FOR Adam Demos the experience of starring in hit US TV show UnREAL was, well, unreal.
It hit home for the down-to-earth former labourer from Wollongong when he was sitting in a nine-hour appointment having hair extensions bonded to his hair.
The marathon beauty session, required to transform him into his character August, seemed a world apart from the jobs he was used to getting at the steelworks where he once earned a crust.
“I’m just a bogan from the Gong,” Demos says with a cheeky smile.
“I don’t think that’s a bad thing — actors come from all walks of life. The only thing you’ve got different from anyone else is being yourself, so there’s no point changing it.”
A TV show about the making of a TV show, UnREAL is a searing satire on The Bachelor franchise, co-created by former US Bachelor producer Sarah Gertrude Shapiro.
Demos stars as August, a contestant on Everlasting (the moniker given to Unreal’s fictional TV show).
Fellow Aussie and Home & Away alumni Kassandra Clementi also makes her debut in the coming season as the girlfriend to Everlasting’s executive producer Chet Wilton.
For Demos, the chance to make his mark on the US is a career game-changer.
After starring in local productions, Janet King, Wonderland, Winners & Losers, Underbelly, Rescue Special Ops and Home & Away — and taking the lead in the reimagined Solo commercial — he did a self-taped screen test early last year for Unreal from his friend’s house at Sydney’s Redfern.
He’d never seen an episode of the show and, as with most auditions, didn’t necessarily think anything would come of it.
But producers saw something in the knockabout bloke from the south coast.
He might not have had the screen credits or the US contacts of some of the actors auditioning but when it comes to “X-factor” — that indefinable quality that makes performers innately watchable — Demos has got the goods.
It’s the reason actor Zoe Carides cast Demos in his first 15-minute play when he was 24.
Demos had never seen a play when he performed onstage at Sydney’s renowned theatre festival Short + Sweet in 2009.
When he was growing up on a hobby farm outside Wollongong, theatre wasn’t a pastime indulged in by his friends or family.
“It’s just not part of my world, it was never part of my world or the mates I hung around with. It was never offered to you either,” says the 32-year-old who graduated from rugby league-focused Dapto High 2003. “But I always thought movies were cool and I always thought it would be interesting to try.”
Demos worked alongside his father in his demolition business throughout Year 12 and in the years after high school. He later took jobs at a roofing company, as a labourer and in the Wollongong steelworks. He also did a stint picking up glasses in the Bondi’s Hotel Ravesis.
While he has the utmost respect for tradesmen and their work, he never found a job that interested him enough to commit to. Instead, he’d save up his pay to take budget trips overseas, doing stints in Canada, the UK, Europe, Bali and Thailand.
“I reckon that’s what travelling does for you, opens your eyes a bit, and takes you outside your town and what everyone else is doing,” Demos says.
“I remember when I was about 23, working in the steelworks, and I’d just come home from a shitty day and I thought, ‘I’m either going to commit to this (job) or I should just try acting, because I can’t stop thinking about it.”
He enrolled in a six-week course on Saturdays but was so scared of getting mocked by his mates he kept it secret.
“I told them all I was working overtime because I didn’t want my mates knowing I was trying acting because it was so foreign to all of us,” he says.
Those hometown mates are still Demos’ best friends and, despite his fears, couldn’t be more supportive of their thespian buddy.
They’re also great at keeping him grounded, jokingly calling him “Hollywood” as a ribbing nickname.
Demos was blown away by the production size and large budgets that come with working in the US.
“The scale is so much bigger. There’s so many more people involved, so many more cameras and you’ve got big boom cranes and three cameras going at once, and there’s just so many extras,” he says.
It was also surreal to be on a set where the extras were dressed as crew.
“I don’t think any TV show compares to a TV show about making a TV show. There’s just this weird Inception world going on,” he says, referring to the 2010 Leonardo DiCaprio science fiction film about alternate realities.
However, Demos found his feet and impressed producers so much he’s already been commissioned for a second season.
But that doesn’t mean he’s got a bighead.
“Work a proper job, work construction and those jobs and then you realise just how lucky you are,” he says.
“It’s the greatest honour ever to be employed as an actor, it seriously is. It’s my biggest passion and hobby and now to get paid for it — what’s not to be happy about?”
He’s equally as humble when it comes to his arresting good looks, readily admitting he hasn’t always been a lady-killer.
“I was a little chubby unit with pimples,” Demos says, laughing as he recalls his high school years when his peers would tower over him.
A long-awaited growth spurt helped the weight fall off and he now keeps active with a regular schedule of hiking, boxing, swimming and surfing.
And although Demos may not come from a showbiz background perhaps his success should come as no surprise.
Hollywood has long fallen for the rugged charm of an Aussie star.
It’s a love affair that began in the 1930s with Errol Flynn and carried through with Paul Hogan’s iconic larrikinism in the ’80s and on to Chris Hemsworth.
But Demos is not motivated by fame or money and, unlike his Unreal character, wouldn’t dream of going on a reality TV show.
“I just love acting and want to keep working on cool stuff. But I don’t think too far ahead, life is too unpredictable. I just try to have a wicked day, every day,” he says.
Hollywood is renowned as being a tough town for actors trying to make it big but Demos, who’s been auditioning there for the past two years, hasn’t been hardened.
“I’ll never let the magic of that place be lost on me. It’s just the movie making, the billboards, the palm trees, everything about it,” he says, excitement in his eyes.
He currently splits his time between LA and Wollongong, relishing regular trips home to visit mum Lindy and his mates and to surf the same beaches he’s been carving up since he was a kid.
“They’re the best blokes in the world — they’re my closest mates and always will be — and that’s home, that’s where Mum is,” he says.
So, international fame or not, it seems Adam Demos will always have his feet firmly planted on the ground.
“Well, I hope I do,” he says, looking down at his shoes, in classic larrikin style.