At only 18 years of age, actor Harrison Gilbertson already has a formidable CV.
Since appearing in the acclaimed film Australian Rules, he has had roles in Accidents Happen with Geena Davis, Ana Kokkinos’ Blessed, Jeremy Sims’ Beneath Hill 60 and What’s Wrong with Virginia? opposite Jennifer Connolly.
Now he has the lead role in Pay TV’s big-budget miniseries, Conspiracy 365, playing teenager Callum Ormond.
The 13 part family series will air one episode each month on FMC (Family Movie Channel), reflecting the way the Conspiracy 365 books by Gabrielle Lord have been published.
Episode one, “January” sets up the action tale in which Cal’s father returns home from Ireland with a fatal mystery illness. From there, he soon finds himself at the centre of a master plan and a quest to solve the “Ormond Singularity.’
“All these weird things start happening to Callum after his Dad dies,” explains Gilbertson. “His house gets broken into, there’s a crazy guy at his funeral who says ‘You have 365 days to live. It’s going to kill you, like it killed your father.’
“Cal comes back the next day and his uncle has been shot and his sister is unconscious, and his fingerprints are covered in blood.
“So he gets thrown into this series of amazing but unfortunate events where he ends up trying to finish what his Dad started with the help of his two friends Winter (Marny Kennedy) and Bogues (Taylor Glockner).
“So he’s trying to work it out but stay alive as a teen fugitive, for 365 days.
“Everyone thinks it’s him, so that’s where the story begins and he meets different characters along the way.”
Produced by Circa Media, the ambitious series brings adult production values and big-budget stunts to children’s television. The cast also includes Rob Carlton, Julia Zemiro, James Sorensen, Kate Kendall David Whiteley and Ryan O’Kane.
Gilbertson describes the series as a ‘Harry Potter, 24 smoothie,’ -a mix of action adventure and teen mystery in a modern setting.
Proof that the book is popular with young readers was evident at his own school library.
“I went to the school library and asked them what they could tell me about it. They said ‘All I can tell you is that you will have to wait a while.’ Year 9 and below always take it out.
“Apparently (Gabrielle Lord) wrote it because she was wanting to bring novels back to kids, because we all live in this wifi world, Mac world.”
But Gilbertson welcomes the return to literature, and demonstrates a rare appreciation of the written word when so many of his peers are tech-driven.
“I’m a real luddite. I couldn’t tell you how to plug in a TV. I personally rebel against (technology). I got an iPhone for my birthday but it’s really confusing. I used to play PlayStation when I was little but I think there’s a Romanticism that we’ve lost,” he says.
“You write a letter to someone and you can see their handwriting. If you send a text you can misread it, you don’t get any context.
“The one thing I distinctly remember about the Harry Potter books was the smell of the books. The feeling and the texture of the paper, getting ‘ink on your fingers’ is the old saying, when you read a newspaper. You hold it in your hands.
“With the iPod there’s no smell, no feel, it’s all the same whether you’re on a Facebook page or the internet.
“But here there is a Romanticism that has sadly been lost.
“In Wall-E everyone is fat, sitting on those chairs and they can do everything. I kind of think essentially that’s not that far off where we could be going. You can basically do anything on an iPhone, which is a benefit but it’s also quite scary, I think.”
For the Adelaide teenager the last six months have been gruelling, filming action scenes on most days and completing Year 12 at the same time. But Gilbertson is proud of his achievements and any success is based on more than sheer luck.
“I wouldn’t say ‘lucky’ because I’ve worked hard and I’m very happy to say that. I certainly haven’t lost any gratitude through opportunity. But it’s been fortunate, I haven’t had to go and study for five years, so I have been lucky in that sense because I know a lot of actors do and it’s really difficult. You have to give up a little bit of ego to do that. So I’ve been very fortunate in that sense.”
Gilbertson admits he has one eye on overseas opportunities, noting that since having a US agent he has read 140 scripts in feature films alone.
For now his focus is on Conspiracy 365, his biggest profile role on Australian TV.
“We’ve tried to create a story that’s really different. We’ve got a lot of shows about Australian society and how fun we are but we don’t have many shows that are really different,” he says.
“It’s a family show, an action show. That’s the most exciting thing.”
Conspiracy 365 world premiere 7pm Saturday January 14 on FMC