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The Slap's Star Jonathan LaPaglia Admits: 'I Don't Know What I'd Do'

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Jonathan LaPaglia (2nd left) is one of the flawed protagonists of 'The Slap'
Jonathan LaPaglia (2nd left) is one of the flawed protagonists of 'The Slap'

What would you do if your young child was threatened in any way, even by a child equally vulnerable?

BBC4 drama The Slap addresses this dilemma in uncompromisingly dramatic terms. During a celebratory family BBQ in Melbourne, one child picks up a cricket bat and starts thrashing out at another, whose parent promptly rushes in and slaps the child threatening his own.

This spontaneous act is the catalyst for this group to divide and realign, as loyalties are tested, families frayed and personal weaknesses exposed. When author Christos TsIolkas's book was first published in 2008, it caused a sensation in Australia, and the screen adaptation has brought its issues home in vivid, colourful fashion.

The central premise is a classic moral dilemma, and even thoughtful star of the show Jonathan LaPaglia is not ready with any easy answer.

"I'm a new parent myself," he explains from California, where he is based. "I have a seven-year-old, and there is just no way I would hit her under any circumstances.

"But the idea of anyone hurting her... it's a quandary, and that's the brilliance of the tale, in that the way it's set up is very grey. There's the knee-jerk reaction, which I think is why so many people can empathise with (the slapping parent) Harry's position, it's very clever storytelling. I can empathise with that situation, but would I react like that? Probably not."

Meanwhile, LaPaglia's character Hector has his own problems - namely an affair with the young babysitter Connie threatening to spiral out of control and wreck his marriage to the glamorous Ash. Don't tell me he has sympathy for him, too...?

LaPaglia, whose face is best known for his work on US police drama Cold Case, chuckles a lot. "I totally empathise with his position - it's that classic moment in life when you reach that 40-year-old period, and you start to ask questions, and reflect on everything you've done and ask, is this it? How did I get here?

"I think what he's yearning for is that youthfulness, not knowing what tomorrow's going to bring, that excitement and adventure you have in your late teens and twenties, and Connie represents that. He's going through that crisis of questioning everything, and he succumbs to the fruit of the devil. I sympathise."

LaPaglia knows of what he speaks, in terms of satisfying his youthful sense of adventure. The younger brother of Anthony LaPaglia (Frasier, Without A Trace), he was working as a doctor in a Sydney hospital emergency room, when he decided - on a whim, as he tells it - to chuck it all in and try his luck with acting school... in New York.

"One thing led to another, and I ended up getting into a full-time school in New York, graduated and got my first professional gig on a TV show, and the rest is...

"There was no plan. I didn't know my arse from my elbow. Now I probably wouldn't take those chances, I was just being young and dumb."

LaPaglia credits his older brother with being a strong creative influence, although it appears Anthony has only ever imparted two bits of professional advice:

"He told me to establish Plan A, don't have a Plan B, and to lose the Aussie accent."

It seems LaPaglia Junior followed both of these tips, and there is no trace of the Aussie accent he uses in The Slap as he speaks to me today, something he explains was a conscious decision:

"I thought, if I want to work in this country and pay the rent, I'm going to have to commit to it. I made a point of conversing every day, and the pathways realigned themselves and everything switched over, in fact, when I went back to film The Slap, I had to hire a vocal coach to become Aussie again. I'd work on it all day long, finally get it, then wake up in the morning and I'd be American again. It would drive me crazy."

Accent notwithstanding, did working back in Australia call LaPaglia home after nearly two decades away? It certainly gave him fruit for thought:

"It's something I've done it all arse-backwards, most people establish themselves at home first before coming out here and trying their luck. But I've done it all back to front.

"But America currently is home. We have a whole life established here, a house, a kid, a car, make that three cars... I have three V8s, where am I going to go?"

The Slap is now available on DVD. Below are some images from the show:

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