Sam's in the driver's seat for new Aussie comedy
SAM Cotton's first leading TV role was a crash course, literally, behind the wheel.
The actor, writer and illustrator stars in the ABC's small-screen adaptation of Sydneysider Ben Phillips' blog Diary of an Uber Driver.
Phillips' account of his real-life experiences as an Uber driver, ranging from the bizarre to the sad and laugh-out-loud funny, provides the inspiration for the six-part comedy drama from the writer of Please Like Me.
Filmed on location throughout Sydney, Cotton spent much of his time in the driver's seat with director Matt Moore opting not to use any green screens or "simulated travel".
"That was definitely a challenge as I only got my licence two months before we started filming," Cotton says.
"The good thing about the green screen is you can keep doing takes and takes, but we had to hit a certain route and for continuity's sake, hit our lines.
"We were getting towed by a truck so once you go in the car, you get locked in there. I had to strategically go to the toilet otherwise it's a problem - I learned that very early on."
Best known for his supporting roles in The Family Law, Rosehaven and Wanted, the Sunshine Coast-born, Brisbane-raised actor admits to plenty of nerves ahead of his first leading role.
"To be honest, initially I was terrified about it," he says. "But once I got there and met Matt and the crew there were so many lovely people there who were so supportive. It assuaged my nerves.
"Matt really wanted it to be slice of life, and he created this super relaxing atmosphere on set so nothing felt rushed or stressed. Everyone was very much at ease, which is good, especially for someone like me who's a nervous actor."
The series follows Ben, who must figure out what he should be doing with his life while helping others get where they're going.
He spends his day ferrying city-siders from A to B, catching glimpses into their lives. Some are friendly, even flirty, while others let Ben into the intimate parts of their lives whether he likes it or not. Many don't acknowledge his existence as they go about their day.
"You get a glimpse into people's lives for however long they're in the car," Cotton says.
"He's so approachable and nice; it makes sense why people open up to him with these stories that can be hilarious and sad. You get all different types in car."
Ben's also trying to negotiate his relationship with Beck (Zahra Newman), a fiercely independent woman who is pregnant with his child.
Against the ticking clock of impending fatherhood, he must decipher what being relevant looks like in a relationship where he feels like a surplus to requirements.
"I feel like I'm sort of a pushover in real life, so I played a slightly different version of myself," he says.
"The big thing Matt kept saying was just be authentic."
Cotton hopes to combine his skills as a writer and illustrator in his next project, an adult cartoon series.
"It's like an Australian Simpsons, which is a big call, that I've been working on for a long time," he says.
"Australians are the funniest people in the world and when you animate them they can only be funnier."
Diary of an Uber Driver premieres tonight at 9.30pm on ABC-TV.