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Wenham Articles

October 10, 2003 at 10:05 am by xoanon  - 

Jo does a terrific job of typing up these two articles for us, take a look!

David Wenham Articles
Click for more images

The 8-14 October issue of Brisbane News magazine.

He may have wanted to be a footballer, but a knack for impressions and a gift for storytelling set actor David Wenham on a very different path, writes Trent Dalton.

The foyer of Sydney’s W Hotel echoes to a two-man chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’ as David Wenham enters nursing a creamy white coffee. The song comes from actor Sam Worthington and director Jonathan Teplitzky – here today, like David, to promote ‘Getting’ Square’, the Queensland gangster film shot on the Gold Coast.

David’s been 38 for 1 and a half days and he appears officially over it. “Thank you, thank you,” the actor says, deadpan, before quickly shifting conversation to his beloved Sydney Swans and their weekend loss to the Brisbane Lions.

In Adam Cullen’s 2000 Archibald Prize-winning portrait of David Wenham, the actor’s ears and eyes stood out. But it’s his scruffy ginger hair that stands out most today.

He’s shorter and thinner that the silver screen suggests. Not as stout as warrior ranger Faramir, whom he plays in Peter Jackson’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’ film trilogy. Definitely not as monstrous as psychopath Brett Sprague in ‘The Boys’, the character that took him from the theatre to films, and bagged him an AFI Best Actor award.

“The expectation is often different to the reality,” says David. “I’ve ended up in movies, but it’s not something I thought would happen. I became an actor to work in theatre. This is a very bizarre bi-product.”

David wanted to be an Australian rules footballer – the greatest sportsman ever from Marrickville, in Sydney’s inner west; greater than the Marrickville Mauler, Jeff Fenech. But his classroom impressions of Gough Whitlam and bushman Harry Butler were too good to ignore. He was an actor. And as his parents always said, he was a storyteller.

“I was the youngest of seven children. I had very understanding, supportive parents who allowed me to become a storyteller.”

David says his acting ability as a youth had a magic that adults with emotional baggage can never match.

“I love films with kids as protagonists,” he says, citing ‘E.T.’, ‘Cinema Paradiso’ and ‘My Life as a Dog’, which, he says, are up there with his all-time favourite film, ‘Don’t Look Now’.

“I think children are the best actors. They have the ability to believe utterly in what they do. It becomes harder to do that as you get older because your confidence gets battered around a bit.”

Knocked back by NIDA, David studied theatre at the University of Western Sydney and soon after found work on the local theatre circuit and in television, (He played a motorcycle cop in ‘A Country Practice’ in 1981.)

Playing the lethal Brett Sprague on stage to riveting effect in ‘The Boys’, David was first choice for the filmed version. He considers his work in that film, six years ago, the best he’s done and perhaps the best he can do. “It’s the one film that I look at and I can say I actually can’t improve on that,” he says.

It was a testament to his acting skill that a year later he had transformed himself from the vicious Sprague to the charismatic and popular Diver Dan on the ABC’s ‘SeaChange’. At the show’s peak, David was introduced on a New Zealand talk show as one of Australia’s sexiest men. He was horrified.

Film roles kept coming – ‘Dark City’, ‘Better Than Sex’, ‘Russian Doll’, ‘The Bank’, ‘Moulin Rouge’ (playing the cross-dressing writer Audrey).

In 1999, director Paul Cox asked him to move temporarily to the island leper colony of Molokai to film ‘Molokai: The Story of Father Damien’, leaving partner, actor and yoga teacher Kate Agnew, at home in Sydney.

A story about real-life Belgian priest Father Damien de Veuster, who cared for 140 banished sufferers of leprosy on Molokai Island – one of the Hawaiian islands – before catching the disease himself and dying there in 1889, the film cut straight to David’s Catholic core.

“That was probably the best thing in the world I’ve ever done,” says David, who lived and worked in the tight leper community for four months.

“I defy anybody to go to that place and not be affected or moved or changed. These are people who have suffered through the most incredibly disturbing lives and yet are so full of joy and full of life. You realize how ridiculous some of the petty things that upset us in our rather privileged lives are. It was a huge life lesson. Those people had a profound effect on me.”

A former student of Christian Brother’s High School, Lewisham, with parents still involved in the church, David acknowledges his Catholic faith, but is reticent to discuss it. When asked how he balances faith and the film industry – known for its sometimes-dubious morality – David pauses, resting his head on his fist, thinking.

“It’s not something that’s at the front of my head,” he says. “I try to be a good person. It’s as simple as that. A lot of the time, I don’t succeed at all. I’m as messed up as the next person.

“It is a strange business… It’s easy to be consumed by the madness that is Hollywood.”

One could say David leapt head-first into the mouth of madness when he signed on for director Peter Jackson’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’ saga, the trilogy of films based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy epic. David’s character, Faramir, has an important role in the saga’s upcoming conclusion, ‘The Return of the King’.

“It was a very different experience to anything else. I hadn’t read the book before I was given the baton to come on board,” he says. “Then I had an opportunity to read the book, and that was like putting many layers of icing on the cake. And it was an enormous cake. I can say, unreservedly, that Peter Jackson is at the top of the tree. There’s Peter Jackson and then everybody else. Undoubtedly. And history will show that.”

Which brings us to David here today, as he stirs high-profile Gold Coast lawyer-cum-author-scriptwriter Chris Nyst, who has flown to Sydney to talk about this script for ‘Getting’ Square’.

‘I’ve just been talking about you,” says David, as Chris shuffles quickly past our table.

“Don’t believe a word,” the savvy lawyer advises.

David is describing Chris’s script – which borrows heavily from the Gold Coast stories and characters Chris has come across in his day job – as one of the most original, quick and clever scripts to come out of Australia. And, sorry Chris, having seen the film, it’s easy to believe every word.

The film follows two criminals, Wirth (‘Dirty Deeds’ Sam Worthington) and Johnny “Spit” Spiteiri (David), who are released from prison and endeavour to go straight – to get square. It’s not long, however, before the friends find themselves in the grip of the Gold Coast underworld and are forced into a suicide mission to save their necks.

David’s hapless junkie Spit is a fidgety, distrusting, mullet-haired, thong-wearing marvel. It’s hard to recall a character so repulsive, yet somehow so endearing.

“It’s a strange dichotomy because there are people that society wants to shun, but at the same time you can’t help but feel compassion towards them and a certain amount of empathy and a great deal of understanding.”

David’s empathy goes back to his school days when he’d write letters to prisoners in literacy programmes.

His empathy has led him to be a vocal commentator on the environment, immigration and reconciliation.

“I’m extremely patriotic, but I’m not proud of many issues in this country,” he says. “I travel often and the reactions from virtually everywhere I go overseas is rather different to what this current government would have you believe. And I’m telling you, we don’t look too good.”

As David talks, those big eyes that Adam Cullen focused on are becoming more intense.

“I never wanted to become a public figure,” he says. “All I wanted to do was become an actor, work in theatre, come out and have a beer and be anonymous.”

But expectation is, after all, often different from reality.

“The Guide” section of The Courier Mail newspaper from Oct 9.

Comedy crime caper

Australian films have not done well at the box office recently but a new movie made on the Gold Coast could have an impact, writes Michael Bodey.

It’s no secret that the Australian film industry has had a dog of a year at the box office. Things have flopped and previous audience favourites have been ignored.

Two more Australian films try their luck before Christmas and thankfully the first, ‘Gettin’Square’, has a chance to make an impact.

The crime caper is slickly made, has plenty of laughs and possesses a cast of familiar faces including Gary Sweet (Stingers), Freya Stafford (White Collar Blue), Englishman Timothy Spall (Sex & Lies, Topsy-Turvy), Sam Worthingon (Dirty Deeds) and comedy veteran Ugly Dave Gray.

It also features a stand-out performance by “SeaChange” favourite, David Wenham, as Johnny Spitieri, the junkie with a heart of gold.

It is a comedic turn that will win him another AFI Award and it deserves an audience, but in this environment, who knows? The actors certainly don’t.

“I can say quite confidently that the people I’ve spoken to, as the Americans say, have ‘responded to the material’,” Wenham smiles.

“You sort of have a feeling but whether that translates to bums on seats, I don’t know.”

His co-star, Worthington, who plays Barry, a Gold Coaster wanting to go straight while fresh out of prison, is similarly flummoxed.

“The movies that are coming out are still good quality, I don’t know why people aren’t watching them, it’s just the way of the world,” he says.

“We enjoyed doing it so I hope people sense that when they watch it.”

Wenham understands that many Australian films aren’t accepted by audiences unless they’ve “supposedly” garnered some attention internationally – and often that can be orchestrated.

“It’s madness because you look at all the different elements here, from actors to directors to cinematographers, I hate using that term world-class, but we have a disproportionate representation internationally, in all those areas.”

‘Gettin’ Square’ is one of those “world-class” films. It had to be such considering the financial backing coming from England’s Working Title studio, the company behind ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ and ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’.

And Wenham and Worthington are at the heart of this world-class film. Both actors are firing on all cylinders at the moment; Wenham internationally with the final ‘Lord of the Rings’ film and the action blockbuster, ‘Van Helsing’, due in the next year, Worthington with lead roles in local flicks ‘Thunderstruck’ and ‘More Than Scarlet’ to add to his part in Miramax’s upcoming World War II drama, ‘The Great Raid’.

The two are a terrific coupling in ‘Getting’ Square’, Worthington as the stoic bloke drawn into one last heist and Wenham the bumbling idiot who might derail it all.

For Worthington it’s a major lead role, although he chuckles that he didn’t consider it such “but people keep saying it is! I thought it was an ensemble thing”.

Indeed, his lead role is upstages by Wenham’s performance. Not that Worthington is annoyed.

“The bloke’s wearing a mullet, pants up to his neck, thongs and leopard skin underpants, so if the bloke’s not stealing the movie there’s a problem with the movie,” Worthington smiles.

“He’s my Jerry Lewis and I was his Dean Martin. The more he did, he’d whisper to me ‘Do you reckon it’s too much?’ and I’d go ‘Keep going, keep going’ because the less I had to do then,” he laughs.

For Wenham, the chance to work again with his ‘Better Than Sex’ director Jonathan Teplitzky was reason enough to head to the Gold Coast.

“He’s one of the few people who can quite clearly articulate the kind of film they want to make,” Wenham says. “Some directors say they can but they don’t or can’t but Jonathan genuinely can.”

Teplitzky’s articulation worked for Worthington as well. “He’s detailed and so enthusiastic about what he wanted to do that he made me think if he can bring that to the set, it’ll be fantastic.

“He told me the movies he was inspired by and one of them was ‘Out of Sight’, which sold me. If he could do half as good a job as that, we’re doing all right.”

Teplitzky knew how to interest Wenham: he gave him the script telling him there was a character in there he might like.

Wenham, correctly, veered to Johnny Spitieri. “Jonathan thought that possibly from his knowledge of some of my earlier theatre work,” Wenham smiles.

It’s a big leap from the charismatic Diver Dan character for which Wenham won a Silver Logie and also from his more dramatic film characterizations.

Not that he was looking for a comedy to break things up.

“It’s impossible to orchestrate a career like that,” he says. “A lot of it’s left to luck.”

“I was attracted to him because I saw it as a huge challenge, number one.

“He’s someone who’d normally be perceived as one of society’s outcasts.

“Yet in this film he had to be understood by the audience and then have the audience on side so they’d go along for the journey, which is no easy task considering he does happen to be a junkie.

“That was the challenge, to humanize and empathise with this character. I also saw the opportunity for a bit of humour, although that’s not the motivating factor.”

Worthington had just as tough a job, researching the life of a hardened prisoner. A number of ex-cons who worked on the film as extras told him something that colours his character wonderfully.

“They said the biggest thing when you’re inside, the only thing you’ve got, is time,” he says.

“That’s the only thing you have. So when you’re outside you can afford to take your time. So I adopted that.”

Now the time has come when the Australian audience has to find ‘Getting’ Square’.

At least Wenham, Worthington and their cohorts have done everything in their power to make it a more palatable experience than most recent Australian films.

Posted in Old Special Reports on October 10, 2003 by

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