Justin Melvey is not afraid of taking risks. In fact, he kind of likes it. "I'm a bit of a nutcase," he confesses. His grin widens as he talks about jumping from helicopters at 4300 metres in Utah. "I've bungee-jumped about 150 times out of balloons and bridges and cranes." He is also a self-confessed speed freak: "I ride motorcycles - anything with speed."
This "live on the edge" philosophy appears to have served Justin well throughout his short life: at 30, he has achieved celebrity status in skiing, modeling and, most recently, acting. Justin took home this year's logie for "Most Popular New Male Talent" in Australian television and is the runner-up "Bachelor of the Year" in CLEO Magazine.
Needless to say, I was a little nervous about meeting Justin, having watched Home and Away since it started all those years ago (it IS a good show, I don't care what anyone says). But, to my relief, he was a pretty decent kind of guy. Not only that - he just happens to have the most perfect smile I have ever seen ... and he isn't afraid of showing it off.
Justin smiles about anything: his obsession with chocolate, his cover-shoot with CLEO, but his smile is the brightest as he talks about being back in Australia, having spent nine years based in Los Angeles. Home and Away has enabled Justin to build his career back home and be close to his family once again. "I prefer the way of life in Australia - it's laid-back. Where else can you sit in a park and do an interview by the ocean? It doesn't happen," he concludes, scanning his home town.
It was a typical day in Bondi - sun, surf and scantily-clad bronzed bodies. In keeping with Bondi's tradition of non-formality, the interview had been relocated to a nearby park overlooking the beach.
Unusual, perhaps, but far more comfortable (and audible) than the original location, Speedo's, a crowded cafe across the road.
Sprawled out under a tree, wearing jeans and a faded Bonds T-shirt, Justin Melvey has the demeanor of an ordinary, everyday kind of guy. Which, according to him, is exactly what he is. OK so not every "ordinary" guy has piercing brown eyes or bulging muscles or such a captivating smile - but still he looked "normal" enough - now that I could see him outside of a 61 cm NEC wide-screen.
"The problem is the 'tall poppy syndrome' here: people don't like you to be a nice, honest, humble guy. They judge you by your cover and expect you to be arrogant and I'm not. I'm just an ordinary guy with big dreams and smart business sense."
Indeed: his "smart business sense" certainly appears to be paying dividends. With a brand new Logie under his belt, and a contract with Home and Away, Justin Melvey is fast becoming a household name. Not to mention THAT cover shoot with CLEO Magazine ...
Justin left CLEO readers hot under the collar when he appeared in an April issue for "The Most Eligible Bachelor", wearing nothing but a bed-sheet and a sexy pout.
"It was all very overwhelming," he says. "I think CLEO just wanted someone in a profile position to launch their biggest month. They told me they had sold out ... it's outrageous."
Justin was the obvious choice for the cover: he has been modeling for over 13 years. He has traveled to Milan, Paris and New York, initially using his successful career in modeling to finance his real dream - acting.
Now, at 30, Justin joins Home and Away as science teacher Harry Reynolds. His popularity and talent in this role were apparent at the 42nd TV Week Logie Awards when he took home the prize for "Most Popular New Male Talent" on Australian television. Justin recalls the moment as "a wonderful, proud achievement" in his career.
"I'm still quite overwhelmed by it all," he states to Jason Herbison, in an interview with TV Week magazine. "The first thing I did on the night was phone my mum and dad. They were so happy and I had a tear in the eye myself."
On his character, Harry, Justin comments: "He's very logical about things and, because I'm a Taurus and pretty stubborn, sometimes I'm not as logical as he is ... I'm very impatient and Harry is very patient, he's very much been a shoulder for everyone's bullshit on the show," he laughs.
As a young child, being in front of the camera was the last thing on Justin's mind: "I wanted to be a professional skier - I just wanted to do aerials - I had no incline to do acting."
Snow skiing has been Justin's passion since he was three years old, travelling with his family to the Perisher ski fields on their annual trips. "I come from a family of skiers," he says.
He trained in the Perisher Racing team until the age of 15. Even at this tender age, Justin was already preparing himself to be a champion: " I went down every weekend (to train) during the winter time ...I was very disciplined, so anything that stopped me from being a better athlete, I wouldn't do."
Justin's real passion was freestyle skiing: " You had to be crazy to do freestyle skiing; just ski bumps and do back-flips and somersaults. It takes a certain kind of person to be living on the edge like that."
Seems that Justin certainly was that kind of person. He trained with the US team in Colorado and, at 18, was placed in the top five in the Australian National Championships. He then earned his spot on the Australian Freestyle Ski Team and toured the world.
His years of training paid off: Justin represented Australia in the World Cup in Freestyle Skiing and still rates carrying the Australian flag as his proudest achievement. Not even winning the Logie could compare: "The Logies are wonderful, (they) give you a bigger profile within the business. But because I'm very sport orientated - to carry Australia's flag - would still be one of my greatest achievements."
Justin has a symbol of his other achievements, which he wears on his back: a tattoo of a panther. "I always wanted a tattoo," he explains in an on-line chat with CLEO magazine. "I had to have achieved 3-5 very important responsibilities in life and once I'd achieved that, I got a symbol that represents me."
How does it represent him exactly?
"Strong, independent, individual, aggressive - but 'purry' - like a cat. It's holding onto my back so it lets me know it's there all the time."
Karate is another sport at which Justin has excelled. "I had a stuttering problem at school when I was five years old," Justin recalls. "I couldn't say a word to save my life! Kids would bully me at school and I wanted to kick 'em. I wanted to fight back!"
He began karate at the age of ten, earning his black belt in only five years. He then went on to reach his second Dan black belt and trained in weapons. He also made the NSW State Fighting Team and competed in kata, a stylised fighting form.
And the stutter went?
"Yeah, my stutter went real quick!"
Justin has not been bullied since. He does, however, admit to involvement in his share of fights: "Oh, I got into a fight when I was younger," he grins, fingering the scar alongside his left eye. "I was a bit of a 'lad', you know, having a martial arts career."
"I'm not a fighter - anymore."
Some may disagree with that statement. Those in the business know that Justin has been fighting for over ten years for recognition in the acting world. He has appeared in various films including "Cloud 2000", "Valley of the Dolls", "The Burning Boys", "Mametville Murders" and, most recently, "The Debtors", a $20 million film starring Michael Caine and Randy Quaid.
Justin admits to being a little star-struck "to be seen on the same set" with Caine, whom he believes is "one of the most outstanding, world-renowned movie stars of all time."
So who else would Justin like to work with in the future?
"In Australian television, I have a crush on Sigrid Thornton - I've loved her since 'The Man From Snowy River' days ... I would love to have a scene with her ... err, maybe a love scene?"
That cheeky grin appears again. It fades into a warm smile as he is questioned about his family.
"They're awesome - a wonderful family." His face clouds over briefly, " I lost a brother four years ago. I have another brother and two sisters.
My sister (Camille) is in the top five in the world of cross-country skiing. She's the best in the history of Australia in cross-country skiing."
"I come from a very good family and I would never get involved with something that would jeopardize me as a caring son."
Justin attributes his own values to the strong code of morals instilled in him throughout childhood, and hopes to continue this tradition in his own family. When questioned about what he hopes to achieve in the future, he immediately replies: "A good father - I want to be a good husband and a good father."
Any contestants for this next production?
"Women, at the moment, I think, find it hard to compete with my lifestyle. My work demands so much of me at the moment and I really have to be happy with my work and myself before I can give to my partner," he reflects. "I never want to take advantage of my partner or put them second best. I am a very giving guy and I would be very frustrated not being able to give what my heart can give to another woman."
Well, it seems this is a sport that Justin may have gotten a few scratches from. He recalls having his heart broken and admits to being in love "a couple" of times. "It's not because it's my choice," he says slowly, "it's because of where I've had to live and because my strong ambitions have geographically taken me elsewhere. It's just been hard."
"I think - living on the edge, making choices, taking risks - that's the vulnerable side of my craft. Cause my heart, you know, I have got a big heart - it just does stupid things to you."
When Justin isn't breaking hearts, skiing, or acting, he takes time to enjoy the simple things in life - mostly food.
"Eat lots of ice-cream and chocolate," he laughs. "Sit in the park and eat lobster and use my fingers! Just relax, e-mail my friends back around the world, daydream in front of the tele ..."
His dreams include working with big-budget films in America and Australia - possibly even moving from the set to the director's chair. "I've been directed for the last twenty years so ... I know how to relate to actors."
Don't be fooled however; this sensible outlook on life will be sure to fade when a set of skis or a bungee rope is tossed his way. "I'll never change," he grins. "I'd also like to do my own stunts."
So will Justin Melvey be jumping out of helicopters and bungee-jumping at 50?
"Oh definitely!" he laughs. "Justin always likes to jump out of the balloon, jump off the cliff. He doesn't think about the consequences - the rocks below!"
Well, hopefully there will be no rocks below for this Home and Away "golden boy". Call him a fighter, call him a dreamer -call him a little crazy - but I, for one, feel inspired. Now where's that damned bungee rope ...!