- The Washington Times - Friday, January 25, 2002

Australian actor Anthony LaPaglia, a star of the new "Lantana," notes that he has "about five movies coming out this year.""I couldn't tell you in what order," he says during a recent phone conversation from Los Angeles.
"Once I'm finished shooting, I don't get that involved."
"Lantana," which opens today at a trio of area theaters, won seven awards, including best movie, during the most recent balloting of the Australian Film Institute. It links a missing-persons case to four subplots about troubled marriages.
Mr. LaPaglia also is seriously involved in the preparations for a new movie version of Arthur Miller's play "A View From the Bridge." A Broadway revival of the play in 1998 won Mr. LaPaglia a Tony Award. The actor also awaits the second draft of a screenplay from Andrew Bovell, the Australian playwright who expanded a theater piece of his own, "Speaking in Tongues," into "Lantana."
The most prominent of the LaPaglia movies stacked up for 2002 is "The Road to Perdition," the second feature directed by Sam Mendes, who won the Academy Award for "American Beauty." A crime saga set in Chicago during the Roaring '20s, it stars Tom Hanks as a hit man and Mr. LaPaglia as Al Capone.
It may be the last thing of its kind for Mr. LaPaglia. "About two years ago, I basically said to my agent, 'No more mobsters.' This movie was a unique experience, and it wasn't a long-term commitment, so I backtracked a little," he says, "but the mob thing bores the living daylights out of me. I'm enormously not interested in that life."
Mr. LaPaglia has played cops with some frequency and portrays one again in "Lantana," set in the suburbs of Sydney. The title takes its name from a flowering shrub of South American origin that tends to conceal a dense undergrowth of thorns. Metaphorically, many of the characters have thorny problems of their own to conceal.
Something of an exotic import in his own right, Mr. LaPaglia emerged about a dozen years ago when he stole scenes in the Alan Alda courtship comedy "Betsy's Wedding." To all appearances, he seemed a native son of either New York or New Jersey rather than a transplant from Adelaide and Brisbane.
In fact, Mr. LaPaglia wasn't attracted to acting before he moved to New York City in the early 1980s at age 24. A friend dragged him to a revival of William Congreve's "The Way of the World," where he was bowled over by a performance from Hugo Weaving, an actor from back home now playing the elf monarch in "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring."
Mr. LaPaglia moved briefly to Los Angeles but doubled back to New York as quickly as possible while struggling through the early years of a career. "I felt instantly at home in New York," he says.
His first Australian movie, "The Custodian," dates from a decade ago, after he had made an impact in the United States. Only in recent years has Mr. LaPaglia returned to Australia with regularity. His two brothers live in the United States. One, Jonathan, is a cast member in the television series "The District." Their parents live in Brisbane.
"Lantana" is one of three movies the actor has made in Australia in the past three years. "It's not really about the place," he says. "It's the material. If there were three good roles in Alaska, I'd go there."
He regards the adulterous police detective he plays in "Lantana," named Leon Zat, as "a very complex character." Mr. LaPaglia elaborates: "I think most people are, but quite often we're presented with stereotypes: A cop is this, a fireman is that. … This script really fleshes out people's life."
Zat's states of disrepair threaten a marriage of long standing that has produced two teen-age sons. The women in his life, a spouse played by Kerry Armstrong and a mistress played by Rachael Blake, are in a position to run into each other at a ballroom-dancing class. It amuses the troublemaking Miss Blake to flirt with the idea of spilling the beans when she encounters Miss Armstrong.
The actresses, popular for years with Australian movie and television audiences, seem a belated revelation in the United States. "This is true of every country which has a film and TV industry of its own," Mr. LaPaglia says. "The levels vary, but each one has a stable of actors that people grow familiar with and passionate about in the domestic markets. Both Kerry and Rachael are well-established in their own country."
Mr. LaPaglia says he loves "to encounter new actors from somewhere else."
"That's one of the things I love about film. Someone you've never seen before gives this fantastic performance. I think quite a lot of quality work, and many exceptional actors, still pass us by."
Mr. LaPaglia resists characterizing himself. "Other people can do that," he says. "I try to focus more and more on work that makes me happy or proud to do. Ten years ago, I think I was more inclined to chase a career. When you're younger, you want to build the career. Acting challenges can be part of the happiness. What makes me unhappy is going to work on something that has no freshness or challenge to it."
At one time, Mr. LaPaglia seemed to straddle character-actor and leading-man categories. He has concluded that character actor is a more comfortable fit.
"Being a character actor is infinitely more interesting, in my opinion," he says. "The categories are really for other people: producers, agents, critics, so they know where to put you. I always feel that 'character actor' carries the connotation of a dirty word in some way I suppose by implying limitations. That can be deceptive. All the actors I'm fondest of would be more accurately described that way."
Leading man, he says, "is the classification that really limits what you can do."
"When you're a lead, you're kind of confined to experiencing things as the audience would. That's who you represent. … When you get to play the other roles, which are usually more proactive, you can create something more individual."
Having sustained one Arthur Miller revival for almost a year, Mr. LaPaglia has plans for another, "After the Fall," in the next year or two. "I get offered stuff all the time," he says, "but the theater commitment is a big one. It's six months at least, eight shows a week, so you've really gotta love it. I choose very carefully."

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