Aldo Mignone, who plays Italian dreamboat Gino Poletti in A Place to Call Home, knew that the Australian period drama had a strong fan base but he had no inkling that it was tipped to feature so strongly in this year’s TV Week Logie nominations.
“You know how I found out? I saw in the Sunday Telegraph that (fellow cast members) David (Berry) and Abby (Earl) were in Melbourne for the nominations,” says the handsome young actor with a laugh.
The tipsters were right. A Place to Call Home has five Logie nominations including the viewer-voted Best Drama and the peer-voted Most Outstanding Drama.
“It’s amazing. I’m really proud that we’ve been nominated because we’ve got such a hard-working team. So fingers crossed,” says Mignone.
Set in rural NSW in the 1950s, A Place to Call Home moved to Foxtel last year thanks to fans campaigning to save the show when Network Seven dropped it after two series.
Mignone’s character is the son of Italian farmhands, who marries the beautiful Anna Bligh (Earl) daughter of the wealthy family his parents worked for. At the end of series three their marriage was under strain after Gino’s attempts at winemaking left him in debt. Filming is now underway on the fourth season.
“Things were pretty rough there towards the end,” says Mignone of Gino and Anna’s relationship.
“I’m probably not allowed to say much but (season four) is picking up from there. The marriage almost feel apart there for a second but now we have to rekindle that and tackle the real world: how are we actually going to make a living?”
For the last month, Mignone has also been rehearsing a play called Belleville, directed by Claudia Barrie, which opens at the Old Fitz Theatre on Friday. (The scheduled opening had to be delayed a week when Emily Eskell had to withdraw unexpectedly from the production and was replaced by Taylor Ferguson).
Chatting at the Woolloomooloo pub venue, Mignone admits he wouldn’t normally take on something else while filming but says that he couldn’t resist the chance to perform in Belleville – his first professional stage play.
“I’ve been coming here for quite a while and the work they put on is absolutely amazing. These guys are at the top of their game and I really wanted to be part of what is happening at the Fitz. It’s become quite a little theatre Mecca thanks to Red Line Productions (who currently run the venue),” he says.
Mignone met Barrie when he went to see a friend performing in her powerful production of Philip Ridley’s Shivered last year, also for Mad March Theatre Company.
“She likes a dark play,” laughs Mignone. “She is doing a wonderful job at Mad March Hare Theatre. She’s just a little powerhouse.”
Belleville, by American playwright Amy Herzog, is about young American newlyweds who move to Paris where their fraught relationship quickly begins to unravel.
Mignone, who plays their landlord Alioune, describes it as “an emotional, psychological thriller: this idea of finding happiness and how far one will go, and lie, in order to realise that.
“It’s not a terribly big role but I really wanted to be part of it. I think it’s incredible writing and it really gripped me when I read it. Fortunately I was able to accommodate that with A Place to Call Home.”
Where Gino is an Italian catholic, Alioune is French Muslim – “but that’s not the focus by any means in the play. It’s just his background,” says Mignone.
However, the chance to explore such different characters is what appeals to him about acting: “I like the idea of being caught up in different jobs, different ideas, different cultures for each role. It takes you to different places,” he says.
Born into an Italian family in Adelaide where his father is a doctor and his mother manages his medical practice, Mignone has four older sisters who used to dress him up and put on plays as kids. Later, they would take him to the theatre with them. “I just got caught up in it,” says Mignone, who went to NIDA but left two years into the course.
“There were just some disagreements,” he says. “I think the school is a good school. I think it disciplines you and you learn quite a bit but I was trying to do some outside work and I just wasn’t happy with the way it was handled so I decided to leave. Then I was in limbo for a bit working in hospitality and doing what you can to get by and then fortunately I landed A Place to Call Home.”
It was through his sister Louisa, who is also an actor, that he was cast as Gino. As luck would have it, Louisa – who performed in Mortido with Colin Friels at Belvoir last year and now lives in Los Angeles – was assisting at auditions for A Place to Call Home.
“At the time I didn’t have an agent and she said, ‘you should definitely see my brother for this role’. It was like, ‘Lou, thank you so much, that’s amazing.’ I was really so nervous. I had to sing this opera song and I’m a terrible singer but it got me the role,” says Mignone.
Whether A Place to Call Home goes into a fifth season remains to be seen. “People are talking in an excited way that it’s going so well so I wouldn’t be surprised if we did go ahead with a fifth season,” says Mignone, “but you never know until you are there on set filming.”
Belleville, Old Fitz Theatre, Woolloomooloo, April 20 – May 12. Bookings: oldfitztheatre.com/belleville
A version of this story ran in the Daily Telegraph on April 15