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Actor mark Raffety has a fascination for the dark, "I really relish walking in the bush at night when it’s really dark and you can just see the faint outlines or glimmers of things," he says, eyes wide with enthusiasm. "In my mind’s eye I see emanations, It’s kinda fun." He smiles. "I don’t know about you, but my unconscious is not a big white room, it’s kind of a dark place and things come out of it."
It’s somehow fitting, then, that he plays Dr Darcy Tyler on Neighbours. ‘Dirty Darcy’, as he is known to the show’s devotees, is the soaps dark side (in so far as a show can have a dark side when a plot summary reads: ‘Harold and Drew realise something is up with Lou. Leo discovers break dancing.’) Darcy schemes and manoeuvres his way around Ramsay Street, a sinister presence at every barbeque.
"I’m slippery," Raffety says of his nom de neighbours. "My character will say one thing, think another and maybe do a third thing. To play someone like that, to build subtext within the performance of the character , as well as within the storyline it’s fun. There’s an edge to Darcy."
Raffety will talk your ear off about acting, but he keeps his personal life to himself. "I like mystery. I don’t necessarily like to divulge too much about myself because my job is to be someone else," he says declining to reveal his age. "I’m relatively shy. You Won’t ever see me with my mum in woman’s weekly," he avers. Perhaps, but you can see him in Black + White stark naked.
Even stripped bare, the real Mark Raffety is somewhat elusive. By his own admission the shoot "was more like we were improvising a story, or characters, or moods. It was acting". Acting, it seems comes naturally to him, in part due to his lack of firm roots. Born in Portsmouth, with a father in the navy, he and his family have travelled around the globe. "I have a fluid sense of self, if you like," he says, in an accent containing traces of his English background, "because I can imagine that I’m from a lot of places."
From his first work on tv commercials, he has always worked for money, even in theatre. "You’ve only got so much time and I just lucked out I guess, and managed to score jobs that paid," he says, also admitting that he didn’t do any formal drama study, other than a few acting workshops. Appearances on Xena and Hercules, a French/Australian kids show called Deepwater Haven and a Canadian/New Zealand production called Gold all helped him to learn on the job. Working on Australia’s most popular soap, with it’s consistent schedule, swift production and tight budgets, Raffety gets as much training as he could want. "The pressure to channel through an awful lot of work is enormous. It’s almost close to theatre. You have to be in the moment. "he says "You can’t do a retake on stage and it’s very hard to do a retake on Neighbours."
Away from the set, Raffety says he’s "studying all the time. I’ll maybe watch a film five or 10 times just to see what’s going on. Or watch a scene 30 times and see how it’s done, and get the script and pull it apart, read books about it and find out how they approach it. It’s never-ending. "Perhaps this is why his conversation is peppered with quotes garnered from celebrity biographies, like those of Frank Zappa or Steve martin ("He said some people have a way with words and some people have not way") and he’s erudite on the artists that he admires. He has opinions on David Lynch and on Francis bacon, and opinions on Lynch’s opinion on Bacon.
Lynch’s films are a particular passion. "The acting , the story, the art direction, the sound: it’s hermetic. Outside of the frame you know there’s a world existing there, "he says describing scenes with a vivid recall. "You look at something like Blue velvet I mean really. It’s a masterwork in my opinion. You can peel that film away and there are jewels in there."
Raffety has directed three short films of his own to date, each reflecting a somewhat twisted perspective. Salty, concerning a butcher’s suspicious method of, er handling the meat, has been shown internationally, winning festival favourite at the Exground Festival in Hamburg. Naturally, he’d like to direct a feature. "It’s a cliché: ‘what I really want to do is direct’, Every actor says that! I think actors mean they want to produce. Because it’s the people with the money that basically have the control".
Raffety names Nil By Mouth - a film directed by an actor (Gary Oldman) - as one containing a truly inspirational performance. "That performance by Ray Winstone was just about the best thing I’ve seen anyone do ever!. You might be repelled by the character he plays - ’cos he has played some repellent people - but you cannot help but be moved by these characters as well. I don’t know why great work has to be wrapped up in angst but it just seems to be."
It all seems a world away from Ramsay Street, one can’t help notice. Darkness, angst, Francis Bacon’s ‘controlled desperation’: isn’t humour important too ? "Of course it is! It’s not just dark, dark, dark, dark, dark, "he says concerned that he might be mistaken for a morose soul, "If it hasn’t got a laugh , it’s not worth looking at. I had a great laugh in Nil By Mouth, there was funny shit in there as well. "Somehow, that’s even more disturbing .
Clearly, Raffety’s off-centre tastes are more a fascination than a reflection of a grim mind, and this comes out in his enthusiastic discussions about the like of Lynch and Bacon, "It’s the same universe that those two guys are plumbing and I guess what they’re communicating is something that I, for some reason, dig. And I think that’s a childlike thing: in darkness , there’s mystery and in mystery there’s imagination . "What next? Dirty Darcy slapping on an oxygen mask and menacing the girls ? Only the shadow knows…