Life after Strictly Ballroom

BY MEL BONDFIELD

The NFSA is recognising the 25th anniversary of Strictly Ballroom with a new online exhibition and curated collection. Paul Mercurio joined us to celebrate with an exclusive interview. 

The rebel with a cause

By the early 1990s, Paul Mercurio had notched up ten years as Principal Dancer with the Sydney Dance Company (SDC). Film acting was simply a logical next step in his rising career.

The role of Scott Hastings in the screen adaptation of Strictly Ballroom provided the perfect gateway into movies for Mercurio. He was a natural fit to play the 'rebel with a cause' who wanted to dance his own steps and it would become the role that defined his career.

Close up head and shoulders shot of Paul Mercurio during filming of Strictly Ballroom in 1991.

Scott wanted to dance his own steps, sing his own song, tell his own story... I identified with that very much, I always understood that.

Paul Mercurio

Life after Strictly

With no expectations that the low-budget flick would become a roaring success and that worldwide fame was just around the corner, Mercurio returned to life as normal after filming Strictly Ballroom. In this clip from our exclusive interview, he talks about supporting a young family at the time and having a clear focus.   

Following the phenomenal success of Strictly Ballroom, Mercurio split with SDC to launch his own dance company, the Australian Choreographic Ensemble, and continue his acting career.

He travelled to the US in the mid 1990s, working with Garry Marshall, Dan Ackroyd, Ben Kingsley and Martin Landau, among other big Hollywood names. And there were also appearances in many popular Australian TV series throughout the next decade, including Water Rats, Heartbreak High, All Saints and Blue Heelers

Food journey

A new career path also emerged in the early 2000s. Long before any Masterchef contestant had uttered the words 'food journey', Mercurio was on one of his own. Between acting roles he had begun to experiment with food, cooking and brewing. He says that from a young age he always 'gravitated towards food'; as a teenager he worked in fast food and once considered becoming a chef. 

And so, combining two of his passions - performance and food - the next career step was another natural progression. In the following clip he talks about becoming a television cook and presenter. 

While his TV presenting career was going strong, Mercurio still had one foot in the world of choreography and dance. He was a movement consultant on the Will Smith blockbuster I, Robot (2004), a judge on the hit show Dancing with the Stars for four seasons (2004 to 2007) and had a cameo in the film Razzle Dazzle (2007).

However, it was during this time that acting roles began to dry up. It has long been a frustration for Mercurio that, although he still has a passion for acting, he is thought of by television and filmmakers as a presenter or 'foodie'.  

On the horizon

Despite this, Mercurio is still upbeat and optimistic when talking about current and future projects. In the following clip he talks about getting his 'acting socks on' for his latest film role, a manipulative movie producer in a low-budget independent film A Silent Agreement

Mercurio candidly shares that the last couple of years have been a challenge, with ventures that didn't go as planned. But he doesn't believe in regrets, saying they are 'just disappointments that you didn't learn anything from'.

And while his dancing days are now behind him, Mercurio is still driven by his passion for food and acting. He says, 'I'd love to do more acting. Ultimately I'd love to open a place where I could make great food, brew great beer and, in between, do the odd movie or TV show.' 

He has recently released a food line, Beerlicious, which includes chutney and mustard with more items to come. And if you want to know the secret to the perfect chutney, it's a good beer base. 

With an entertainment career spanning more than 30 years and encompassing dance, choreography, theatre, television, film, food, books and travel, Paul Mercurio is most certainly not done yet!

The NFSA would like to thank Paul Mercurio and the Stomping Ground Brewing Co., Collingwood VIC.