Andrew Fenton, The Daily Telegraph, reports
William McInnes is trying his hardest to be jovial. He cracks jokes, calls me "old cock" a lot and does a rather neat impersonation of Ray Winstone.
But today it seems a little forced - as if he's going through the motions.
It's been a trying time for the SeaChange and Blue Heelers actor since he lost his wife, much-loved filmmaker Sarah Watt, to cancer in November. As he talks about facing life without her, he begins to open up.
"It's an odd feeling of being abandoned and marooned, but it's no one's fault and it's just a new way of living your life," said McInnes. "That can be terribly hard to comprehend, especially when it's sort of public.
"It's not that you don't laugh or you stop having fun or enjoying life, you just know something's not quite right. Sometimes it's just too hard and you can't deal with it and you just feel like jumping in a hole."
McInnes and Watt married two decades ago when he was an unemployed actor with poor prospects. They had two children, Clem, now 18, and Stella, 13, and settled into a comfortable family life in Footscray, in Melbourne's western suburbs.
It was during post-production on Watt's acclaimed Look Both Ways, in which McInnes starred, that Watt was first diagnosed with breast cancer. Having thought she'd beaten the disease, it returned as secondary, terminal bone cancer soon after the release of My Year Without Sex in 2009. McInnes is as philosophical as you can be given the circumstances.
"There are lots of people who go through these sorts of things and it's not anyone's special cross to bear," he says.
"I know one thing - lots of people bang on about heroes as the sort of people who've got their portraits hanging in galleries, but you know what? When you're facing a serious life-threatening, or terminal illness, those people are courageous beyond description."
Not long before she died, the couple released a heartfelt book together - her "gift" he calls it - about their relationship and family called Worse Things Can Happen At Sea. A few weeks ago it won the Indie award for best non-fiction book; an honour that touched McInnes deeply.
"I'm not that proud of many of the things I've done, but this one is a cracker of a book," he says. "I know that it will mean a lot to the kids, and I know from the reaction I've received it's meant a lot to a lot of people.
The book has the idea that if you just take stock and count what you do have (rather than what you don't have) most of the time you realise you're pretty blessed."
Although McInnes could be forgiven for disappearing from public life, he's actually busier than ever. He's finishing off his new novel Laughing Clowns, for release in October and he's just started shooting an ABC telemovie called Dangerous Remedy.
He plays the head of homicide caught up in the corruption and deaths surrounding the illegal abortion rings that existed in Victoria in the 1960s.
"He was a guy who was part of the system back then, he wasn't necessarily a bad guy, but just got mixed up in the line between compromise and corruption," he says.
And McInnes's new series Auction Room begins on the ABC on April 15.
It was Watt who encouraged him to take the Auction Room hosting job when it was offered last year.
"Sarah said 'yeah, go on it'd be fun'," he says. "I think she just wanted me out of the house."
The series looks at the human drama and stories surrounding people compelled to sell off their cherished possessions.
McInnes calls it "entertainment with a brain" and the people featured include everyone from Elvis impersonators flogging off memorabilia, to people in high society auctioning off a lifetime's collection of antiques.
"I haven't seen it yet," he says. "But I can assure your readers it's probably the most powerful piece of television they're likely to see this year."
"It's like a pleasant half hour of television. It's one of those shows where you can kick off your shoes, sit back and meet some nice, funny folk."
Auction Room, ABC1, April 15, 6pm