ADAM DEMOS IS staring at the quiet coastline, shaking his head. For the first time, he’s experiencing his hometown of Wollongong anew, through the eyes of his girlfriend. Unobstructed by clouds, the sunshine is relentlessthe kind that demands the showing of skin. It’s only August, but winter seems to be on hiatus. The scenes, he observes, could be lifted from a travel brochure: the faceless shapes of surfers buoyed by rolling waves, friendly greetings exchanged on the footpath, and shops that speak to a time when customer service and civility was coveted. It is, in the present moment, perfect.

“Cars were stopping to let each other in, [people were] waving and smiling and saying hello on the sidewalk… In cafes, she was like, ‘So, these people don’t work for tips? Why are they all so nice!’ She couldn’t believe it,” he says, referring to the reaction of his partner, the actress Sarah Shahi. “It was a proud moment to see your hometown have an impact on someone you love like that. Like, oh yeah, this is the happiest place on earth.” Momentarily, the beauty proves too much for Demos. “It’s ridiculous,” he emphasises. Then he remembers: It’s only August. “God, what’s summer going to be like?”

Adam wears all clothing by Tommy Hilfiger Collection. SIMON UPTON

Announced as the Australian ambassador for Tommy Hilfiger’s summer collection, Demos returned home to shoot the latest campaign. Certainly, there were other work demands that required his presence on home soil. But like the current season, these too have been put on hiatus. When we talk, the Writers Guild of America—representing 11,500 screenwritershas been on strike for three months and two weeks. Then, on July 14, it was announced the 160,000 members of the actors’ union, SAG-AFTRA, would stand in solidarity, marking an historic double-strike the likes of which America hasn’t seen since 1960. 

It can be easy to feel distanced from the goings-on of Hollywood; to feel that, in these times of inflation and exorbitant grocery prices, those who exist in the tinseltown bubble are sure to enjoy a reality far removed from our own. Instead, we’re seeing images of striking workers gathered on picket lines, brandishing signs in clammy palms as they swelter under a brutal heatwave. The realisation is that these are people who live in the same world we do, where the high and mighty consistently seek to cut down labour costs and AI threatens to accelerate inequality by throwing millions out of jobs while benefiting a select few.

Whatever your streaming preferences, it’s not hard to see that we all have a stake in their fight. Peek behind the thin veil of glitz and glamour and you’ll find an entertainment industry sustained by the work of regular people, all of them fighting for better conditions. The strikes brought the film and TV production industry to a halt in America and already, the ripples have washed ashore here in Australia. Two major Hollywood productions—Mortal Kombat 2 and Apples Never Fall—had to be stopped, along with a project Demos was working on. But he can’t talk about that. None of us can. Wary of the turmoil that now engulfs his industry, Demos makes his position known at the start of this interview. “I absolutely stand with and fully support all my fellow SAG members. You know, we’re just working towards getting a fair deal,” he says.

Adam wears all clothing by Tommy Hilfiger Collection. SIMON UPTON

Aside from his charisma, which serves as a gravitational pull to all those in proximity, what’s most striking about Demos is his friendliness. Should you fear the extinction of manners, you need only spend a few minutes in conversation with him to have all faith restored. It punctuates his every sentence, sees him extend a greeting not merely as an exchange of pleasantries but in genuine interest. And at various points throughout our conversation, it bubbles up to the surface (“thank you for respecting that” and “I appreciate you asking and understanding” and “it’s lovely to know we’re all on the same page”).

It feels weird to be speaking to an actor who can’t talk about acting. You wonder what there is to draw on, what direction the conversation can or will go. But if there was any apprehension on our part, Demos seems to assuage all concerns because for him, acting is just one thing he does. When the distinction between what we do and who we are can feel like an ever-narrowing gap, for Demos, the boundaries are clearly defined. He values time spent with family and friends above all else; he works hard, yes, but he also knows that success is nothing unless defined on your own terms. For Demos, that means staying grounded, healthy in mind and body, and seeking inspiration from the quiet lives that surround him at home.

Adam wears all clothing by Tommy Hilfiger Collection. SIMON UPTON

NOT ALL THAT long ago, before he became a global heartthrob and certified leading man, Demos was a tradie. This path from the classroom to the construction site was common among his peers at Dapto High School; long days spent on the tools would be divided by weekends spent bracing for tackles on the rugby field. So, after leaving school, he joined the family businessDemos Demolition. In the company of his father and uncle, Demos took a sledgehammer and crowbar to houses around town, knocking them down by hand. But as hard as he worked, his dad worked harder. 

“He was a maniac,” recalls Demos, chuckling. “Just this old, little Greek bloke who did not stop working. I could barely keep up with him. I think that’s where my work ethic comes from, for sure.”The expectation was never that Demos take over the family business or live a life beholden to construction work. Rather, in those early years of adulthood where most feel an impatience to leave their mark on the world, Demos’ parents gifted him something invaluable: the time to find himself before finding a career. He would work frantically, save up, and then travel overseas, returning home with a depleted savings account and stories from life beyond The Gong. He explored new places, tried new cuisines, exchanged different perspectivesall of it demonstrating for Demos that there is no one right path in life; that you can meander, give things a crack, fall short and still find your footing along the way.

Adam wears all clothing by Tommy Hilfiger Collection. SIMON UPTON

It was with this mindset that the idea of acting came to him while working in the local steelworks at age 22. Demos had never studied acting. In fact, he doesn’t even recall it being offered to him at school. But his curiosity for the craft became impossible to shake and with no internet on the family farm, he called his Mum with a task to complete at work. “Can you Google acting classes and whatever comes up, just bring it home?” Demos requested. When he arrived home that night, he found a pile of printed pieces of paper, each detailing the results of the Google search. 

“Mum is the greatest. She was very much like, ‘Work hard, but I just want you to be happy. So, whatever that is, search it out but always remember that when your head hits the pillow, make sure you’re trying to be a good person at the same time and the rest is just go for it,’” says Demos. 

He pauses briefly, his affable tone wavering in favour of something laden with emotion. “Without that support, I don’t think I would have ever had the courage to try something so outside of my norm.”

But how does someone with no drama classes to hone his stage presence, nor a high school production credit to his name, manage to rock up to a city acting class and not find themselves projectile sweating, jaw clenched and body rigid with panic? “Oh, I was a nervous wreck,” Demos assures us. “I had no idea what was going on. I think everyone seeks adrenaline in one form or another, and this really gave me that hit of adrenaline and excitement and nerves. Good nerves. Good nerves where I wanted to be better the next time and learn more.”

With his chips all in, Demos flew to L.A. He took meetings with Hollywood executives and producers. He auditioned for roles. He kept himself busy for a month or two. And then he came home, always returning to his family, his best mates, and the cerulean skies of The Gong. 

“L.A. can be an inspiring town and I never wanted the magic of that place to be lost on me,” he reflects. But there’s no overzealousness to his tone. It’s not that Demos isn’t grateful for the opportunities coming his way, or that he’s contriving a spiel of humility. It’s that he never looked to L.A., or even acting, as providing him with a sense of identity, nor a source of happiness. He arrived there as his own person; someone simply striving to do the work and do it well.

“I went over there with a slightly different mindset than most,” Demos acknowledges. “I think starting [acting] later on, I already had my best mates and my little world down here in Wollongong. So, I wasn’t out trying to search for that.”

Adam wears all clothing by Tommy Hilfiger Collection. SIMON UPTON

IN JANUARY OF 2020, here’s what Demos did find: a role in Netflix’s Sex/Life, the raunchy series that would catapult him to global stardom and viral fame after that full-frontal shower scene (for weeks, Hollywood gossip sites were concerned only with one debate: ‘is it real or is it a prosthetic?’ As Demos has now answered: it was a prosthetic). 

Centred on the love life of Billie Connelly (Sarah Shahi), a suburban housewife who appears to be living the dream only for audiences to find she can’t stop fantasising about the exhilarating life she left behind with music producer, Brad Simon (Demos), the show was an instant hit. Released in June of 2021, it served as a welcome (and somewhat horny) escape from the minutiae of quarantine-imposed lockdowns. At a time when public health officials instructed us all to minimise social contact in an effort to stop the spread of coronavirus, audiences found it all too easy to get onboard with a character prone to fantasies that revolved around physical touch. 

Yes, there were the sex scenes (even in a pool!) that saw Sex/Life garner an enthusiastic followingit reached 67 million households in its first season, making it the third largest audience for a Netflix original series. And yes, when Shahi and Demos went public with their off-screen relationship, interest in the show spiked even higher. But there was also Demos, exuding an effortless cool that seemed to penetrate through the screen.

Though he’d already excelled in roles in UnREAL and Falling Inn Love, this felt different. It wasn’t just women who were enamoured with the star. Men, too, looked at him with aspirational eyes, fashioning Demos into their style icon and gym-going motivation. Instantaneously, his social media following grew to 1.5 million, something he didn’t even anticipate. 

“It’s great having followers and a compliment if it’s on the back of work. But ultimately, it’s just looking at your phone,” says Demos. “You’ve just got a little phone in your hand and it says a number on there, so it doesn’t make you feel any different. I don’t overthink it at all.”

I want to ask him about these past two years, about this period where it’s safe to say the gamble has paid off. Finally, the leading roles were his to play. And then the strike was called and production ceased and the very thing Demos loves became something he couldn’t do. 

You imagine it would be terrifying. That, at a time where society seems to conflate visibility with success, Demos might feel a need to constantly fuel the content machine in order to feel like progress is being made. But that’s not the case. Due to the strike, he won’t talk about his roles or rise to fame off the back of his projects, but his modesty suggests there was no defining moment that saw Demos emerge a changed man, giddy on the fumes of fame and a loyal fan following. 

He can only offer this: “I think you’re always trying to keep your head down and focus on what’s in front of you.”

Adam wears all clothing by Tommy Hilfiger Collection. SIMON UPTON

“IF I HAVE A DIP in energy in the afternoon and jump in a cold plunge, it’s like…7,000 shots of espresso,” waxes Demos. 

His shoot for Tommy Hilfiger wrapped last week, but it seems the discipline Demos shows towards fitness never hinges on the presence of a camera. It’s something that was ingrained in him since childhood when his mum would drop him off at Dapto station just so he could get the train to Minnamurra for a morning surf before school. Now that everything around him is in a state of flux, his workouts prove a constant: they lift him up in the morning and centre him for whatever lies ahead. 

“My mate has an old chest freezer that he’s siliconed up and plugs it in, goes to work, comes home. Then we break up the ice, jump in that while we’re cooking a feed and have a few beers after it. You’re both just buzzing, it’s the best,” he adds.. 

You could say that right now, Demos is focused only on the present: time with family, catching up with old friends, taking stock of those achievements that can too easily be steamrolled by the dreaded question of: ‘What next?’. He’s comfortable. You hear it in his voice and see it in his style. That’s partly what drew him to collaborate with Tommy Hilfiger. “I was more surfy back in the day, but now I like to keep it comfortable and casual but slightly elevated. That’s what Tommy reminds me of,” says Demos. “That’s my style: it’s casual, but just trying to class it up a little bit the older I get. I think when you’re wearing something that’s not an outrageous design or pretentious, but that the quality is so good, you feel better.”

For the first time in three months, representatives of the WGA and major Hollywood studios met. Hopes were raised. Surely the month-long stand-off would come to an end? But no resolution was made. Entertainment lawyer and former editor of The Hollywood Reporter, Matt Belloni, even suggested negotiations might not resume until next year’s Oscars ceremony, seeing the WGA and SAG-AFTRA out of work until late February 2024. It’s impossible to quantify what this means for the industry and its workers, and those like Demos who should be entering an era of stardom decades in the making. 

Whatever happens, Demos knows acting isn’t going anywhere. It’ll be there for him when the strike ends, and until then he’s not searching for anything—happiness, recognition, friends in high places—outside of home. “These days, you see inspiring stories as someone doing this giant thing or buying this giant yacht. But if you look next to you, like I do when I come home, and I look at my mates working 12 hours a day in the mines or running plumbing companies and then coaching their kids’ soccer teams and nippers and this and that and taking them camping… They work their butts off to give their kids the best life they can,” says Demos, clearly in awe. “It’s a thing I strive to be: how great they are as family men.”

It’s an enviable place to find yourself, knowing that whatever it is most people are still searching for, you’ve already found. “I think the more you explore, having those loyal best friends is a superpower in itself. You can go out and try new things and try to accomplish them, but they’ll always have your back.”

“Life is a complicated beast, but sometimes it’s the simplest things that we come back to.”

Adam wears all clothing by Tommy Hilfiger Collection. SIMON UPTON

Words: Jessica Campbell
Photography: Simon Upton
Styling: Nadene Duncan and Grant Pearce
Grooming: Sophie Roberts

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