The past 12 months have been a whirlwind for Newcastle actor, producer and all-round nice guy Zac Garred.
He grew up in New Lambton and has lived in Los Angeles for the past 10 years but is back home to promote his new movie, Bring Him To Me, starring Sam Neill, Rachel Griffiths and Barry Pepper.
Garred acts in, and co-produced, the action-packed thriller which made its Newcastle debut at a special screening and Q&A at Reading Cinemas Charlestown on Friday night.
And there's another exciting project Garred has been working on. The Newcastle Herald can reveal he's making a movie called The Ballad of Les Darcy with childhood friend and filmmaker Tom Arthur and acclaimed director Bruce Beresford.
"We haven't said anything to anyone yet, so you get the scoop," he excitedly tells the Newcastle Herald while enjoying a leisurely stroll along the Honeysuckle boardwalk. He mentions in passing that his family has "worked on Newcastle Harbour all their lives" and that he is meeting his niece Isla for the first time later that day.
"My best mate Tom and I bought the screen rights to Peter FitzSimons' book The Ballad of Les Darcy about 10 years ago and have been developing it into a script ever since."
The turning point came last year when Garred met with Australian film director and screenwriter Bruce Beresford in Sydney to discuss the project.
"He's a three-time Academy Award nominee and directed Driving Miss Daisy, Breaker Morant, Mao's Last Dancer, Ladies in Black, all these incredible movies, and he's just co-written the latest draft with us and he's going to direct The Ballad of Les Darcy," Garred says.
"We've been working with Bruce for the past 12 months to bring this together. He's always wanted to make a film about Les Darcy, he said he'd just never found the right script. So we bought him our script, he came up with a new draft, and we're ready to go.
"And we are going to shoot it here in the Hunter Valley. I can't wait."
Darcy, a champion middleweight and heavyweight boxer, was born in Maitland in 1895. He was 19 when World War 1 began, and refused to go into combat. Vilified in his home country, The Maitland Wonder (as he was known) moved to New York City and died not long afterwards.
Garred is a co-writer and producer on The Ballad of Les Darcy and will also act in the film.
"We're talking to enough people and have enough interest in it to be able to pull it together very soon, and it's not a small project either, we're talking about a $15 million budget," he says.
"When so many people were prepared to throw everything in and head overseas and fight a foreign war, Darcy was different," Arthur told the Maitland Mercury in 2013.
"For a man who was relatively uneducated by today's standards, Darcy had a real sense of moral duty and that sense of morality really bucked the trend of the time."
And, as if he's not busy enough, Garred is also actively involved in the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) strike in conjunction with the Writers Guild of America, and he has a wedding to plan. His own.
The former NCIS: Los Angeles and General Hospital actor popped the question to Allison Boyd in Honolulu, Hawaii, in 2021.
"We were going to get married this year but it's looking more likely to happen next year," Garred says.
"My fiance is from Alabama, and her father who died a few years ago was very fond of Santa Barbara, so we're going to do it there."
BRING HIM TO ME
Garred is grateful to have been granted permission to promote Bring Him To Me in Australia by the Screen Actors Guild while the strike remains ongoing.
"I read another review from a discerning critic last night and they're describing it as atmospheric, tense, thrilling, a dark movie - I'm really pleased with that," he says.
"People are loving Sam [Neill] in it. He plays a very violent and scary man. He was the son of Satan in the third Omen movie, but even then he had that cold, Dorian Gray charming quality. In this movie he's a malicious, violent and scary man - and he's my father.
"I'm the ambitious, impatient son and he's the domineering, threatening gangster.
"He and I are the ones who get robbed at the start of the movie and it sets off a chain of events. Barry Pepper, who was in Saving Private Ryan, True Grit, The Green Mile, he's a wonderful actor and he plays a getaway driver who works for a criminal syndicate in Missouri.
"I'm a co-producer as well, so I was working in front of the camera and then jumping behind to help bring the film together."
Bring Him To Me opens in the US on January 19.
"When I was in Newcastle at the age of 16 shooting my first television series, this is what I dreamed about doing," Garred says.
"Acting is my first trade, the craft that I know the best, but I love telling stories, I love narrative. This is the place I always wanted to be at; promoting films I'm really proud of with incredible actors."
Garred supports industrial action by the Screen Actors Guild, of which he is a member, and the Writers Guild of America aimed at addressing residual payment shortfalls for streamers and the increased use of AI.
"We're fighting for the 98 per cent of actors who don't make $US30,000 a year and who are asking for residuals from streaming to match current standards from network television and what used to be DVD, so they can have health insurance," he says.
"When you see Brad Pitt, George Clooney and Matt Damon speak at the rallies, they're not speaking for themselves, they're speaking for the 98 per cent. It's about making sure that we have a viable industry to make a reasonable living.
"Now Matthew Perry, rest his soul, he was one of the great examples of those actors who did bit parts, 50-worders, supporting gigs, pilots that went nowhere, shows that got cancelled, until eventually he got his gig in Friends. But all those gigs helped to pay his rent along the way.
"We don't really have that any more, the way the traditional mediums have shifted. So we're basically saying 'look, you're making a lot of money Disney, you're making a lot of money Netflix, can we just make this proportional?'
"So even though the strike has been unsettling and stopped a lot of work, it's for all the right reasons because we do need to fight for fair contracts and all the crucial things that will shape our future industry."