Damon Herriman names one reason he’s been cast twice to play murderous 1960s cult leader Charles Manson, in Netflix series Mindhunter and Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
“You have to be a certain height to play Charles Manson,” he tells The New Daily.
“He was five foot three so I’m tall compared to him, I’m like five seven. But when a casting brief is put out for actor around five six, immediately the physicality puts you in much smaller group of candidates.”
Be that as it may, Herriman, 49, is literally selling himself short. He’s arguably Australia’s busiest actor.
Since his international career kicked off with 2004’s House of Wax, he’s been directed by Clint Eastwood and Gore Verbinski, starred with Johnny Depp and played hitmen, outlaws and kidnappers.
In FX’s Justified, his most high-profile recurring role, he was white supremacist Dewey Crowe.
This month he’s in two big screen outings, Once Upon a Time and Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale, following small screen roles in Stan’s acclaimed Perpetual Grace, LTD and Foxtel’s Lambs of God.
On a winter weekday morning Herriman is walking fast up a Sydney hill, talking on the phone: “I’m literally on the way to catch a bus. I know it’s weird but I love public transport.”
Owning a car is “too much of a pain” when he’s in Los Angeles for half of every year, but keeping things low key by lurching around on buses and bunking with mates in Sydney is also Herriman’s style.
He’s probably not a household name, yet his chameleon ability to inhabit a constant stream of film and TV roles for three decades has seen him compared to Meryl Streep.
“Just because you’re able to have a shot at different ones doesn’t mean you can do them as well as someone like Meryl,” he tells The New Daily, laughing at the Streep suggestion.
“She not only can play everything, she’s absolutely brilliant in everything she does. That’s not the case with me.”
Admitting he’s “had an incredibly fortunate run”, Herriman says his looks including that height have helped in Hollywood.
“The way I see it, there are less roles for someone who looks like me. The good-looking leading man type is way more commonly written in film and TV than the roles I tend to play,” he says.
“Every good-looking actor in the world goes to America for those romantic lead roles.
“So if you’re a character actor, for want of a better term, you aren’t limited to those roles and the pool of people for unusual roles is smaller.”
His US signature is a stream of “not particularly pleasant” hillbilly types, a total reversal from Herriman’s first 15 years in the industry, when he played a string of clean-cut boyish gents in glasses.
He couldn’t even get auditions for bad guys, then his redneck character in House of Wax changed that: “When I first went to the US, that was the only thing on my acting reel. Then maybe 70 per cent of the jobs I did were in that vein.
“It’s been fun, but I’ve just reached the point where I need to take a break from pretty much anyone who’s into crime or heavy dug use, anything in that world of villains.”
Upcoming drama The Nightingale is one factor in his decision.
There were multiple protest walkouts at the film’s Sydney Film Festival screenings over its storylines which include rape and child murder.
“I play a brutish solder who is part of a truly horrific event in the story near the beginning of the film,” Herriman says.
“He’s the most horrible character I’ve played in terms of what I had to do. That was an incredibly hard thing to be part of.”
Born in Adelaide in 1970, child star Herriman kickstarted his career in TV commercials before landing the role of Frank Errol in The Sullivans when he was 10.
That job scored him three Logie nominations and led to work on TV shows including For The Term of His Natural Life and Flying Doctors, then a film role in 1990 cult classic crime caper The Big Steal.
Over the next decades, his credits included Love My Way, INXS: Never Tear Us Apart and Secret City, for which Herriman won an AACTA.