Writer, director and voice artist Adam Zwar harboured dreams of becoming an actor, but followed in his parents’ footsteps and became a journalist writing for Melbourne’s Sunday Herald Sun. He put $4000 a year towards creating short films, including a 2002 Tropfest entry about a talking dog called Wilfred, which turned into an SBS television series. Zwar later created and wrote two seasons of ABC newsroom comedy Lowdown with wife Amanda Brotchie. He also wrote, directed and produced Agony Uncles and the follow up Agony Aunts. His latest project, The Agony of Life, looks at the other important stages of existence. It starts on Wednesday on ABC 1.
How did you end up in TV and film?
When I went to university I was hanging out with the actors all the time and so when I finished journalism I went straight to acting school and then straight back to journalism. I did this play and an agent came along. Within a few weeks I was doing guesties on Neighbours and Blue Heelers and so I decided to go freelance as a journalist [for eight years]. I thought ‘‘Let’s write stuff that I can do’’ because I wasn’t being hired all the time as an actor, so I thought ‘‘Let’s just create my own career’’.
How much of Lowdown was your own experience?
There was lots of flights of fancy, but there were seeds of real stories there. Amanda Brotchie has a PhD in linguistics and knows all the foibles of the English language so she was able to really flesh out those subeditor moments. One day after interviewing Tex Perkins the musician I had to drive him around to do errands. We put that into episode two. The Steve Bisley episode was based on when I found out [former Carlton Football Club president] John Elliott had been busted drink-driving and I had to go round to his house and talk to his wife. She was there alone and it was late at night and she just wanted a chat and here I was thinking, ‘‘I’ve got to get back for deadline’’.
How was working with your wife?
I was banned from talking about it after a certain time at night. ‘‘Listen, I’ve actually knocked off now, it’s 9pm.’’ I can be obsessive, so we had some ground rules.
Where did Agony Uncles and Aunts come from?
I had a male Sex and the City column in the paper as one of my freelance gigs. It was a mixture of the column and also going to an all-boys boarding school. I wasn’t seeing any action but apparently they were all seeing all this action and every girl they looked at just fell at their feet. It took me a long time to figure out that was all just lies and I thought, ‘‘Wouldn’t it be good to get high-profile people talking about these things in an honest way just so people like me – when they are growing up – realise that it’s not that bad to be dumped or to be rejected and it’s a natural part of life’’.
Is it really a case of men being from Mars and women from Venus?
It is. It was very difficult to convince the women to do the show because they were thinking, ‘‘How are you going to treat this? Are you going to make me look like an idiot?’’ Whereas the guys were in, straight away, no problems at all. Once we got the women’s trust they obviously thought a lot more deeply about relationships than guys. As far as sophistication about relationship talk is concerned, it was like watching an international team versus a club team.
Did you have an agony uncle growing up?
There was a guy I used to work with at the paper, his name was Gordon Dann, and he seemed to be an expert on everything. I looked up to him, I thought he was great.
Why do audiences love the aunts and uncles?
It’s our interest in confession. That’s the fundamental difference between this show and the Grumpy Old Men series: that is commentary, whereas this is confession.