TV audiences know his work primarily from just two productions, Cloudstreet and Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, but already Hugo Johnstone-Burt is making his mark.
Both projects have been critically-acclaimed and in 2010 the young actor was nominated for the IF Awards Out of the Box category of rising stars.
Johnstone-Burt studied at NIDA and unlike many of his generation, has so far shunned the soapie road to stardom, choosing quality projects. His role as intellectually-disabled ‘Fish Lamb’ in Pay TV’s Cloudstreet set the path for a promising career.
“We had some fantastic reviews and it was the first big gig out of Drama School. So it’s really pleasing to hear people are liking what you’re doing and liking the show. I couldn’t have hoped for anything more,” he says.
Right now he’s something of a man-child cop, Constable Hugh Collins in ABC1’s Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.
“He’s a kind of get-everything-right,get-everything-wrong kind of guy. He’s young and eager to make a name for himself in the force but with all his eagerness he chucks himself head on without necessarily getting all the evidence. So a lot of the time he gets the sharp end of the boss’ tongue. But people are supposed to be laughing with him.”
Decked out in “a Paddington Bear uniform and a combover”, Constable Collins is the sidekick to Detective Jack Robinson (Nathan Page).
“In the 1920s you act differently around women and there’s all this etiquette that you have to know. So we did lots of reading and got lots of information at the start. But I find it really tricky to remind myself I’m in the 1920s,” he admits.
“I said ‘Awesome’ in one take but I don’t think ‘Awesome’ was around in the 1920s!”
Naturally, the word was cut from the final episode.
The shoot in Melbourne spanned several months last year and recreating the era wasn’t without its challenges.
“In winter my jacket doesn’t keep me warm and in summer it doesn’t keep me cold. So it’s really bad for the body. But at the same time it helps me get into character because it’s very tight and there’s not a lot of neck movement. So it helps your posture.
“But I’ve had a ball,” he says. “Essie, Nathan, Ashleigh and everyone else has been so fantastic to work with. I know everybody always says that but I can’t ask for anything more.”
Johnstone-Burt says his work methodology sees him investing heavily in his character at the beginning of a project, to allow him to deliver his best work when the cameras are rolling.
“I make sure I know my character back to front, so I know when it comes to shooting things come naturally. I know that sounds a bit wanky –if I’m allowed to say that word- but it does come organically, and I hate that word too,” he laughs.
“But when I get the scene the night before I think of where I’m coming from, the scene before, and where I’m going to. The story arc has always got to be in your head and the character arc has always got to be in your head.”
This year he is in with a chance for Logie and ASTRA Award nominations for Cloudstreet, but while he’s appreciative of any recognition, he concedes award nights can get a little daunting.
“I don’t really know what to do on the Red Carpet. I went to the Logies and Todd (Lasance) got swarmed with people and I stood with an umbrella thinking ‘I don’t know what I’m doing!’”
Later this year he will appear in the feature film Goddess with Ronan Keating, Magda Szubanski and Laura-Michelle Kelly. While he doesn’t rule out serial television
“I look at every job and if it’s something I’m interested in doing then I’ll ask for them to have a look at me. That’s a job for me and my agent together, and they’re very instrumental in building my career as well.
“If it’s good quality then I’ll have a good look at it to see if I’m right for it.”
But while he’s happy to play the romantic juvenile lead in Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, there’s a very different role he would love to have a crack at.
“I’d love to play a bad guy. I’ve been too nice. Maybe I need to go and scar myself up.”
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries airs 8:30pm Friday on ABC1.