OF the six regular Blue Heelers cast members who play cops, William McInnes is the one viewers and critics alike say most represents their image of real-life policemen.
"It helps that I'm so big and everyone else in the cast is so short!" William says with his typically wry sense of humor.
His character, Acting-Sgt Nick Schultz, is known for his sharp one-liners, his quietly menacing manner with criminals and his ability to appear cool and in control at all times.
It's ironic that although William comes across onscreen as everyone's idea of what a policeman is like, he doesn't see himself that way.
The wide variety of roles he has played include a nasty schoolteacher in the film The Heartbreak Kid, a war refugee in the TV drama Snowy, pompous pastoralist John Macarthur in the comedy series Bligh and a thug in the film Broken Highway.
Although he appreciates praise for playing Nick so realistically, William says there's also a downside to it.
"It's a bit of a worry if you stay too long in a role like this," he says. "You become known as 'the big cop from Blue Heelers'."
Although he doesn't identify much in real life with being a police officer, he can see a bit of himself in Nick — and that also worries him.
"The risk with a long-running series is that you fall into the routine and it becomes a treadmill," he says.
"If you do it long enough, the writers start to put you into the character. You might be walking around, off the set, whistling a tune, and the next thing you know, your character's supposed to be humming that tune in a scene.
"You become the character, the character becomes you. If you let that happen, you're really finished as an actor.
"If you're a wisecracking, laconic cop in a series, you'll play wisecracking, laconic characters for the rest of your days.
"But after the series finishes, you'll just have guest roles in other people's series."
Nevertheless, William — who has a three-year-old son, Clem, with his wife, filmmaker Sarah Watt — says he'd think hard about leaving such a successful show as Blue Heelers.
"I don't think I'd just leave with nowhere to go," he says.
"I don't want to sit round doing nothing, but at the same time I don't want to do something that's shit.
"But then, we (actors) have to earn a living."
William says Blue Heelers may be number one at the moment, but he has no delusions about how long that might continue.
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NICK UNDER SIEGE
BLUE HEELERS returns on February 11 with a dramatic two-hour episode in which Nick's abilities are severely tested.
A siege shows him to be less than other officers thought, particularly Dash (played by Tasma Walton, in main picture).
"Dash has always seen Nick as having good and bad qualities, but not to the extremes he shows in this crisis," Tasma says.
"He undermines the work that Adam and Dash do to save his skin. He blames the crisis on younger officers, and doesn't accept responsibility for it, which is where Dash loses respect for him."
"You get used to the reality of working constantly in a regular series. You've got to keep saying to yourself, 'It's not going to last forever'.
"Everything's got a lifespan," he says. "Sooner or later someone's going to get stuck into Blue Heelers and say it's a bag of shit.
"It's like a snowball effect. When people (critics) decide to do a job on something, they'll do it, no matter what.
"That's what happened to Medivac. People just saw it and said, 'Let's dump on it straight away'."
Despite being in such a popular show, William says he doesn't often have problems with fans. He still catches the tram or train to work most days. "Not many people approach me," he says. "But not many people approach anyone who's six-foot-four (1.98m) and weighs 15 stone (95kg)!
"I visited the Sydney art gallery recently. The lady on the door said, 'I know you, you're that TV cop — you're Simon Westaway (from Janus)!'
"Anyway, at least I'm now being recognised as an actor. People always used to think I was a footballer or a cricketer."
Cover and pictures: Greg Noakes