Dan Ewing has had what can only be described as a rollercoaster 10 years. First finding fame on Home and Away in 2010, playing “River Boy” Heath Braxton, he saw his profile skyrocket. Along with that attention came magazine photo shoots, Logie nominations, a stint on Dancing With The Stars in 2011, a high-profile marriage to writer Marni Little a year later and the birth of a son, Archie, in 2014.
This was followed, in quick succession, by a tricky break-up in 2015 and reports he’d assaulted his ex-wife’s new partner in 2018 — charges were subsequently dropped.
Unsurprisingly, for the past few years the 36-year-old actor, pictured, has kept a much lower profile. Though he’s scored some big roles in Hollywood blockbuster movies — Love and Monsters was the No.1 trending movie in the world for April and May on Netflix, and Occupation Rainfall topped the US charts for Apple TV — Ewing has made a concerted effort to get his personal life back on track.
He says he’s now in a good place. And it meant that when SAS Australia called, wondering if he wanted to take part in the second season of the reality series, Ewing was ready.
The show, helmed by ex-British Special Forces soldiers Ant Middleton, Mark “Billy” Billingham, Jason “Foxy” Fox and Ollie Ollerton, sees 18 celebrities take part in a gruelling and rigorous SAS-style selection course, designed to test both their mental and physical strength.
“I went in, in a really good place, and it only elevated the path I was already on,” the actor says, speaking to Today from his home in Sydney.
Ewing says he was ready to leave behind his comfy life with partner, actor Kat Risteska (they’ve been dating since 2016), to head to remote Capertee Valley in NSW to take part in the show. He says competing in the gruelling series, along with celebrities such as Alicia Molik, Mark Philippoussis, disgraced former NRL champion Sam Burgess and socialite Brynne Edelsten, had a galvanising effect on him. “It made me more grateful for what I have, and the people in my life,” he explains. “The funny thing is, when it finished, I actually missed the structure of it. Obviously it was great seeing family and having that freedom, but there was something about the structure, and the fact that it’s you and the people next to you, living a minimalist life without phones or distractions, that really appealed to me.”
The cast forged close bonds as they battled to overcome their inner doubts and demons to prove to themselves they had what it took to make it through the course.
“We suffered, we failed, we succeeded, we failed some more,” he says. “We laughed, we told stories, talked about our families, we cried, we bared the deepest and darkest parts of our souls because all we had was each other.”
And Ewing emerged, thankfully, intact.
“I actually really loved it,” he says of the experience. “I think the space I am in, I am obsessed with growth. I have used lockdown as an opportunity to do courses; to study human behaviour and neuroscience; all this type of stuff.”
He’s now, as he confesses, a card-carrying “Birkenstock-wearing hippie”, seeing SAS as an opportunity to put his meditation and mindfulness studies into practice.
Needless to say, this put him squarely in Middleton, Ollerton, Fox and Billingham’s sights.
“These guys are professional SAS operatives — of course, the ‘poncy actors’ are going to get their s…,” he says. “But that’s fine.”
Despite the fact he was yelled at, prodded and poked, both mentally and physically, Ewing insists the experience only made him stronger.
“I have been called a few things by coaches in the past,” says the star, who played basketball at a competitive level. “But this — this was complete bombardment. When you’re training, you get to go home. Or when you do a movie and you’re doing your own stunts, you get to leave and go back to your hotel.
“But this — there’s nothing you can do. And there’s no mattress, there is no pillow, no phone — there’s not even decent food, or caffeine!
“You’re sleep deprived, and you’re being called every name under the sun. You are physically exhausted — but that’s the whole point of it.”
Ewing says he learnt to be comfortable with a whole new level of discomfort.
Temperatures ranged from 1C to 23C during filming. Recruits were never referred to by name, only their armband, and they were issued with a 20kg Bergen (backpack), which contained only items they needed for survival. All recruits were forced to sleep on camp beds, averaging just 41/2 hours rest each night.
Ewing now marvels at just what he was able to endure.
“That’s kind of one of the benefits now,” he says. “I laugh at my mates who think that F45 is hard! I’m like, ‘Yeah, but OK, do it starving, sunburnt, tired, wearing the same clothes for two weeks, getting called the c-bomb!
“It’s kind of like every uncomfortable situation in your life, all combined into this melting pot — and it was great.”
He’s emerged feeling grateful. His relationship with Little is on a much more even keel, and a planned move north is on the cards.
“We are looking to move to Queensland because it’s better than Sydney, and because Archie is seven, so we don’t want to miss out on weekend sport,” he says of his plans to move with Risteska.
“We want to be all up there, a big ‘Brady Bunch’ and we get along like a house on fire, so it’s really lovely.”