One of Australia’s most instantly recognisable, deeply laconic and undeniably iconic actors, Bryan Brown also manages to be one of this country’s most consistently underrated performers…which is probably why it’s taken so long for him to receive The Longford Lyell Award. First presented in 1968, The Longford Lyell Award honours Australian film pioneer Raymond Longford and his partner in filmmaking and life, Lottie Lyell. The award is the highest honour that the Australian Academy can bestow upon an individual and recognises a person who has made a truly outstanding contribution to the enrichment of Australia’s screen environment and culture. Past winners include Jack Thompson, John Meillon, George Miller, Jacki Weaver and Paul Hogan. “It’s an honour…thank you to the Academy,” said Bryan Brown upon being told of the honour. “I’m an Australian telling Australian stories and I love it.”
Though known more for his distinctly “Australian” qualities and importance in local cinema history, Brown is also a fine actor with a whole host of interesting films and performances under his well-notched belt. He has a knack for playing tough guys layered with uncertainty and complexity, and he’s done it brilliantly in the likes of Stir (as a prison inmate), The Empty Beach (as taciturn PI Cliff Hardy), F/X (as a special effects creator caught up in a murder plot), Blood Oath (as a WW2 military man), Dead Heart (as a country cop dealing with a swathe of explosive indigenous issues), Australia Day (as an inherently decent man pushed right to the edge) and Dirty Deeds (as a sixties mobster). He’s equally adept at playing nasty bad guys (Two Hands, Australia, Risk, Cactus, Beautiful Kate), but has interestingly delivered his best, most well-known work in three excellent TV mini-series: as a noble, unbreakable WW2 soldier in A Town Like Alice; as a hardened man who finds his strengths as a father in The Shiralee; and as a tough but romantic shearer in The Thorn Birds (where he met his wife, British actress Rachel Ward).
Born and bred in Sydney’s South-West (in the suburb of Panania, to be exact), Brown had begun a career in insurance when he started to appear in local amateur theatre productions and was soon bitten in a major way by the acting bug. Brown moved to London to hone his craft on the stage before returning to Australia to embark on his career in earnest. He made his film debut in Stephen Wallace’s 1977 short The Love Letters From Teralba Road, and then found himself smack-bang in the middle of the Australian cinematic renaissance of the seventies, landing roles in The Irishman, The Chant Of Jimmie Blacksmith, Newsfront, Money Movers, The Odd Angry Shot, Palm Beach and Cathy’s Child. It was his strong, muscular performance in Bruce Beresford’s 1980 masterpiece Breaker Morant, however, that really set Bryan Brown up as a star.
And despite notable appearances in international fare like Cocktail, Along Came Polly, and Gorillas In The Mist, Brown has never tried to escape his Aussie roots. “I’ve always lived in Australia,” he once said. “I never moved. I would go over to America, make a picture and then return to Sydney. When you live in a place, you’re not just taking from it, you’re contributing to it. In America, I would never be able to make myself a person who could contribute. I wasn’t interested in that society; I was interested in this society.”
Now a highly successful film and television producer, and still a busy actor (he’ll next be seen in the mini-series, Bloom), Bryan Brown is truly one of our absolute greats, and you couldn’t find a more deserving winner of The Longford Lyell Award.