“It wasn’t lost on me that had they not seen ‘Justified’, it was very possible that my first audition may have passed them by” – Damon Herriman on His Audition for ‘Quarry’
Damon Herriman is one of those actors who disappears into his characters. From Justified and Breaking Bad to Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar, every role is completely different than the last and he’s always knock-it-out-of-the-park terrific.
He’s currently starring in the new Cinemax show, Quarry. Set in 1972, it tells the story of Mac Conway (Logan Marshall-Green), a Marine who returns home to Memphis from Vietnam to find himself shunned by those he loves and demonized by the public. He soon finds himself drawn into an underground criminal network where he meets Buddy (Herriman), a contract killer who “shows him the ropes” of the dark organization.
Herriman talks about the show and how the creators brought him for an audition because of his work in Justified, coming to America from his native Australia to look for acting work and his dream of not having to audition ever again.
Quarry premieres on Cinemax September 9th.
I feel like I’ve seen you in 1000 things, but you’re such a chameleon it’s sometimes hard to recognize you.
Damon Herriman: I’ve certainly been fortunate to play a wide variety of roles who often have extremely different looks from me, so part of the credit you’re giving to me is probably also do to the hair, makeup and wardrobe department for making me look so different every time.
I have had that happen before where people have said, “Oh, I knew you from this and then I saw your reel and I realized I knew you from four other things. I just didn’t know that was the same guy.”
You’re in a new show Quarry?
Damon Herriman: Yes. So, Quarry was a show for Cinemax that I worked on last year. We shot in New Orleans which was amazing. It was right in the heart of summer. The show is set 1972 and that level of heat and humidity do not go well with man-made fibers, it was very sweaty. But it was all worth it. The show is extraordinary. I’ve been acting since I was eight years old and I can honestly say that it was probably the best job I’ve ever had in terms of the quality of the writing, the characters, the other actors, the director, the cinematography. Everything about it.
You play contract killer in Quarry?
Damon Herriman: I do, yes I play a guy called Buddy who has been working for this underground criminal organization for about five years. He’s very good, very experienced at what he does. He works for a guy called the Broker, who is essentially a man that people go to when they want to get rid of someone. And the Broker then dishes out the jobs to the various guys that he has on his books and a lot of those guys that he targets to do those jobs are ex-servicemen because obviously they have experience with killing, they’re open to the possibility of killing someone else and they’re very good at doing it and often they need the money. That’s what happens at the beginning of the series, the Broker makes contact with Mac played by Logan Marshall Green. He’s just come back from the Vietnam War and is pretty depressed and feeling very shunned by his wife, by the public and he’s in need of some cash. So that’s how his character becomes part of our group. And I sort of end up showing him the ropes.
I know that the creators of the show loved you in Justified and they contacted you from that?
Damon Herriman: Yeah, that’s true. I didn’t know anybody knew that. That’s a true story. I didn’t know that until I went in for a call back. Michael [Fuller] and Graham [Gordy] were there and they mentioned at the time that they were big Justified fans and said that ‘part of the reason we kind of wanted to get you back in was because we enjoyed the character you played on that show.’ Which was a nice surprise because the character, other than having a southern accent, it was very different from Dewey Crowe in Justified. Most characters are different from that guy. It was nice to know that that had given me a bit of a foot in the door and also remind me that sometimes getting jobs as good as this do take a bit of luck like that, you know? It wasn’t lost on me that had they not seen Justified, it was very possible that my first audition may have passed them by. And as actors, we kind of like to think that every audition we do is being looked at by the same eyes but a lot of the time it is a bit of luck like, “Oh, that’s the guy that plays Dewey on Justified” and suddenly you’re getting a closer look and you’re getting a callback and you’re getting the job.
And Justified is a hell of a calling card too.
Damon Herriman: Absolutely. Justified was one of the great working experiences of my life and I would probably say that the role of Dewey Crowe is, in terms of the best roles I’ve ever played, it would be hard to beat. Again, the writing, you just can’t give enough praise what great writing does for an actor. I think half of the great performances we see are by opportunity, the actor got to say those words and to play that character. And a lot of the time there are great actors who aren’t getting those opportunities and we may rank them below other actors who are, without taking into account that the opportunities of playing the role is a big, big part of why we’re giving them so much praise.
You mentioned writing a couple times, so I’m going to you a choice: would you rather work on something with great writing and a crap director or great director and crap writing?
Damon Herriman: [laughs] Oh man, Sophie’s choice! That is a really tough one. But I think if I had a gun to my head, I would have to go with the great writing and the crap director. Those aren’t terrific choices but look, I would still think that in that case, if the writing was really exemplary that you could do something with it and trying to ignore as much as you could that you’re working with a crap director and hope that at least the camera was pointing in the right direction and capturing what you’re doing.
If you got a fantastic director but really crap writing, what’s that that saying you can’t polish a turd? Do you use that saying over here or is that an Australian saying?
Oh yeah, we use that.
Damon Herriman: I feel like if you’re not starting with something good and if the words coming your mouth are putting egg all over your face it doesn’t really matter how good the director is, it’s not gonna work. If you don’t have a great story, great characters, great dialogue, there’s not a lot that even the best director in the world can do with that.
You had a really successful career in Australia. When did you decide to come to America?
Damon Herriman: I initially came over about 15 years ago kind of very naïvely thinking that not having any credits that the American industry knew was not gonna be a problem. What I since realized was that unless you’re kind of 19 years old and very attractive, not having any credits they know makes life very, very difficult. So, I kind of went home with my tail between my legs and thought, “Okay, well I gave it a shot. That didn’t work.”
About four years later, I happened to get a role in House of Wax in Australia, which was obviously an American film but it was shooting in Australia and I was playing an American in it. I was only in the film for about 10 minutes but it was a very cool role. Similar to the role and I ended up playing in Justified, it was kind of a dumb Southern redneck type. And I kind of got real enthused with the idea of trying to get work in the states. All the cast at the time was saying, “Hey, when we have by premier, you’ve got to come over.” And I thought, “Well, look, I wasn’t intending to come back but now that I’ve got an American credit and I’ve got a premier to go to, I may as well go. What’s the worst thing that could happen?” The worst thing that could happen was that I go to a premier in America of a movie I’m in. That’s not so bad.
So, when I went on that trip I did a couple of meetings with some agents and managers and they certainly weren’t falling over themselves to sign me but thankfully a couple of them were and a couple of them were keen enough to sign me. And that pretty much changed everything.
And from that point on I started making regular trips to the states every year and it was a bit of a slow start. Those first couple of trips, nothing happened at all. I mean, very few auditions, no callbacks, no work and I actually decided when I made my third trip that I was gonna leave it at that. I’m probably a glass half empty type of actor but I thought, ‘You’ve done two trips and haven’t gotten any work. I’ll do one more trip and if nothing comes out of it, if I don’t get close to something, I won’t come back again.”
And the second day of that third trip, I got an audition for a guest role on an episode of The Unit, which I didn’t know anything about at the time. And I went in there and auditioned for a couple of fantastic casting directors Sherry Thomas and Sharon Bialy and I’m very thankful to them. And I did this audition, it was this kind of very southern Army Sgt., not the sort of role that I normally would have gone for in Australia. I was usually playing nice guys and nerds. So, it was quite nice to audition for something so different. And then at the end of that audition Sherry Thomas said, “Okay, great. We’ll get you back this afternoon to audition for David Mamet.” And I think my jaw fell about 3 feet to the floor and I was like, “What do you mean audition for David Mamet? You don’t mean the playwright David Mamet?” She was like, “Yeah, this is his show and he just happens to be writing and directing this episode, which he doesn’t often do.” I just couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe that I was gonna meet David Mamet, let alone act in front of David Mamet. And yeah, that ended up being the first job I did in the states.
That’s a great story.
Damon Herriman: Yeah, that was a very happy day when I got that call.
What’s the worst audition you’ve ever been on?
Damon Herriman: Oh boy, Lance, there’s so many. I know when I hang up, I’m gonna think of something better.
For me, every audition is the worst audition I’ve ever been on because they are so awful. I really hate auditioning. I find it such a terrifying experience. It so rarely feels like what you did in your living room an hour earlier, you know?
There’s one I remember where I just constantly forgot the lines. I know in LA, everyone holds the pages but in Australia, we don’t do that. You really have to do the words by heart when you audition.
Really? I didn’t know that.
Damon Herriman: Yeah, it was kind of comforting when I started to come to LA to audition to know that you could actually hold the pages. That’s probably due to the fact in LA there are so many auditions you might be doing in a day or in a week. Where in Australia, you’re usually only auditioning for something every week or two. So, you actually have more time to learn stuff.
But I do remember one where I just blanking. And that thing that happens when you get in your head and all you can think about is ‘don’t forget them. Don’t forget them again. You’re going to forget them aren’t you? Yes you are. You know you’re going to forget them. Don’t forget them. You can forget them.’ You know that awful voice in your head? I mean, I hope somebody has destroyed that take because I would hate to see that because it was disaster.
Well, I think you’ve more than made up for it now.
Damon Herriman: You still to do those auditions, though. Sometimes people say, “What would be your ultimate goal as an actor?” And I feel like rather than working with someone or doing a particular role, I think just not having to audition would be amazing. That would be the best point ever to get to. I would be a very happy man. Just because I hate having to go through that torture!