Ross O'Donovan beyond Starstruck

BY MIGUEL GONZALEZ AND ADAM BLACKSHAW

Ross O’Donovan played the mischievous 14-year-old Angus in the rock musical comedy Starstruck (1982), alongside Jo Kennedy. We tracked him down and spoke with him about the impact the film has had on his life.

Miguel Gonzalez: When did you last watch the film?

Ross O’Donovan: A couple of months ago I was showing it to some of my 11 grandkids. Once they realised they were looking at me in the film their jaws dropped.

It’s such a kid’s film. Starstruck is about being a kid with dreams and trying to work out which dreams are possible. That’s why any kid thinking about their future loves Starstruck.

 

What’s your favourite moment in the film in relation to your character?

The final scenes when Angus is chucked out of the Sydney Opera House and he sees the ice cream girl, played by Kaarin Fairfax, and he winks at her and the next shot is fireworks over the Opera House and Angus rolling down the carpeted steps. That was fun to make. The choreography by David Atkins for the song ‘I Want to Live in a House’ was pretty extraordinary and that was heaps of fun for me too.

Are you still in touch with Jo Kennedy?

We might not see each other for a few years but we’re as close as we ever were from the moment we met. We were shoved together in a really weird situation. Neither of us had done film. She was a punk singer and I’d done one play at school. Jo is a very spiritual, very strong internal person and in some ways that’s why she didn’t pursue the ‘pop career’ because it was in conflict with her philosophical perspectives I suppose.

How about you? Why didn’t you pursue a career in acting?

Six months after the film came out I was hospitalised with bipolar disorder and when I got out I had to rediscover who I was. There was a media ban put on the story so it never went public. I tried for a couple of years to get work but I just wasn’t committed. I ended up in Cape York living on a yacht, getting to know the Torres Strait people, and I’ve been doing it ever since. I’m a very strong part of that community now. It was where I ran away to after Starstruck, really.

What type of community work do you do?

I’m an auditor for National Mental Health Services. Alongside that I’m part of a film club called End Credits. They have a branch called Starry Night Cinema. We show a whole range of different films in outdoor locations in the Cairns area. We’re putting a proposal together to take the outdoor screen on the road and travel up Cape York and into Torres Strait. We’re looking for supporters and sponsors so I’m helping to try and make that happen. I think in the regions where things can be tough, particularly in remote communities, watching a movie outside is fantastic. It brings people together.

How do you feel about Starstruck having been restored by the NFSA?

I think it’s fantastic because Starstruck was such a sleeper. It wasn’t as well appreciated at the time and there were some unique things about it that were overlooked back then. The people involved in Starstruck had been involved in Australian music and film for over 20 years: David Elfick, Ian ‘Molly’ Meldrum and Michael Gudinski, among others. They’d already done years of developing film and music culture so Starstruck was really celebrating, capturing but also relaunching the next generation.

The other thing I must say is the Starstruck you saw on screen was not the Starstruck that Stephen MacLean wrote. The plot that Stephen wrote centred around my character, Angus, while the film that Gillian Armstrong made was centred around Jo’s character, Jackie. Gillian got him to twist aspects of the plot which was great because she created a new story. The original story was more about Stephen’s perspective on how the music and film industry in Australia had developed in his life and where it might go. There was much more of a visionary component to Angus’ mind rather than the mind of Jackie, who just wanted to be a star.

Did you keep anything from the film, such as costumes?

Yeah I did, I kept the blue jacket which I wore a lot in the film. And I also kept the shoes. But I lost the blue jacket in a taxi in Cairns about 10 years ago one wild night. I was still having wild nights back then. I’ve still got the gold lamé that I was wearing in the final scenes, rolling down the red carpet with Kaarin in my arms. That jacket’s in Melbourne. And the shoes are still down there too I think.

 

Maybe one day the jacket and the shoes can come to the NFSA?

Yeah I reckon that would be the best place for them for sure.

NFSA Restores: Starstruck (1982) YouTube playlist with before-and-after restoration clips and scenes from the movie.