you in many ways. You start to question things - what am I doing right, what am I doing wrong?"
The nothing period led to some dark years, including a drink-driving arrest in May 2008. He found solace in a DJ career, and drew on the discipline of 300-plus performances of his Wogboys comedy stage shows with Nick Giannopoulos and Vince Colosimo to help straighten him out.
Episode two finds the man at its centre calmer, wiser and more focused. He has wound it all back: there are no controversies; he's rarely in the social pages. If he has hobbies, he won't divulge them. If he has a partner, he's not telling. In fact, when Stellar admits to finding no trails of evidence around his current love life, he laughs: "Well then, it's working."
He admits some might consider it risky for an actor to pursue anonymity or eschew "relevance, which is a word I find really cringey. But I take risks by nature, not by design. And I made a conscious decision to change sh*t up because I lived most of my adulthood in the tabloids."
A watershed moment came when his mother Betty died in 2009, a year after the court date where he was given a good behaviour bond and escaped a conviction for that arrest. "That was a real down point," he says. "It was ground zero to start building again." From there, "Things started coming together. It was like the end of the war; they dropped the big bombs and it was like, right, the world is different now. I wanted to do things my way."
The youngest of three, he was very close to his mum. His father left the family in Sydney's inner west when Dimitriades was 12. Betty, an immigrant from Greece, worked as a legal secretary to push the kids through decent schools.
He recalls the privilege of having her "as a rock" and a home to fall back on when life was turbulent. "The ups were high, gallivanting around the world before coming back with my tail between my legs thinking, 'I've got to start all over again,'" he says. "I was definitely lucky to have her. Unlucky in a sense as well, because it created some bad habits." He laughs. "I'm sounding a bit cryptic, dissecting my own life out loud."
Now that Dimitriades preferences self-improvement to stardom, he is almost wilfully ignorant of what is going down in the industry, and not eager to engage much when it comes to #MeToo. "I dunno, just f*cking behave yourself and don't be a dick," he says with a smirk that seems to ask why there would even be another option. "My main focus is to stay healthy. I don't want to know too much about what's going on. I believe in positive growth, and hopefully that will translate into staying respectable."
It has been - and continues to be - working for him. The roles have been lucrative: Underbelly, The Slap, Wake In Fright, a Silver Logie for The Principal. He was in Netflix's inaugural Australian series Tidelands, The Cry is on its way and he has just wrapped filming Foxtel drama The End with Frances O'Connor on the Gold Coast.
Whatever it is he has, people want it. He recalls a friend explaining why he keeps being cast: "You're Dima! That's why they got you, mate." He chuckles at the memory before smiling shyly. "He's probably right, which is nice."
The Cry premieres 8.30pm, Sunday February 3, on the ABC and iview.
This article originally featured in Stellar.