Question: What research did you undertake in order to approach this role?
Robert Mammone: Although Tony Mokbel was a very public figure, there wasn't a lot of footage of him, other than attending court and exiting and so forth. Most of the images of Tony were stills of him from newspapers. But thankfully, I was able to come across an interview that he conducted via phone from Greece when he was in Korydallos Prison so I could hear him and that was huge. He was also quite a -man about town' so I've been fortunate in that nearly every second person in Melbourne has a story about him - so you could say that most of my research was conducted through the good citizens of Melbourne.
Question: In a dramatic sense, how are you approaching the portrayal?
Robert Mammone: The thing about playing a character like Tony dramatically is that you've got to remember that he was quite a powerful figure in the world that he spent his time in. He was a larger-than-life character and I need to remember that whilst we would like to be as close as we can to the genuine article, it is still drama and we are entertaining. Therefore, there's an element of that which I bring to the character, whereby I want the audience to enjoy what they're watching. Now whether that's through fear or admiration or just jealousy or whatever, all of these elements combine to make a show that people want to see.
Question: Tell us about the experience of filming in Greece.
Robert Mammone: We filmed in Greece for a little while and were able to visit some of the places where Tony actually went to in Athens. It was an amazing experience, and the Greek crew were wonderful and we also ate very well! However, it was pretty busy and we were there to work. Athens was lovely, and we were welcomed by the locals, but on my first night I was talked into entering a bar and was befriended by a couple of scantily clad ladies who made themselves very friendly towards me and I thought, 'hang on a minute, I know what's going on here!" But then I thought, 'What would Tony do?" so I enjoyed their company for a little while, but not for long as I made a swift exit before anything happened, but it was one of those moments that only occurs when you are travelling, so I just enjoyed it as Tony might have enjoyed it – and that was my first night in Athens, and I thought, 'Gee it can only get better from here!"
Question: How did you enjoy working with Madeleine West who portrays Danielle McGuire?
Robert Mammone: Madeleine and I go back some way. We worked on the first series of UNDERBELLY together and we were also in another show where we were having an on-screen liaison, so Madeleine and I have a pretty good working relationship. She's a feisty girl with a terrific personality who's a lot of fun to spend time around - and I think that she maybe doesn't mind spending time with me, as we seem to laugh a lot when we're together. I think that it's important that the two characters are comfortable in each other's company and Madeleine and I certainly are. We wanted to convey some of the love that Tony and Danielle felt for one another – because from my understanding, they were the -genuine' article. They were lovers in the purist sense and ultimately it's our job to put that across.
Question: What were the physical changes involved in portraying Tony Mokbel?
Robert Mammone: Well the obvious one was that he was bigger than I was. I've had to go on a weight-gaining diet. Since the start of the year, when I knew that they were proceeding with this brand-new series, I've put on fourteen kilos, and for a guy of my previous size, that is a fair bit. So that's basically where a lot of effort was directed towards my physical presentation. Taking it off is going to be a lot harder! The other physical aspect of portraying Tony was that his hair is much thinner than mine. Helen Magelaki, our Make-up/Hair Supervisor, did a wonderful job in transforming what was a full head of hair into a thinning one. This meant that every morning when my head was shaved, a hairpiece was placed on my scalp to create a receding, thinning hairline. Tony's hair was almost as well known as he and his exploits were, so it was important to get it right and I think Helen and her team have done a wonderful job. And yes, the -squirrel' does make an appearance!
Question: How is Tony's relationship with his family depicted?
Robert Mammone: Tony's relationship with his mother and brothers is the same as with many immigrant families who made Australia their home. They came from Lebanon in the 1970s when the civil war over there exploded and they literally had to leave because they were Lebanese Christians, so they decided to come to Australia, and like a lot of families who suddenly find themselves in a foreign land, they stuck together. I believe that Tony's father died when he was fifteen and I think that when you lose a parent as a teenager, you really hang onto the one that's left. Tony loved his mum and his brothers and they were a tight-knit family. In fact, one of our actors on the series, Steve Bastoni, went to high school with Tony and he told me some interesting stories. Tony wasn't that tall – and tended to be as wide as he was high - but apparently you didn't mess around with him or the other Mokbel brothers. They were all pretty tough boys.
Question: What was of the things that you liked most about working on this series?
Robert Mammone: What I've enjoyed most is the fact that I got -to play' with a lot of friends – industry colleagues who are just terrific actors who bring those elements to the screen that I enjoy, which is a spontaneity, a passion and a realism. For example, Peter Andrikidis, who directed several of the episodes, kept saying to us, 'keep it real - nothing cheesy." And I think that became the mantra for all of the actors on this production.
Question: What sort of research have you undertaken in order to portray Danielle?
Madeleine West: It was basic research in terms of looking at existing news footage and articles. I also spoke with people who knew her or had interaction with her, plus as actors, we have the prerogative of using our imagination.
Question: In a dramatic sense how are you approaching the characterisation?
Madeleine West: The characterisation of Danielle first and foremost requires an empathy with her situation, which is very difficult when you're dealing with a character that in a
ny other set of circumstances might be publically maligned for their behaviour. But you have to understand that in the beginning, all behaviour comes from a true source and that we are all responding to an action - we're all reacting. So I think that the first thing is to emphasise with her situation. Then it comes down to the physicality - the walk, small mannerisms, the way that they speak - and then when you have the script in your hand, it all comes together.
Question: How are you enjoying working with Robert Mammone?
Madeleine West: Robert and I have a great time together. We've played lovers in Satisfaction, lovers again in the first series of Underbelly and we were both in an American film called The condemned. I really respect him as a performer plus he's great fun to be around. He's also very grounded, and I think that sets the foundation for any kind of relationship as it creates good chemistry. I just enjoy being in his company and that's half the battle.
Question: Have you had to make any changes to your regular appearance in order to portray Danielle?
Madeleine West: Just some small details – things like hair colouring and a bit of fake tan on the skin, plus I had to wear false nails. I have four very small children and nails and nappies do not go very well together - I've already managed to chop one off making dinner! So it's just small things. I'm a very low maintenance kind of person and physically, this character is a very high maintenance person, so that's been the only thing. I've kind of had to put all my domestic chores on hold for the next couple of months – which isn't a bad thing - and that's about it.
Question: Tell us about Danielle's on-set wardrobe.
Madeleine West: We've taken a bit of creative license in terms of what we imagined she might wear, so it's highly impractical - it's all about the aesthetic - so very short, very voluptuous, very curvaceous figure hugging outfits. I think that the wardrobe department has done a fabulous job.
Question: What are you enjoying most about the experience of working on FAT TONY & CO.?
Madeleine West: As in some ways it's a reprisal of a previous show, it has involved bringing back a group of people who have already forged a strong friendship and understanding of each other. Plus the characterisations are just so unusual and so different for Australian television. It's unlike anything that any of us has ever done before, so it's great fun and we all get to play these crazy, wacky roles. We've had a lot of creative license and a lot of fun. And we're telling a story that so many people, especially in Melbourne, can emphasise with. Everyone knows somebody who was involved with this person, or went to school with that person, or who lived down the road from somebody, so it's great fun feeding off the public's reaction. Everyone so enjoyed series one of Underbelly that even though this is a -standalone' series I think that they're going to love Fat Tony & Co., just as much.
Question: Do you have any difficulty clearing your head after a particularly intense day of filming?
Madeleine West: In the past I had a lot of trouble debriefing but now that I've got a family to come home to and domestic responsibilities, there's no issue at all. As soon as I step through the front door, there's the dog to be fed, there's nappies to be changed, there's washing to be done and there's children to be fed and put to bed. There's reading to do, there's lunch boxes to make so in that respect, my family is my greatest touchstone. There's no time for -acterly naval gazing' when you've got to go home and change nappies.
Cast: Robert Mammone, Hollie Andrew, Steve Bastoni, Nicholas Bishop, Craig Blumeris, John Brumpton, Tawni Bryant, Debra Byrne, Dean Cartmel, Richard Cawthorne, Vince Colosimo, Zoe Cramond, Matthew Crosby, Stephen Curry, Lester Ellis, Nick Farnell, Rowan Francis, Gyton Grantley, Kevin Harrington, Les Hill, Shane Jacobson, Odette Joannidis, Gerard Kennedy, Christine Keogh, Simone Kessell, Jeremy Kewley, Antonio Lancuba, Louise Mandylor, Maria Mercedes, Louisa Mignone, Dan Mor, Tony Nikolakopoulos, Ben Noble, Ryan O'Kane, Vince Poletto, Robert Rabiah, Jake Ryan, Frank Sweet, Samantha Tolj, Alex Tsitsopoulos, Kym Valentine, Brian Vriends, Madeleine West, Simon Westaway, Tom Wren
Directors: Peter Andrikidis, Andrew Prowse, Karl Zwicky
Genre: Crime, Drama
Running Time: 385 minutes
Fat Tony & Co., the brand-new production from Screentime, tells the story of Australia's most successful drug baron, from the day he quit cooking pizza in favour of cooking drugs, to the heyday of his $140 million dollar drug empire, all the way through to his arrest in an Athens café and his whopping 22-year sentence in Victoria's maximum security prison.
Already a key player on the Australian drug scene in his own right, Fat Tony becomes more deeply embroiled in the underworld as he joins forces with up-andcoming drug dealer Carl Williams. He strikes an uneasy truce with the Carlton Crew, the territorial and dangerous royalty of the Melbourne underworld, even doing business from time to time with the Moran family. With his three brothers and Carl Williams, Tony expands his drug empire into a multi-million dollar industry, all the while investing his profits in honest bricks and mortar, determined to leave a legacy for the family and the city that he loves.
However, the burning tension between Carl and the Carlton Crew is quickly devolving into all-out war – the Melbourne Gangland War that would eventually claim some thirty lives. Tony is losing control of his well-ordered operation, and is finding it harder and harder to remain a neutral businessman. But Tony isn't like other underworld figures - he always has a plan and an eye to the future, even when it seems like the police have closed every door to him.
The ambition and drive that it took for Tony Mokbel to rise from a suburban milkbar owner to Australia's most wanted man was matched only by the sheer determination of the police in their ten-year battle to shut Fat Tony down. The Victorian and Federal police undertook a marathon attempt to bring him to justice, spanning countless arrests, legal battles and the downfall of more than one corrupt officer.
Fat Tony & Co. is the true story of Tony Mokbel; how he grew entangled with the country's most notorious underworld figures, how he built his massive fortune, and how he became a fugitive on a yacht bound for Greece, desperate to escape mounting criminal law battles.
Fat Tony & Co.