Todd Lasance is something of a poster boy for Screentime lately. Having appeared in Underbelly and Cloudstreet, he’s about to debut in a principal role for ABC’s new drama series, Crownies.
Lasance plays solicitor Ben McMahon, who works at the Department of Public Prosecutions. The 22 part series shows the characters at play as much as they are seen at work, with much of the focus on the younger solicitors on a steep learning curve.
“I think the beauty of this show is it’s the personal lives of five young people who happen to work in the DPP,” he says.
“It’s the perfect blend of coping with the workload that they get and coping with the pressures of dealing with some of the most heinous crimes you can possibly imagine. Juggling with that there’s a social life, dealing with the pressures of growing up, trying to find a relationship, there’s all the temptations that life throws your way. So we’re really hoping that’s the aspect that sets it apart from other legal shows.”
To prepare for his role, Lasance met with young solicitors from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions of New South Wales.
“We visited courts which was great, although it can get a little bit dry at times depending on how the cases proceed. But we also had visits from the actual DPP and I tracked down a guy who joined at about the same age (as Ben) and let him tell me every aspect of dealing with cases, the time constraints, and the lifestyle,” he explains.
“I absorbed how he held himself and dealt with his superiors.
“So that gave me a great insight into their workload.”
He learned that the young solicitors face enormous pressure, some of which is reflected in early episodes.
“It shows what effect it has when you have to deal with prosecuting and changing someone’s life and you have a 2 hour time frame to prepare someone’s life for court,” he says.
“There were times when he was dealing with cases on the train on the way to work. There was that much pressure.
“With the lack of time to make life-changing decisions it takes a pretty amazing person to do that.”
The more personal side to Ben McMahon is as the charming rogue of the DPP, relying on his charisma to win over people.
“But in light of all he projects, what’s internalised is a lot darker and he harbors a strained relationship with his father, which is pretty terrible. He doesn’t really see him as a father figure and unfortunately early in the series he loses his father figure, which is his grandfather,” Lasance says.
“So there’s not a huge amount of respect between him and his dad.”
Playing his father is actor Mark Lee (Gallipoli), a casting move that even Lasance admits brings some on-screen similarities.
“On screen the dynamic is great. Wiith our looks you don’t necessarily see it in real life, but on screen it’s there. It’s really weird. Just the slight features look the same,” he says.
“Ben’s been a bit of a failure in his dad’s eyes and that’s led to him having a chip on his shoulder and trying to give justification in his own mind for being a bit of a rogue and blame it on his upbringing.”
But playing a lawyer contrasts with elements of Lasance’s own personal life, when he was arrested in 2009 for possession of cocaine. He served a 12 month good behaviour bond as a result. So did he have to think twice before accepting a role which sees him on the other side of the law?
“It actually didn’t even cross my mind,” he admits. “It’s one of those events I put in the past and never let it influence my work. It actually made me try and work harder. Public opinion can say what they like and form what they like but in my opinion, one stupid mistake doesn’t gauge the person that I am. So it made me work harder and strive harder to keep recreating myself as an actor and making bold choices so that people see me for my work.”
The most difficult part of his Crownies role has been tackling the legal jargon and sounding convincing in the courtroom scenes.
“We have a court advisor on set who pulls us aside and makes sure everything is on point,” he says.
“The last thing I want is for members of the DPP or prosecutors or defence lawyers saying, ‘That’s not how that person would hold themselves.’”
Lasance also hasn’t ruled out ambitions to work in the US, but wants to keep one foot in Australia too.
“I’d love to be doing features. That’s always been the goal from day one. There’s no particular genre or style, I just want to make interesting characters,” he says.
“At the end of the day I want to be known for my body of work.”
Crownies airs 8:30pm Thursdays on ABC1.