From triathlete to action hero. How Australia’s lovable, boy next door set his sights on Hollywood after deciding to change the course of his career.
He’s the lovable Sydney-born star, known to kids of the 90s for his heartthrob, boy next door character Joel Samuels on Neighbours. To the rest of the world, the name Daniel MacPherson means City Homicide and Dancing With The Stars. Hell, he even claimed title of ‘most beautiful man’ in the March issue of WHO magazine. Talk about some serious Australian street cred! And, like many before him, the once-upon-a-time Neighbours star has taken the well-worn path from Ramsay Street to Hollywood in attempt to change the course of his career, striving for bigger and better, self-fulfilment and the life-long dream of making it on the big screen.
Dan puts his success down to perseverance and commitment with his most recent success being a lead role in the British-American series Strike Back, in which he plays US Sergeant Samuel Wyatt. He also featured in the recent Disney blockbuster A Wrinkle in Time alongside Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine and queen Oprah Winfrey.
The 37-year-old is also a seasoned triathlete, competing in more than six Ironman competitions and is no stranger to grueling fitness regimens. But these days, instead of running the race of run, bike, swim, it goes a little something like, run, jump, shoot – hanging out of Black Hawk helicopters over the Dead Sea, running through alleyways in Budapest and jumping off bridges in Malaysia blowing up just about everything in sight.
Every boy’s dream, right?
“You bet ya,” the Hollywood hunk said when we caught up with him in his now hometown of sunny LA.
It might have been a roller coaster of a ride, but Dan says it has been well worth it.
We hear many success stories of fellow Aussies taking the plunge and moving to LA to chase their dreams. How was this transition for you? Was it a hard slog or did you slide right in?
It was a tough transition for sure, but I was excited by the challenge and throwing myself into the unknown. I’d had a great career in Australia and London up to that point, doing everything from musical theatre to hosting Dancing with the Stars. I think it was about 15 years non-stop when I decided it was time to go to the US. LA was literally starting again from the very bottom, but I loved that. I didn’t have a reputation to fall back on so every positive result I have had in LA over the last few years is down to hard work. And that’s incredibly satisfying.
Were there ever moments you thought you were in over your head? What techniques do you use to overcome doubt and fear?
Totally. I didn’t work for over two years when I got here. From getting a visa, to getting an agent, to getting set up here, I had to just keep my head down and chip away. I went and sought out the best accent coaches I could find and started working with the best acting teachers I could find. It was a time of big investment in the improvement of my craft and my skill set and I just had to stay positive that it was going to pay off one day. Thankfully it has! It’s been such a huge progression to where I am now. I’m very proud of what I have done over the last five years and the way I did it.
I obviously had the support of my wonderful wife, Zoe, who was on the same career journey, and that was incredible. I’ve always had a pretty positive attitude towards taking myself out of my comfort zone so I wasn’t fearful. There was certainly plenty of doubt as to whether I was being stupid turning down work in Australia to chase the dream in LA. But, if it hadn’t worked out, we still would’ve had an amazing adventure living in California, making great friends, and I could have returned home satisfied knowing that I’d given it everything. It was good to remind myself of that during those tough first few years.
You’re best known in the US for your role as Sergeant Samuel Wyatt in Cinemax’s Strike Back. Can you remember the moment you found out you had landed the gig?
I hadn’t worked for almost a year at that point, then I had this run of auditions that went really well. I got the lead in a gritty indie film called Generational Sins, I landed a role as a District Attorney on a FOX series in Chicago called APB, I got a small role in A Wrinkle in Time, being directed by the incredible Ava DuVernay, and then a callback for Strike Back! It was a crazy time! Something just clicked. For Strike Back, I had to fly to London for three days of chemistry tests and military boot camp. It was like acting ‘Survivor’. I made to the final day but there were still plenty of actors left in the mix.
There was certainly plenty of doubt as to whether I was being stupid turning down work in Australia to chase the dream in LA. But, if it hadn’t worked out, we still would’ve had an amazing adventure living in California.
I flew back to the USA and back to work on APB. I finally found out one month later via text on a flight back from Chicago that I’d landed the role in Strike Back. I’ll never forget it. I was looking down at LA with tears in eyes, just so stoked that I had landed my first US series lead for a
character that I absolutely loved. I think the tears were as much relief from the years of hard work as they were from just being so pumped about it.
Was action always on the cards?
I kind of fell into it through films like Infini and Osiris Child. Coming from a sports background, it was a natural fit. As a triathlon and multi-sports fan, fitness has always been part of my life. I still train twice a day whether I’m working or not. Roles like Strike Back are the dream, where I get to combine that training and change my physicality for a specific character. On set the amount of skills we have to master is huge – from stunt fighting to fight training that includes anything from knives to pool cues. Weapons handing of all types of firearms, pistols and rifles, as well as mounted machine guns. Add to that the gym regimen to put on 10kgs to look like a soldier. The fitness program to simply be able to survive an eight-month shoot like ours, and the recovery/injury management, it’s a year round commitment, but I love it. Action is a genre like no other.
What kind of training and preparation goes into playing such a physical and mentally demanding role like this?
Aside from the huge physical aspect, the emotional part of playing an active US serviceman who battles with PTSD, is something I take with a great amount of responsibility. I’ve had a huge amount of support from both US and Australian military veterans and I’ve learned so much about the battles they face when they return home. I’ve been fortunate enough to speak first-hand with some incredible people who’ve shared so many personal stories with me that have helped shape this character and this experience for me.
The challenge comes on set in trying to get the balance right in the combination of the truth of what these soldiers are experiencing, and the heightened reality that Strike Back does so well. In Australia, we have a silent epidemic of servicemen and women suffering PTSD and similar issues, as well as an alarming rate of suicide among veterans. I’d encourage anyone to look into organisations like Mates 4 Mates and Soldier On, and see how you may be able to help. It’s important stuff.
Health and fitness are a huge part of your life. What are your non-negotiables when it comes to nutrition and training?
I just need to do something everyday. Travelling so much, I’m no good at hotel room workouts, I need to get outside. I can make the best of a hotel gym, and I’m nearly always doing my first session of the day fasted or on black coffee only. I drink one to two litres of water first thing. I’ve done a bit of everything over the years, but in the last 12 months I’ve been both running as well as doing Crossfit in Santa Monica and Budapest, where I was based in 2017. It works well for the body shape I need for Strike Back, and it’s stuff I’ve never done before so it’s as challenging mentally as it is physically.
I’m a gear snob, too, to be honest. I’m obsessed with good mens’ gym gear. When I find apparel or shoes that I like, I buy multiples! I run in Newton running shoes, and like them so much that I am a partner in the import and distribution of them in Australia.
I also need good headphones. I’ve been using the Bose Wireless Soundsport recently. Pre-workout and protein changes depending on my diet at any given time. I’ve been using Cellucor most recently and love it.
I had been meditating on and off for a couple of years but last October I made the decision to do it every morning. My routine now is wake, water, make a bulletproof coffee, then meditate for 20 minutes using the Headspace app. I’ve been going strong for eight months now, and the clarity and creativity it has brought me is incredible.
You are big on the Keto diet. When were you introduced to this and how has it assisted with your goals?
I only started on it this year, using a nutritionist for the first time to prepare for this season of filming. I don’t think it will work for everyone, and nor should it. Every human is unique and so the way we eat needs to be unique to our bodies. Keto worked immediately for me. I was burning through body fat, I was way less bloated and my general inflammation was noticeably lower. I’m trying to stick by it on set in Malaysia but it’s a little tricky.
I also drink four to five liters of water a day. Try that, it’ll change your life.
Who are your biggest role models and why?
I’m inspired by so many amazing men and women. My mother, my sister, my wife. Powerful voices for justice & equality like Ava Duvernay. Work-wise, I do look a lot to guys of my generation who are just exceptional at their work, and craft. Actors like Cillian Murphy, Michael Fassbender, and Tom Hardy. I’ve studied the careers of award-winning actors like Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington. I’m inspired by actors who go the extra mile in their commitment to roles. Heath Ledger was a master and was set to become one of the greats.
When it comes down to it, I just want to be a good husband, son, brother and friend, and to work at the highest level I possibly can.
In terms of role models, it’s tough. There’s a book called Tools of Titans by Tim Ferris that talks about the routines and habits of some of the most successful men and women across a range of vocations. It’s been a great resource for me. When it comes down to it, I just want to be a good husband, son, brother and friend, and to work at the highest level I possibly can.
What’s the best part about living in LA?
300 days of sunshine a year, surf at the end of your street in Santa Monica, incredible mountain trails on your doorstep, the most stunning sunsets you’ll ever see. All that, and knowing your life and career can change at any time with a phone call!
Do you have any advice for aspiring actors and anyone on the path to chasing their dreams?
Work hard, read lots, watch films, study the greats, understand your own emotions, feel deeply, be brave and don’t give up. If you really want it, then put the last one in capitals.
We can’t wait to watch your continued success. What can we expect?
The new season of Strike Back is on Showcase on Foxtel in 2019.
Follow Dans journey here.
Images: David Higgs