Actor Miles Buchanan (1966-) was an Australian star of movies, television and the stage. He shone for a time and then burnt out due to a case of alcohol and drug abuse and mental illness. And whereas there were a few who could carry on some sort of career under such a heavy burden… Miles stopped working around 1992.
His mother wrote a book about his illness and his substance abuse but I have not read it as it is impossible to source even a second hand copy. But she said in 2007, many years after Miles had suffered his first breakdown, that his depression and substance abuse problems, over the years, had the young actor shunted from psychiatric wards to drug rehabilitation units but he was never able to be treated for both problems at once.
“One after another, one they would deal with depression, the next one would deal with drugs, but never at the same time,” Jo Buchanan said.
“Usually he was released prematurely from the hospital psychiatric wards before the effects of the anti-depressants had taken place, so he would come out and as soon as he succumbed to the depression, he turned to the drugs again, so next thing he’d be in rehab. But you could not go into any rehab place if you were on anti-depressants. They would not accept you so he had to go off the anti-depressants to be treated for his drug problems.”
She said during this period, Miles attempted to kill himself several times.
While I have known several people, who were caught in the revolving door of hospital admissions, things have possibly changed for the better since then and patients are treated in a more integrated and organic way rather than getting caught in the seemingly Catch-22 or conundrum that Miles’s mother spoke of. It is obvious these days that mental illness and drugs and alcohol often go hand in hand together.
Having got that out of the way, briefly, let’s move on and see what Miles did achieve in his career before his terrible ordeal.
Some may remember him as the oily son of hero Harry Joy from the movie Bliss (1985). This teenager who is going to be a doctor, according to his parents, in the meantime, earns his money dealing drugs and paying his younger sister cash to fellate him in his bedroom. There is a surreal scene where he is dressed in Nazi uniform as she is doing so. His character will descend to paying the money to have his father committed to an asylum…
It’s a good role for the budding young actor as he exudes experience beyond his years and shows a surprising caring side as well to his character.
“…He’s a businessman. A very successful businessman,” says Miles’ character about his career choice to work for a criminal drug dealer.
It is perhaps interesting that Miles did fall prey to criminals who fed his drug addiction… Or was it just a peer group that was recreationally using… or both?! I was dealt what someone suggested was marijuana laced with formaldehyde one evening by so-called ‘friends’ and my young mind was never the same again. So, I can relate to Miles and the fact that it can take years to rid yourself of drug addiction… especially when it’s around you!
Then you become isolated after your behaviour changes due to ensuing mental illness or depression and it becomes more so when you lose friends and work – you then descend into the hell which it summons, perhaps for years and even decades.
Apparently, Miles’ depression was so mind-numbing that he had to undergo, or chose to undergo, a long series of electro convulsive therapy treatments….
The trouble with the actor’s career must have happened shortly after his appearance in Kaufman and Hart’s play Once in a Lifetime, which played the Sydney Opera House from 30 May 1990 until 7 July the same year. It was his last official major stage appearance according to records.
Once in a Lifetime has a character driven to distraction and eventually a sanitorium by movie studio bureaucracy and a lack of work to keep him busy… It stands as a symbol of Miles’s career, with no more stage work, nor feature films. In terms of television work, there was an episode of the Aussie tv drama G.P. which hints again at the actor’s need to reach out and see a good doctor possibly during this period where work had apparently dried up.
His last role on television was in the cult children’s tv series The Girl from Tomorrow (1991) in the role of Eddie, who is a goon with close cropped hair to the baddie in the series. He hardly appears in a thankless role – at least in the first half a dozen episodes I watched. Someone has written that this series inspired The Wachowskis to make The Matrix movies.
While that may have been the end of Miles’s acting career… there is so much more to celebrate about what he achieved.
Before Once in a Lifetime, Miles had already been a hit on the stage doing the Neil Simon plays Biloxi Blues and Broadway Bound. He had toured with Biloxi Blues from the Playhouse Theatre at the Sydney Opera House to Brisbane in the mid to late 1980s.
When you watch Miles perform on screen, you can see he would be the perfect Neil Simon hero or foil. Matthew Broderick played the hero onscreen in the US movie version of Biloxi Blues and there is a similarity between the actors in some ways. Both are clean cut with dark hair and eyes. I guess then that it is not surprising that Broderick and Miles played the role of the sacrificial lamb in the film version and the play of Torch Song Trilogy respectively.
That play would be Miles’s first great stage role, albeit not a large one, and the play moved from Melbourne to eventually play Her Majesty’s Theatre in Sydney.
But back to the Neil Simon connection and Miles also played in a stage version of Brighton Beach Memoirs… I’m gradually taking you back to the beginning of Miles’s career and we will meet somewhere in the middle with cult movie Dangerous Game (1988) …
Miles began his career as a kid on the small screen in the role of Damien Harris alongside his sister Simone Buchanan (1968-) in the television movie A Good Thing Going (1978). It tells the story of a housewife with kids who walks out on her family, leaving her husband to cope. The film also stars stalwart Aussie actor John Hargreaves (1945-96 AIDS) as the father.
Miles won a Logie, or an Australian television award, for Best Performance by a Juvenile for his work in the movie. And you can see why he won it, as he carries on like a little man within the confines of the house as his father struggles to come to terms with the new living arrangements.
The award-winning moment probably comes in a fast food burger joint where young Miles tells his mother to go to hell and runs off onto the road and almost gets run over by an on-coming car. It was an auspicious debut for brother and sister.
Sister Simone would go on to do work on hit series Hey Dad..! (1987-94), one season wonder Pacific Drive (1996-97) and had a role in Aussie soap Neighbours for some ninety episodes. In 2019, she directed several episodes of that series. She also appeared in the cult movie Shame (1988) and played the mother to teenagers in the recent Aussie horror Boar (2017). While she was still a kid, she did several children’s feature films including Doctors and Nurses (1981) and Run, Rebecca, Run (1981). So, talent definitely runs in the family and Miles has a modest filmography in comparison. All respects to Simone but I always thought Miles the more talented of the two, at least in terms of depth, when it came to dramatic performance.
The pair acted together in the short-lived series Runaway Island (1982) which followed the lives of street urchins in colonial Australia in the 1800s.
Miles plays the intelligent, steady and level-headed Jamie McLeod in this series who speaks with an educated voice and leads a bunch of children on some adventures. Runaway Island consists of four two-part episodes and while it’s not great, with long running times of between 90 and 100 minutes, there’s simply too much padding.
But it’s well produced and Miles performance is reasonably good although he is yet to gain the confidence he would have later on and the director doesn’t seem to tap the cast’s talent to any great degree.
Runaway Island is sincere and Miles, who is no more that perhaps fifteen, shows he can help carry a show… Thus, he proved himself to be a trouper and his work on stage later would further underline this.
It is Dangerous Game which contains Miles’s best captured performance on film. It is certainly his most confident and most colourful. It was made around the time when he was having his greatest success on the stage in Sydney with the Neil Simon plays which was around 1987 to 1988. As a result, he is top billed in the credits of Dangerous Game which shows just how much respect was shown for his work and confidence in his talent.
Dangerous Game tells of a kind of nerdy computer expert, played by Miles, who manages to disable a large department store’s security system late one evening because of a bet with a friend. He, along with four friends, enter and become trapped inside the store. Also, inside the store with them, is a psychotic Irish police officer who has it in for one of Miles’s friends played by Marcus Graham (1963). The five Sydney University students must fight to survive as they find it difficult to escape the store…
The film starts off with someone whistling When Irish Eyes are Smiling and it is actor Steven Grives (1951-) as Murphy the cop as he dresses in his uniform and mounts his police cycle. It’s a slick opening of close-up images on a black background… then there’s a burst of colour and Paul Kelly and the Messengers are singing as Marcus Graham crosses the Sydney Harbour Bridge in his red convertible while skylarking with a water pistol. It is something which will grab Murphy’s attention. Grives’s character is a violent psychotic and while Graham is the sex in the film, it is Miles who is the brains, to a degree, and as a hacker he sells the answers to exams to fellow students.
Miles is wearing a near outrageous haircut, or very believable wig, which looks like it was inspired by one of the members of pop group Depeche Mode, along with a colourful shirt and trouser suspenders. Miles sits at the back of the lecture hall behind the girl he has a crush on as actor John Polson (1965-), who would go on to direct the stalker flick Swimfan (2002), plays pranks.
“What? Are we on candid camera here, or what?,” says Miles, at one stage of the proceedings, as he foolishly calls policeman Murphy “a psychotic loser” which is something which will cause rage in the unhinged officer later on.
Meanwhile Polson has a premonition of Murphy in a mask and the sound of heavy metal hitting something… this too will echo later in the movie.
“The world has only been blessed with a small number of great minds,” says Miles, and even this line will echo later when the five teenagers, which includes two girls, find themselves locked in the department store. You see, Miles then admits: “…I didn’t crack the system in five minutes… I just entered it… I memorised the access codes but when I say I memorised them, I wrote them down, actually.” Well, nobody’s perfect and it doesn’t help the gang in the security room when a password is needed to open the doors…
There’s graffiti reading ‘Ian Curtis Lives’ and a poster for the INXS album Kick to be seen in the street background shots. No wonder that, along with the set design inside the department store, the film got a nomination from the AFI for Best Production Design. There was little else though, which is probably not surprising, as you’d have to categorise the film as a thriller or a horror and they just don’t usually get nominated or win mainstream awards. Do they?
Director Stephen Hopkins (1958-) used the film as a calling card for Hollywood. It worked and the director went on to direct A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989), Predator 2 (1990) and The Ghost and the Darkness (1996). Let’s not forget the feature film version of Lost in Space (1998). He continues to work on television.
So, we have a major talent behind the camera and a solid script which doesn’t really tick any new boxes in terms of the genre but there’s good characterization… just look at Miles!
“…As we drive past, you can witness the results of my genius,” says Miles as the group wait for the store door to automatically open before he is unmasked as an amateur hacker. But that he is unmasked shows an ingenious lead performance which seemed to promise even better performances in the future… But we must settle for this small treasure… So, the door opens…
“Take it from me, I know exactly what I am doing,” which is also the ingenuity of the screenplay, and the director’s work on Dangerous Game, as we are led deeper into trouble as the film progresses… Miles’ character doesn’t really know what he is doing but the director does… It delivers the thrills.
The store, incidentally, is called Martwels, which may reflect Marks and Spencers in the United Kingdom and Walmart in the United States and shows it was made for both markets beyond its Australian release.
There is a scene in the security room where Miles sits in front of the keyboard. He is the centre of attention and in his element, eyes flashing and fingers flicking… His character is a show-off and every actor, generally, admits to being one… but it isn’t just showing off, he is at one with the movie and the acting ensemble gathered around him… I just wish I could have seen this talented actor perform on stage in Neil Simon material. The reviews must have been great!
The movie makes the most of its lead-up to Murphy’s appearance, and he comes down the stationary escalator wearing a Marriage of Figaro Venetian mask, a blond wig and armed with a metal baseball bat… It’s that premonition that Polson had earlier in the movie. Miles would later feature in a Sydney performance of The Marriage of Figaro not long after making this movie.
Madman Murphy had earlier dropped a ball bearing down the escalator as if it’s a warning that he has lost his marbles. This thriller/horror captures the violent malevolence of Murphy who is the opposite of Miles, a character that is shy when it comes to girls and despite a quick and acidic tongue at times – you know he’s a gentle person in comparison. Grives’s Murphy instead sweats madness.
The link between madness and innocence meeting and often the end of that innocence as a result is central to Dangerous Game as it is to most horrors in general… It also shows a psychotic bully at his worst…. Dangerous Game possibly sums up the moment in Miles’s life where the bullying demons of depression would in time come to get him, or the tipping point when Miles couldn’t escape the drugs. The horror is symbolic and this makes his performance, which would be his last feature film, all the more poignant… But it’s a horror movie after all and there’s murder and much destruction of department store merchandise before the denouement. The tragedy is this film isn’t more readily available.
There’s one scene on a ledge, high above the street, which is remarkable and if the film tells us anything, it’s that if you’re psychotic… then pumping iron and swigging on spirit bottles won’t make you a kind person.
Grives as Murphy is an accomplished English stage actor who followed Hopkins to Hollywood for a brief spell but his career trajectory wasn’t as successful. My favourite movie of his is the British Norman J. Warren directed movie Inseminoid aka Horror Planet (1981).
Along with the fact that the Australian cast got largely ignored in Dangerous Game by critics and by Hollywood is reflected in that Grives got a role in the production of the Aussie-shot box office hit movie Scooby Doo (2002) after he returned from Hollywood … The gang in Dangerous Game can be seen as a reflection of the well-worn gang from that long running series and the antithesis in terms of horror… You just don’t get murdered in Scooby Doo but at least you are guaranteed success in some form if you appear in it! … Or am I just seeing double? It was probably the formaldehyde laced drug cocktail I was dealt in my early 20s coming back to haunt me like the past successes I had in my past which are long since gone… As I said earlier and will always say, nobody’s perfect!
As for Miles, he went on to study philosophy at Melbourne University rather than sit around swigging sprits and pumping iron, not that I compare him to Murphy… Those who were lucky enough to see him on stage will have fond memories of a personality and countenance which shone for a time… At least there’s Bliss and Dangerous Game to watch among other items… Miles Buchanan, you are, justly, admired!