The big smoke of Sydney is a big adjustment for a bloke from country Queensland in the ABC's new series Les Norton.
The big smoke of Sydney is a big adjustment for a bloke from country Queensland in the ABC's new series Les Norton. Supplied

New talent weighs in on his TV debut as Les Norton

ALEXANDER Bertrand beat some Hollywood heavyweights to win the titular role of Les Norton in the ABC's adaptation of Australian author Robert G. Barret's literary larrikin.

But the up-and-coming actor is too much of a gentleman to name names.

"Jocelyn (Moorhouse, the director) went in to bat for me. I'm not going to mention them but some serious names were put in for Les. They took a shot on me, which is still bizarre to me," he tells The Guide.

The rising talent was meant to make his big TV debut last year in Seven's Australian Gangster, but the true-crime drama has been delayed for legal issues.

Instead, Les Norton is the Manly native's first introduction to viewers.

Bertrand stars opposite David Wenham and Rebel Wilson in the 10-part comedy drama, which premiered on Sunday and follows country Queensland bloke Norton as he arrives in Sydney to escape a troubled past.

David Wenham, Alexander Bertrand and Rebel Wilson star in the small-screen adaptation of Les Norton.
David Wenham, Alexander Bertrand and Rebel Wilson star in the small-screen adaptation of Les Norton. Supplied

He lands a job as a bouncer at an illegal casino and finds himself dragged into a web of underground criminality.

"One thing that attracted me to him is he judged no one, and I like to see myself like that as well," Bertrand says. "He has a good outlook for the world we live in. He knows what he wants and treats everybody with respect.

"It doesn't matter who it is, you give everyone a shot and a chance."

Bertrand drew on his background in muay thai and the Army to bulk up for the role, training six days a week. He also dyed his hair red and wears a prosthetic nose to "look that little bit rougher".

"I'd look in the mirror going 'Who the hell is that?'. The description in the books is Les has arms like Christmas hams, but he would prefer to hit the heavy bag and swim a lap of Bondi than lift a bunch of weights," he says.

Alexander Bertrand bulked up for his role in Les Norton.
Alexander Bertrand bulked up for his role in Les Norton. Supplied

Ironically, when an injury forced him to leave the Army Bertrand worked as a bouncer in Kings Cross before landing a place in Sydney's Screenwise acting school. But Bertrand says he threw more punches on the set of Les Norton than he did in real life.

"I was never a fighter. Nine times out of 10 you can talk someone down from any situation," he says.

"I got a lot of work at a place called The Village. That was before the lock-out laws, so it was still the wild west."

Set in the 1980s, Les Norton has a heightened sense of reality and screenwriter Morgan O'Neill has adapted Barret's story for a modern audience.

Kate Box stars as Lozza in the TV series Les Norton.
Kate Box stars as Lozza in the TV series Les Norton. Supplied

Kate Box, for example, plays Les's housemate Lozza, who was a man in the books.

"Taking Les straight from the books to the screen wouldn't have translated," Bertrand says. "You can't please everyone but I think you can create something people will love.

"We've created this Les who is a fish out of water and is thrust into it all."

Les Norton airs Sundays at 8.40pm on ABC-TV.