Bakersfield Mist keeps audience guessing says star John Wood

Together again: Lionel Percy [John Wood] argues with Maude [Julie Nihill] about the authenticity of her "Jackson Pollock" in Bakersfield Mist, at the Manning Entertainment Centre on July 22.
Together again: Lionel Percy [John Wood] argues with Maude [Julie Nihill] about the authenticity of her "Jackson Pollock" in Bakersfield Mist, at the Manning Entertainment Centre on July 22.

John Wood and Julie Nihill haven’t worked together for 11 years, since they starred in the much-loved television cop show Blue Heelers which ended in 2006, after it graced our small screens for 12 years.

“It’s nice to be back on the stage and I found it quite easy to work with Julie again. Often it’s hard to reveal stuff in the first few rehearsals but it was a bit like old home week,” Wood says.

But he adds it is one of the hardest plays he has ever had to learn. “The character [art expert Lionel Percy] is a long way from my natural persona. He speaks in university ‘intellectualese’. So many of the lines start off in the same way.” 

Entertaining: Popular actor John Wood looks forward to appearing in Bakersfield Mist at the Manning Entertainment Centre.

Entertaining: Popular actor John Wood looks forward to appearing in Bakersfield Mist at the Manning Entertainment Centre.

His character, whom he describes as “pompous”, is called on to authenticate a painting bought by unemployed bartender Maude (Nihill) at an op shop. She believes it is a Jackson Pollock artwork worth millions. Percy makes the journey from New York, to Maude’s trailer park home in Bakersfield, uncertain of what he will discover.

“It’s an extremely interesting piece, very funny, with the very amusing meeting of two people so unalike. If you had to explain it to television viewers I would describe it as Kelsey Grammar meets Roseanne Barr.”

Wood says it is thought provoking. “It’s a class battle, a gender battle … a mystery with twists and turns; it certainly keeps you guessing.”

Although the character is very different to him, Wood says he has had an interest in art since his school days. “We [he and wife Leslie] have quite a few paintings, nothing spectacular; you buy stuff you like.”

Prior to his role in Blue Heelers, Wood became a well known actor playing magistrate Michael Rafferty in Rafferty’s Rules. He won two Logies for the role during its four year run from 1987. After Blue Heelers, he became a regular on many networks, picking up a recurring role in 2010 on Offspring.

A stint on Neighbours followed and most recently Wood had a recurring role as Patrick Tyneman (2013-2016) in The Dr Blake Mysteries, the cancellation of which he thinks is “a real shame”. “The scripts are interesting, and I really enjoy working with Craig [McLachlan].” He says it has been a great show, but its axing is “typical ABC”. “I mean they’re shifting Play School half an hour forward – why? It’s insane, and Dr Blake has been its highest rating series.” 

Blue Heelers: From left, Julie Nihill, Rachel Gordon, Martin Sacks, Simone McAulley, John Wood, Ditch Davey, Geoff Morell, Danny Raco, Samantha Tolj and Paul Bishop.

Blue Heelers: From left, Julie Nihill, Rachel Gordon, Martin Sacks, Simone McAulley, John Wood, Ditch Davey, Geoff Morell, Danny Raco, Samantha Tolj and Paul Bishop.

Wood believes his career has been a fruitful one. “It would be nice to have done some more movies. But many of the movies made in Australia haven’t had the presence and impact that Blue Heelers has.”

The Gold Logie winner has written multiple episodes for many tv shows and directed plays. “I’ve been mucking around with a play for 15 years … it would be good to finish it.” He would love to do another tv series, but says he doesn’t know if he has the physical ability to do a King Lear nowadays.

Bakersfield Mist is on at the Manning Entertainment Centre on Saturday July 22 at 7.30pm.