Antony Starr’s screen career took flight thanks to an extended run playing two people on the same show. After leaving school with no particular ambitions apart from a fleeting desire to be a cop, he took an acting night class at Unitech to fill in time. Starr began taking commercials and bit parts on Xena and Street Legal to help make ends meet.
In 2001 he got a recurring role over three seasons hit series Mercy Peak. The show, about a nurse who moves from the big city to a small town, called for a family who were distinctly white trash. Starr played the role of Todd Van der Velter, part of that family.
Two years later Starr got the lead role in Screenworks telemovie Skin and Bone, Greg McGee’s television update of his classic play Foreskin’s Lament. Starr plays Seymour, a young man returning to his rural rugby team after time in the big city - only to find the moral code isn’t what he remembers. The role proved physically demanding, requiring the cast to act out rugby scenes as late as 2am, in freezing conditions. The same year he was a teen slacker in TV series Hard Out.
Small film roles quickly followed in acclaimed features In My Father’s Den, No. 2 and Kiwi record-breaker The World’s Fastest Indian. While Starr didn’t have any speaking parts alongside Indian’s star Anthony Hopkins, he later describe Hopkins as ”the best person I’ve been around, acting wise.”
Inspired partly by Starr’s screen family on Mercy Peak, screenwriters Rachel Lang and James Griffin began concocting a new television drama in 2004, one that would put a white trash family at front and centre. Starr auditioned and landed two roles, playing twins Jethro and Van West.
The show was Outrageous Fortune. It would run for six seasons from 2005 to 2010, winning acclaim, dozens of awards and solid audiences. Stuff reviewer Chris Philpott called the show “the most successful locally made television series of all time.”
Starr played characters who were polar opposites. Jethro West is a scheming, untrustworthy lawyer. Twin brother Van on the other hand is laidback and not so bright, although ultimately kindhearted. Playing two main characters meant that the actor’s workload was effectively doubled. “In the end we had to sit down and talk about how to manage it with the writers…Rachel and James were really accommodating about adjusting it.” Starr’s performance in the dual roles did not go unrecognised; he won Best Actor gongs at the New Zealand TV awards in 2005, 2007 and 2008.
In between filming seasons five and six of Outrageous Fortune, Starr found himself in two lead roles - feature drama After the Waterfall and telemovie Spies and Lies.
After the Waterfall sees Starr playing John Drean, a man who leaves his wife after the disappearance of his daughter, only to find out she is pregnant by the police officer investigating the disappearance. While his newfound recognition from Outrageous played a part in the film’s appeal, Starr had actually first been booked for the role in 2004, after making In My Father’s Den. The new role garnered acclaim and another nomination for Best Actor at the NZ Film & TV awards. In a four star review, the NZ Herald's Francesca Rudkin described Starr as “a revelation" as a father dealing with grief and guilt."…he holds this film together”.
Immediately upon completing After the Waterfall, Starr began shooting Spies and Lies, a crime story based on real-life events in 1942. Talking in Onfilm about taking on two projects back to back, Starr described After the Waterfall as “an emotional, weighty sort of piece, whereas Spies and Lies kinda dances along, so it was a really nice thing to come onto off the back of Waterfall.” Spies sees Starr playing Syd Ross, a recently released conman who convinces the NZ Government of the existence of a fictitious Nazi spy ring, and is hired to infiltrate them.
In this period Starr got an LA agent, and began to appear in main cast roles on a number of Australian TV shows. These included a season of emergency response drama Rush and short-lived series Tricky Business, which saw him playing romantic interest to the main character. That year he also secured a starring role in Australian feature Wish You Were Here, alongside Joel Edgerton. Starr played part of a group of four Australians whose holiday in South East Asia turns to nightmare, after one of them goes missing. The film was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.
In 2012 Starr landed the starring role in US action-drama Banshee, executive produced by Alan Ball (True Blood, Six Feet Under). Starr plays ex-criminal Lucas Hood, who upon release from prison, assumes the identity of the sheriff in the small Amish town of Banshee. Screening on US cable network Cinemax, Banshee won largely positive reviews, with website The A.V. Club calling it “one of the best things on television”. Entertainment Weekly described Starr as “immediately believable” in the starring role; The Wall Street Journal spoke of how in pretending to be someone else, “Lucas becomes a character enlarged, his moral sense deepened, in ways Mr Starr conveys with admirable subtlety”.
In July 2015 it was announced that Banshee’s fourth season, screening in 2016, would be its last.
Profile written by Simon Smith
'The rise and rise of Antony Starr' (Video Interview) NZ On Screen website. Director James Coleman. Loaded 25 November 2010. Accessed 31 October 2015
Les Chappell, ‘Banshee: We All Pay Eventually’ (Review of Banshee) - The AV Club, Loaded 13 March 2015. Accessed 31 October 2015
‘Starr Turns’ (interview) - Onfilm, July 2010, page 16
William Hughes, ‘Cinemax Silences Banshee’ - The AV Club, website. Loaded 28 July 2015. Accessed 31 October 2015
Chris Philpott, ‘Wrapping Up Outrageous Fortune’ (Review) - Stuff website. Loaded 11 November 2010. Accessed 31 October 2015
Dorothy Rabinowitz, ‘The Sheriff Wore Stripes: Tale of a Hood as Hero’ (Review of Banshee) - The Wall Street Journal, 10 January 2013
Francesca Rudkin, ‘Movie Review: After the Waterfall’ - The NZ Herald, 4 November 2010
Hugh Sundae, ‘Outrageous Star on the end of an era’ (Video interview) (Broken link) The NZ Herald, Loaded 9 November 2010. Accessed 31 October 2015
Ken Tucker, ‘The New Pulp Fiction: Sexy, Violent, Amish’ (Review of Banshee) - Entertainment Weekly, 11 January 2013
'Before, during and After the Waterfall’ (Interview with Simone Horrocks) - Onfilm, October 2010, page 18