Australian actor Wadih Dona is a force to be reckoned with. With an impressive depth of classical theater training, a rich catalog of stage, television and film credits, the handsome, versatile player has achieved a great deal and is poised to ascend to the top of his field. For Dona, it’s been a near-lifelong pursuit.
“I don’t think you choose acting—it chooses you,” Dona said. “From a very early age I was always drawn to it. My father worked all over the Middle East and Europe, and as child I was exposed to many places and different cultures. I was always interested in people, watching them, looking at their behavior, making up stories about them. You see a couple in a restaurant and within seconds you can figure out their relationship based on their behavior. Is this a first date or a break up? I loved that.”
Acting is a particularly demanding endeavor. In order to succeed, a practitioner must demonstrate the ability to create a wholly convincing fictional experience. It’s a complex, sophisticated, painstaking discipline, and Dona does it with a sensitivity and skein of truth that reaches his audience’s empathic core to evoke a genuine response. As Nicholas Buffalo, who directed Dona on medical drama series All Saints, said, “Wadih’s incredible skills as an actor, his talent and versatility not only ensured the series’ commercial success and high viewership but also contributed to the way the show was received by critics and award bodies alike.”
This rare ability was honed and perfected by training alongside some of the world’s most prestigious educators. With studies at the renowned Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, New England University, New York University and London’s world famous Royal Shakespeare Company, Dona, since finishing his studies in the mid-90’s, has undertaken a steady stream of work and built a career of significant momentum in theatre, film and television.
Currently appearing in the Sydney Theatre Company’s critically-acclaimed revival of Michael Gow’s Away at the Sydney Opera House, Dona’s trove of international include a wide range of theatrical work, recurring roles on some of Australia’s most watched television programs and made his US feature film debut in 2016’s Septembers of Shiraz. But, at home, he is perhaps best known for his role as Dr. Nick Paltos on the top-rated series Underbelly.
“I had watched the first season of Underbelly and loved it,” Dona said. ”Then I heard they were casting the second season leads, and Nick Paltos, the character I played was of Greek Australian heritage and I had a reasonable resemblance to him. Really, it was synchronicity, because the producers were interested in me, so I screen tested for it and the rest is history, as they say.”
“Unconventional stories are always the most interesting to me,” Dona said. “The character was based on a real person, a doctor who was notorious in the 70’s for smuggling the largest import of hashish into Australia—seven tons! Here was a conservative doctor, a GP, the pillar of his community, a church goer and beneath all of it he ran a huge drug racket. That, to me, was fascinating.”
Underbelly had smashed ratings records right out of the gate. As the Australian News reported, the show was “the most watched Australian Television series, with the double episode premiere attracting an average of 2,501,500 viewers nationally. The show has consistently rated highly, being the most watched show on Australian television for all episodes broadcast so far.” Dona’s striking portrayal of this infamous character kept the excitement high, and he relished every moment of it.
“Underbelly was a fantastic experience,” Dona said. “But it was shot very quickly and was a true thrill. They cast strong actors because they knew the shooting time was short, so you really had to go with your instinct, as rehearsal time was also very short. Since I was playing a doctor on my first day of shooting the first scene was of me performing a colonoscopy, so it was very interesting getting the medical advisor to show me how to do that at 7 am on set!”
Since that six episode stint on Underbelly, his ongoing professional odyssey, with almost 30 television credits and eight big screen appearances, has been equally rewarding and successful. “Acting is a lifelong pursuit,” Dona said. “It’s organically happening for me now, and the opportunities coming are fantastic. There is no failure, only feedback. You have to plan to some extent but also leave some things to fate. I never want to be someone who regrets not doing something—if something challenges me, I embrace it.”