Dessicated Coconut

Archives: 3rd Floor

Australian David Wenham Happy as a Cinematic Gypsy
August 30, 2001
Paul Majendie
VENICE, Italy (Reuters) - Forget the Hollywood blockbuster. Australian actor David Wenham is happy to travel the world as a "cinematic gypsy" in search of quirky roles that stretch him.
And 2001 could just be the year of the big international breakthrough for the 35-year-old Sydneysider, who flew into Venice for the premiere of an offbeat Balkan Western called "Dust," in which he plays the lead alongside "Shakespeare in Love" star Joseph Fiennes.
Combine that with roles in the musical "Moulin Rouge" and in "Lord of the Rings" and his might just be the face plastered on billboards around the world in future.
But Hollywood is not the Holy Grail for this thoughtful actor who got his start in Australian theater and television.
"In terms of some of the blockbusters that are made purely as a money-making exercise with no concern for any artistic direction -- that doesn't appeal at all. That is a very cynical exercise," he told reporters Thursday.
"I like something that is just not fodder for the screen. To be involved in disposable entertainment -- that is just not for me," he said. "If that means I lead a very frugal existence and don't earn much money, then so be it. But at least I will be very happy.
"I don't have an axe to grind against Hollywood. It is valid. Where I live in Sydney we have the biggest sound studio outside of Hollywood and that is good. It gives a lot of work.
"But there is always concern about Hollywood's dominance of world entertainment. The danger is that our industry in Australia doesn't become homogenized and that we still make our own films and tell our own stories with our own voices. There is room for all of that," he said.
Australia developed its own distinctive film industry in the 1970s and captured a worldwide audience, but Wenham complained that nowadays the begrudger reigns supreme.
"We have a chip on our shoulder back home, we have 'tall poppy syndrome.' It is strange. We are very hard on ourselves. Australian cinema is critically more appreciated outside our country than at home," he said.
Wenhan, currently lining up a film in London followed by a play in Melbourne, said, "Europe and Asia seem to interest me a little bit more than America."
But he readily agrees that "Hollywood does dominate. It is a huge beast and the rest of the world does struggle, but it is a fight worth persevering with."

dotpurp.gif  dotpurp.jpg  dotpurp.gif

The Guardian (London, England)
April 13, 2001
Friday review: 'COME ON. IT'LL BE FUN':

When Milcho Manchevski persuaded Joseph Fiennes to star in his movie in the Balkans, nobody mentioned forest fires, dysentery, mad sheep, plagues of wasps - or the nearby war. Fiachra Gibbons reports from the set of the 'eastern western' Dust.

Byline: Fiachra Gibbons

Joe Fiennes is having another bad day. While Naomi Campbell grows impatient for his company in London - and the lady is not one for waiting - he is stuck on a scorching hot Balkan mountain top, the air thick with every sort of biting and stinging insect. The brain begins to boil at about 42 degrees celsius (108 fahrenheit) - and, this morning, with forest fires raging on the horizon, the temperature is touching a barely believable 50. Joe won't be getting to London any time soon.

Today, though, he gets to give his Australian co-star David Wenham a good kicking. You can hear the dull thud of boot on rib as soon as you leave the shade of the ancient Orthodox monastery of Treskovec in southern Macedonia and snake your way up through the tinder-dry alpine meadow strewn with Byzantine rubble to the baking rock of the summit.

Wenham is writhing in the dust, coughing and spluttering, surrounded by a halo of wasps. Fiennes, unshaven, irritable and obviously relishing the prospect of another day stewing in his own sweat, kicks him in the stomach, grinds the heel of his cowboy boot down on Wenham's hand and drawls: "You never were no good, Luke."

This goes on, with a short break for lunch and an adjustment of Wenham's bandages, from 9am until after 8pm. By then, even Milcho Manchevski (the man who persuaded them to "come to Macedonia and be in my 'eastern' - it'll be fun") has had enough. And this was one of the good days on the set of Dust, the first "baklava western". Even by the tortuous standards of movie-making, this was a bizarre and horrendous shoot - Apocalypse Now without the luxury of a studio budget.

The omens were not good. From day one, the crew began dropping like flies from dysentery and a medical dictionary of equally nasty complaints - even the unit doctor invalided himself out. Then it got weirder. A week before I arrived, as the worst heatwave to hit the Balkans in 30 years added sunstroke to the sick list, a flock of marauding sheep, half-demented with thirst, overran the set. These being Balkan sheep, there were casualties. A few days later, several people were badly stung by thousands of wasps drawn to the watermelons bought to keep the surviving crew from expiring. The swarm was followed by plagues of mosquitoes and horse flies.

Then came dark mutterings from the Macedonians on the crew of a government plot. Wasn't it strange how, as the thermometers on set screeched towards 50 degrees celsius, each night on the state TV news the temperature never topped 42 - the level above which a national emergency would have to be declared and all work stop?

It was as if the film - a Cain and Abel, id versus ego, parable of two cowboy brothers from the old American west who bring their deadly filial feud to Macedonia when they enlist as mercenaries on opposing sides during the first Balkan war of 1912 - had incurred the wrath of the Almighty. If it sounds like something only Sam Peckinpah might have attempted, you'd be right. But then old Sam always claimed to have the devil on his side.

Everything, including Nato, seems to have conspired against Dust and its dramatic historical sweep from the badlands of Arizona to bandit-ravaged turn-of-the-century Bitola, where the young Ataturk fought in vain to keep the Macedonia of his birth under Ottoman control. As final preparations for filming began in the spring of 1999, war broke out in neighbouring Kosovo and frightened the money away. Manchevski's pleas to be allowed to go ahead were drowned out by the roar of American B52s passing overhead on their way to pulverise Pristina.

There was one other unquantifiable factor at work here almost as fiery as the weather. For, presiding over this surreal Fitzcarraldo in a huge cartoon stetson hat was the enigmatic figure of Manchevski himself, a former punk from the Macedonian capital of Skopje, who walked off the set of his last film after only a fortnight because he claimed its Hollywood producer thought "she had a bigger thingy than me". And yes, those immortal words "He'll never work in this town again" - or ones very like them - were indeed uttered by Laura "Pretty Woman" Ziskin after that spectacular falling out on the cannibal flick Ravenous. (Tellingly, the crew rebelled against Manchevski's replacement and Ravenous was eventually finished by the British director Antonia Bird, who maintains that its problems were not of Manchevski's making. "He'd been stitched up big time, in my opinion.")

Even shorn of his green mohican, Manchevski cuts quite a figure. Only someone with a highly developed sense of the ridiculous could stride on to a set in a joke cowboy hat and badass shades, with a vast pashmina shawl draped around his narrow shoulders, and expect to take charge. First impressions, of course, can be very deceptive. Manchevski may have picked up the swagger, and that eccentric dress sense, directing pop videos in America for the likes of Arrested Development, but he is no thingyy fool. For he knew there was a lot more than money, or even whether he would be allowed behind a camera again, riding on Dust.

"I spent five and half years sweating blood to make this film," he says. "I was making a nuts-load of money trying to make studio films, but I just couldn't do it. You can't make good films that mean something by remote control. You couldn't make up what happens in LA, it's beyond satire. Hollywood is full of the most miserable, unhappy people I have ever met - and I'm from the Balkans."

That little contretemps with Ziskin, arguably the most powerful woman in Hollywood, would have probably finished his career had Manchevski not had an Oscar nomination and won the Golden Lion at Venice for Before the Rain, his lyrical debut warning of what might happen if Macedonia followed the rest of the former Yugoslavia over the abyss into war.

It is hard to underestimate the effect Before the Rain had on this tiny, fragile and fragmented country of 3m, with no obvious historical or ethnic precedents other than a shared reluctance from its either Slav or Albanian-speaking peoples to throw their lot in with the madhouses of Belgrade or Tirana. Macedonia - the word means "mixed" - also has Serb, Vlach, Roma and Bulgar minorities, making it in present Balkan terms more a conundrum than a country. In such disputed circumstances, Manchevski has become, unwittingly and unwillingly, more national talisman than mere film-maker. His perfectionism may make him a nightmare to work with at times, but in a country where cliques and political cabals hold sway, his unimpeachable punk contrariness has won him the trust of ordinary Macedonians.

Until the skirmishes on the Kosovan border near Tetovo last month, both main Macedonian communities shared a fierce common pride in being the only former Yugoslav republic in which not a single shot had been fired in anger. The dreamlike Before the Rain, and its powerful appeal for tolerance, was the fairytale all ethnic groups seemed to have taken to heart. New countries need heroes, and Manchevski, the punk who ran away to the US "as soon as I could", and who cites the Sex Pistols as his greatest formative influence, was accidentally cast in the role of its chief iconographer. The prodigal son was being handed the mythic glue to hold the nation together - it was as if Malcolm McLaren was being asked to reinvent the monarchy.

Dust - in which shifting alliances of Albanians, Bulgarians, Serbs, Turks, Greeks and various brigand bands battle for dominance as Macedonia emerges from five centuries of Ottoman rule - will be watched through that very delicate prism when it first sees the light of day at either the Cannes or the Venice film festivals; both are currently battling for the right to show it first. It is a fair bet that a few shadowy men from the Pentagon and the UN will want an early look, too.

If that responsibility weighs heavily on Manchevski, he doesn't show it. Wiry, boyish and as charming as he is intense, even among his own he's a person apart, an effect intensified by a slightly off-centre pupil in one eye. No one knows much about his childhood in Skopje and he likes to keep it that way.

His mischievous bluster, though, betrays a certain nervousness. "I am an outsider. I was never part of any political or cultural establishment, even though in these parts you have to be because social life is so tribal. It's very like Hollywood, I guess. So I haven't had to sell I disagree, which makes the government here suspicious of me. All this talk of civil war is crazy and dangerous. I really don't think it can happen. Then again, I said that about Bosnia. Macedonia is not Kosovo, you just can't compare how the Albanians have been treated in both places. I'll let you into a secret. That fighting in Tetovo is all my fault. I bribed them [the Albanian guerrillas] for publicity for the film and they just got a little carried away."

Skopje airport has that uneasy feel of a place just out of earshot of something nasty. The flight from London was full of wary Americans and country casual Brits with Sandhurst accents pretending to be something in the City. A US Chinook helicopter thundered by as soon as we landed, lugging itself over the ammunition and fuel dumps that line the runway and out across the bristling weaponry dug into the fields beyond. It was bound for Kosovo, just beyond the ridge of mountains on the horizon where a low-level war is still raging. Systematic Serb ethnic cleansing of the long-suffering majority Albanian community has given way to slow and but equally cynical creation of an ethnically pure Albanian state. Nato keeps score with impeccable fairness.

You can tell how close a country is to going belly-up when everyone with a car becomes a taxi driver - and everyone in the surging throng outside the doors of Skopje airport, except the Albanian women in scarves and ankle-length coats wrestling returning sons to their chests, was a taxi driver. Before the Balkan wars of the 1990s, it was the second poorest Yugoslav republic after Kosovo, now its unemployment rate is more than 50%. The average weekly wage for those lucky enough to still be in work is pounds 25. You can't eat spectacular scenery.

With the roads thick with US military convoys and Humvees full of GIs using their R&R to chase out-of-work Skopje factory girls, it is not hard to see where Manchevski drew the inspiration for Dust, where Fiennes's fire-and-brimstone Arizona preacher hunts down and does battle with his amoral beast of a brother in the middle of someone else's war.

Setting the story just as the Ottoman empire collapsed, almost overnight, and took the most stable, multi-ethnic society in Europe with it, was no accident either. It is from the two, short, messy wars in 1912 and 1913 that the myth of the unruly, ungovernable Balkans largely stems. Manchevski drew on the detailed reports of the Carnegie commission into the first and second Balkan wars for much of his material, but it was the far more colourful Confessions of a Macedonian Bandit written by the San Franciscan adventurer Albert Sonnichsen a few years earlier that really fascinated him. "I became very conscious of the parallels of westerners, particularly Americans, getting sucked into local quarrels and wars, almost always without fully understanding what is going on. It was as if they were trying to work out something in themselves. It is like with some charity workers now; it's all a glorified way of going to the shrink." Just to reinforce the point, Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, has a memorable cameo in the movie - being sick over the side of a transatlantic liner.

Sonnichsen's photographs of these outlandishly dressed bands of brigands convinced Manchevski he had to shoot the film in "baklava" mode. "We couldn't use some of the things Sonnichsen described because they were just too fantastic. People would not believe it. The more I saw and read, the more I was reminded of the most way-out Mexican Zapatista revolutionaries and bandilleros - it was like they had been shopping in the same boutique."

The violence was another common thread. For, when it came to cold calculated cruelty, the sullen cowpokes who populate the novels of Cormac McCarthy and the films of Sam Peckinpah scraped the same barrel as the Balkan brigands. "It is very hard reading the Carnegie commission reports," says Manchevski, "because you realise the violence that went on then is still happening in the Balkans. People were sliced open and their guts used to strangle them. Arms were cut off and then used to beat that person to death, people buried up to their necks and set alight with gasoline. This became the general western perception of Balkan behaviour that was reinforced by the misconceptions created by writers such as Rebecca West [author of the "definitive" Yugoslav travelogue Black Lamb and Grey Falcon]. When you need to exorcise your own demons, you assign them to someone else. This was not violence unknown to the west, or indeed in the old American west. On the contrary the violence in the Balkans was always and still is less efficient."

Manchevski, it has to be said, is a Slav, but even the Albanians in Tetovo I spoke to this week, whose attitude to those gunmen in the hills is ambivalent to say the least, agree the time has now come to put away the guns and talk.

"I won't lie to you. It's been hell, but things are at last looking up," Chris Auty, the film's English co-producer assured me the night I arrived at their base in the dusty provincial town of Prilep. A few hours later Auty, a man of limitless optimism and good grace, was savaged by a mastiff on the doorstep of his hotel. He even managed a toothy smile as he limped, nauseous, back on to the set the next day at Treskovac after a double tetanus jab. I hadn't the heart to mention rabies. "Could have been worse," he sighed. Manchevski could have bitten him.

Film-making, particularly in 50 degree heat in awkward, inaccessible locations can be a testy business at the best of times. But Auty, an old Bertolucci hand, and no stranger to controversy having produced David Cronenberg's Crash, does not try to conceal that working with Manchevski, who admits a fondness for lobbing the occasional grenade to liven things up, has made the shoot "one of life's more interesting experiences".

"Milcho is Milcho, he's a one-off. I know it all going to be worth it because the guy is a genius, but it's been tough. We have all suffered, but I think he has suffered most, because it means so much to him, and you have to respect that. It's been the most gruelling shoot I've ever been on. In fairness, nature could not have been more cruel; as well as the heat we have had every kind of plague she could have thrown at us."

In another one of those little absurdities that surrounded Dust and its grim merry-go-round of racial conflict, there was more than the odd crackle of ethnic tension on set too.

Playing frisbee during a break in the filming at the monastery with a medieval copper plate that a couple of the Macedonian crew members had found among the ancient ruins of the summit, I got a whiff of simmering discontent among the natives. It was clear the "imperious" attitude of a few of the British crew called in to straighten things out had not gone down terribly well. Nor were they happy that technicians they felt could have been recruited locally were being flown in from London.

Manchevski warns about not seeing the sties in your own eye, but even he is highly critical of what he calls the "anachronistic structures" of Albanian life which he blames for allowing "those men with machine guns in the hills above Tetovo to hijack the whole concept of human rights. When the world feels sorry for the Albanians, I think they should remember their grievances are not so great that they justify going to war. Macedonia is a state based on a proper cohabitation and toleration."

And Manchevski is a Macedonian liberal. His views on the gangsterism he sees spreading among rural Albanians are equally forthright. "Too much has been made of this stuff about centuries' old hatreds. At least a part of the shooting is about local strongmen being able to keep their fiefdoms so there are open roads for smuggling, the drug trade and who runs the brothels and gets first go. It is that basic for a lot of these guys with the guns. There is a big problem with crime, drug- running and prostitution among the Albanian community and it has got to be faced up to."

Back in Tetovo, Artan Skendera is getting his breath back after the busiest month of his life. He runs the local Albanian TV station, Art TV, from which most of the pictures of the fighting have been sent. It's been good for business, but it's business he'd rather do without.

Artan, as the name of his station suggests, is an idealist, a believer in the power of art to overcome all enmities. He is also a big fan of Manchevski - the film-maker if not the proto-politician. "If everyone in Macedonia was like Manchevski, we would have less problems. Before the Rain told the truth about all the peoples of Macedonia. It was very important for all of us, it showed our lives to the world."

Dust too, he hopes, might bring Slavs and Albanians closer again. "Some things like beauty and art are above nationalism," he says. It is asking a lot from a piece of entertainment.

Dust will be released later this year.



David misses Party
Daily Telegraph (Surry Hills, Australia)
April 14, 2000

THEY performed together in Cosi and The Boys, but David Wenham missed Toni Collette's stage performance in The Wild Party while he was in New York.

Wenham, who has been filming a role alongside Joseph Fiennes in the drama Dust, was extremely disappointed to have missed his former co-star's performance.

Unfortunately when he dropped by Broadway to catch Toni on stage, she had the night off because she was sick and could not perform.

And it appears Wenham missed a stunning performance, with Collette receiving a five-minute standing ovation at a preview for her performance alongside Eartha Kitt.

Collette, meanwhile has been missing the chocolate back home.

Confidential has learned that she asked for a shipment of Cadbury's Caramello Koalas to be sent over so she could hand them out to the cast on opening night.

dotpurp.gif  dotpurp.jpg  dotpurp.gif

No Joe as the Dust settles.
The Daily Mail (London, England)
August 31, 2001
Baz Bamigboye.

DON'T talk to David Wenham about wasps.

The Australian actor, who steals the new picture Dust from Joseph Fiennes, worked on locations in deepest Macedonia last summer.

'It was hotter than hell and we had a scene involving watermelons. There was a plague of wasps and they were all over us. It was creepy,' said Mr Wenham, shivering at the recollection.

Dust comes from the startling visual imagination of director Milcho Manchevski, who won acclaim with Before The Rain, another film shot in his homeland, Macedonia.

Dust seems complex as it spans the turn of the last century to the present.

But essentially it's about two brothers - played by Wenham and Fiennes - who love the same woman and want to kill each other over her.

There are echoes of Clint Eastwood's spaghetti westerns and the Hollywood movie The Man Who Shot Liberty Vallance, which starred James Stewart, where truth and legend become confused.

The siblings leave America and become embroiled with gangs of bounty-hunters and invading Turks in Macedonia. It's like a Wild West tale, but set in the Wild East.

'I'd never touched a gun until I did this film, and I just had to learn how to use one and how to roll around in the dirt, firing away,' Mr Wenham told me.

Dovetailed into the story is a tale set in present-day New York, with British actor Adrian Lester playing a guy who breaks into an old woman's apartment. This woman makes the Lester character listen to the story of two brothers out for revenge.

Dust's script included many more scenes with Mr Fiennes, but they have not made it into the final version of the film. It's Wenham and Lester who dominate the picture.

Mr Fiennes did not attend the film's world premiere in Venice - an absence that upset many. But Dust's producer Chris Auty explained that Fiennes was exhausted after shooting his film Killing Me Softly, with Heather Graham.

However, there are those who say Mr Fiennes had problems with his character's American accent, which meant many of his scenes could not be used.

Mr Wenham plans to star with French actress Julie Delpy in a film set in South London, where he will play a double-glazing salesman who tells too many lies.

Before that he travels to Toronto where Dust will be screened at the film festival there, along with an Australian film he did called The Bank. 'It's about anti-globalisation, but we aren't planning any demonstrations,' he added.


dotpurp.gif  dotpurp.jpg  dotpurp.gif

August 31, 2001
- Festival Venezia

"Dust" - Macedonia between the present and the past

VENEZIA (Reuters) - Last evening, the director Milcho Manchevki returned to the Venice Festival with "Dust", a movie about brotherhood, revenge and the capability to tell itself.

He has already won the Golden Lion in 1994, with the movie "Before the Rain". Yesterday, he had the honour of opening the 58th Festival.

Half of the story takes place in modern America, the other half in Macedonia at the beginning of the 20th century. It is the story of two brothers -- played by Joseph Fiennes and David Wenham -- who follow each other to kill each other, in love with the the same woman. It is also a story of hate, revenge and battle.

"But the movie is not about what happens nowadays in Macedonia", explains the director. "It was not my intention to discuss the current political situation. The movie was written several years before".

The producer, Chris Auty, confirms this while explaining that part of the movie was shot in 1999. "It saddens us that the was in Servia hasn't allowed us to start it earlier. We finished it last year, and it's ironic to think that this year we wouldn't have been able to make it. We were in a quiet zone in the middle of a tempest".

For the actors, it was a very touching set.

"The first time I arrived in Skopje", explains Anne Brochet, "I felt something very particular, which helped me to add something instinctive to the movie, as opposed to something researched".

"I spent a wonderful couple of months in Macedonia", says David Wenham. "I felt a big tension among the people, but this hasn't influenced me. What has influenced me the most were the natural facts: the heat and the bees."

According to Manchevski, "Dust" is a "cubist" movie about memory and time, because it is made of several stories which confuse past and present. "I was inspired to make this movie when I realised that the elements of the Revolution in Macedonia about 100 years ago were very similar to the wild West or the Mexican revolution". Today he admitted himself that he grew up watching the westerns on television, although he sees "Dust" as a tribute to Martin Scorsese or Milos Forman rather than to John Wayne or Clint Eastwood. 

dotpurp.gif  dotpurp.jpg  dotpurp.gif

The Advertiser (Adelaide, Australia)
June 11, 2003
You've got male problems sussed, Andy.
Robert Fidgeon
FORMER SeaChange star David Wenham is stoked about his latest production.
"It's undoubtedly one of the best scripts I've ever read,'' says Wenham about
After the Deluge.
"I've certainly never read anything that more honestly explores the Aussie
male, his flaws and foibles.''
The superb, star-studded mini-series After the Deluge examines the lives of
four ordinary men - an ailing, World War II-tormented father (Ray Barrett) and
his three sons (Hugo Weaving, Samuel Johnson and Wenham) at a critical time in
their family history.
It is not only Wenham who thinks this two-part television drama could be the
best work of scribe Andrew Knight - who, with writing partner Deb Cox, has
given us small-screen offerings such as SeaChange. Rachel Griffiths, who is
about to film another series of US hit Six Feet Under, plays an emotionally
scarred coffee shop owner who strikes up a relationship with faded rock star
"It was a wonderful script by Andrew. An absolute stunning piece of work,''
Griffiths says. "Andrew's very clever - a bit of a slow brewer.
"I haven't seen Aussie males explored in this way - ever.''
After the Deluge, screening on Ten at 8.30pm on Sunday and Monday, also stars
Vince Colosimo, Kate Beahan, Catherine McClements, Essie Davis and Aden Young.
Herald Sun (Melbourne, Australia)
June 19, 2001 p052
Splashing into the depths.
Prepare to be challenged at Melbourne's film festival, writes SARAH HUDSON
JULY 18, the day this year's 50th Melbourne International Film Festival begins, has special memories for actor David Wenham.
It's one year since he was pushed into the Yarra River at 2am for his latest movie, The Bank, which launches the film festival.
Wenham, best known for his role as Diver Dan in TV's SeaChange, plays a mathematical genius seeking a formula that can predict stock-market crashes.
"It was actually the last shoot of the film . . . it was very surprising and very cold,'' Wenham says of his dip.
"I think the quality of the film is far superior to the quality of the Yarra.''
The screening of The Bank marks the world premiere of the film, which producer Robert Connolly (The Boys) shot around Melbourne and Victoria.
This year's festival -- launched yesterday -- is the first for executive director James Hewison, who describes this year's line-up of more than 350 films from 40 countries as "rich in diversity and depth''.
"It will challenge the audience and see what the future holds for emerging cinema,'' he says.
The festival is one of the largest and longest-running in the southern hemisphere. And with admissions growing 40 per cent last year, it's expected to be even bigger in its 50th year.
The Bank is the big ticket for the opening, and book-ending the festival on closing night is another local film which has its Australian premiere: He Died with a Felafel in his Hand, starring Noah Taylor.
Hewison has queue-jumped and secured 10 of the best films from Cannes 2001, all of which will have their Australian premiere.
Included in this list are The Piano Teacher, which won the Grand Prix and awards for best actor and actress, and Sean Penn's The Pledge.
Sir Michael Caine and Richard Dreyfuss, among others, will join the Meet the Makers question-and-answer forum via satellite.
Another addition to the festival is Mach 1 (July 27-29), a festival within a festival for younger audiences. Selected films will have "bark as well as bite''.
Launching the festival, Melbourne councillor Clem Newton Brown laid to rest rumours that the council was going to tax filmmakers producing in Melbourne.
50th Melbourne International Film Festival, July 18 to August 5. Ph: 9417 2011.


dotpurp.gif  dotpurp.jpg  dotpurp.gif

The Australian
Edition 3FRI 04 AUG 2000
Supreme Court in the act
By GEORGINA SAFE * Melbourne arts reporter

THE corridors of the historic and sedate Victorian Supreme Court were yesterday invaded by actors and a film crew shooting the new Australian feature The Bank.

Tight security is usual in courtroom number one, more used to criminals than celebrities.

Producer John Maynard yesterday continued the tradition with a closed-set policy to protect David Wenham and Anthony LaPaglia, stars of The Bank, from media scrutiny and curious onlookers.

The thriller, set in the world of high finance, is directed by Robert Connolly, who previously produced The Boys (which also starred Wenham).

Wenham is no stranger to the courtroom through his role as Diver Dan in the ABC's SeaChange.

Yesterday in slicked-back hair and a dark suit he was almost indistinguishable from the QCs and other suits in the court precincts, just a stone's thrown from Arenafilm's Port Melbourne production office.

QCs, their clients and curious onlookers were amused but unfazed by the first of a host of big-budget films to be shot in Victoria before the end of the year.

The Warner Bros-Village Roadshow blockbuster Queen of the d**ned will begin filming under seven-time AFI award winning director Michael Rymer (Angel Baby) on September 25.

A St Albans warehouse with a 12,000sqm shooting area -- larger than that of all six spaces at Sydney's Fox Studios complex combined (10,297sqm) -- will be used as stage space for the film.

Three days earlier US network CBS is due to finish shooting Blonde, a mini-series about Marilyn Monroe, produced in association with Australia's Crawford Productions.

dotpurp.gif  dotpurp.jpg  dotpurp.gif

The boys from the bank
- The Bank

by Jonathan Dawson

Jonathan Dawson is Associate Professor in Film, Media and Cultural Studies at Griffith University (Queensland, Australia). He has written and directed scores of films and television series and documentaries.

O'Reilly: "We've now entered the age of corporate feudalism and we are the new princes."

Jim: "If we could predict the next stock market crash the suffering that could be avoided would be huge!"

O'Reilly: "The shareholders are our people, they are our society. The public can look after itself."

The Bank

Chaos Theory as applied to the Stock Market would have to be the least probable plot device for an Australian film. Let's hope the pitch ('Public Enemy Number One: The Banks') for The Bank (Robert Connolly, 2001) grabs the punters because it would be a pity if this quietly rewarding thriller missed its audience. Connolly's debut feature uses the notion of chaos mathematics as its plot motor - a delightful fancy which makes a superficially rather cold story about financial institutions, stock market crashes and the wreckage left in their wake much more than the sum of its parts.

Connolly has made the move from producer to director with ease and style. He reveals his background as a theatre director in the effective low-key acting style that distinguishes The Bank. The disturbing quality of The Boys (Rowan Woods, 1998), which Connolly produced, and the rather off-handed plot turns of All Men are Liars (Gerald Lee, 1997), which he associate produced, are also evident in his first feature. Certainly The Boys seems to share the same broad social concerns with The Bank, primarily that society operates only for the benefit of the big players, and watching The Bank it becomes clear that a deep sense of disillusion with economic rationalism and Big Bad Bank Behaviour is an informing principle for (co-screenwriter) Robert Connolly. David Wenham, who plays Jim -the central character in The Bank -, brings to the role the same faintly creepy screen persona which he delivered in his performance as Brett in The Boys. In addition, The Bank's spare visual style is reminiscent of Connolly's AFTRS short Mr Ikegami's Flight (1996), which also featured a sense of the city as a modern steel and glass playground for 'elite' dreams. It also featured an outstandingly restrained performance by Kazuhiro Muroyama who plays Jim's hacker buddy in The Bank.

One of the compelling things about The Bank is its refusal to allow the audience to engage too closely with the key characters (just like the bank's relationship with its customers as Michelle [Sibylla Budd] observes at one point). Jim is remote and impenetrable. His opponent and apparent ally, the self-confessed "big swinging thingy", Simon O'Reilly (Anthony La Paglia) is coldly corrupt, though with some nicely cultivated frissons of macho attractiveness. The rest of the cast, most sadly of all the effortlessly stylish Budd as the love interest, remain ciphers in this chess game of a movie. In fact, the love interest narrative thread between Jim and Michelle seems rather wilted in the scheme of things. The energy of the relationship weakens fast and the whole deal ends up as sort of beside the point as Jim exits centre stage. And so The Bank becomes very much a solo flight by Jim's character.

The Case of the Superfluous Subplots

This throwing away of genuinely interesting parallel plot possibilities is nowhere more apparent than in the case of the subplot about the little Aussie battlers (played by Steve Rodgers and Mandy Mcelhinney). The notion of a family first idly victimised and then practically destroyed by the bank is theoretically just fine. The fact that (in a somewhat offhand way) their child is accidentally killed/drowned/written out after a visit by the bank's writ server, adds a real edge to the family's plight and a sense of desperation and even - for a moment, rage - to the film's internal mechanics.

However, this at times touching sidecar about two Aussie battlers and their doomed kid done down by the bank, which deserves a separate film itself, never really connects with the action taking place on centre stage - Jim's trajectory towards the heart of matters: the day of the predicted Stock Market Crash. In the end, this subplot becomes a mere plot device when the out-of-control avenging husband (Rodgers) bails up O'Reilly at the climacteric. It works in dumb plotting terms but at least brings a sense of fate to the final events of the film. Perhaps Connolly, taking an angel's eye view, had decided that we are all indeed flies to the wanton gods of Hollywood plot structure.

The Wenham Factor

But all this brings into play David Wenham's notoriously enigmatic and ironical screen persona (The 2000 Archibald prize winning portrait by Adam Cullen was of David Wenham the social being, never the onscreen package). The rather laidback and somewhat disingenuous personal style that made Diver Dan such a success in Sea Change (ABC TV, 2000) and the long anticipated return of whom may well have swelled the hopeful ranks of the viewers, is precisely what keeps The Bank from becoming merely an occasion for a lot of whizzbang computer graphics. Something indescribable is happening out there in Connolly's airbrushed, intentionally glossy Finance World theme park that is Centabank, but Wenham's screen presence keeps things interesting throughout.

Though we never get close enough to Jim (flashbacks aside) to really care why he's up to something, in general a suspension of disbelief is aided by Wenham's ability to keep us guessing as to some half-glimpsed emotional core that in the wash up (particularly in the last scene at the international air terminal) seems still as inaccessible as in his very first scene, which may well be as much a function of the script as performance. We can never pin Jim down - nor can anyone in the movie - but that's part, if not nearly all, of the fun.

The Hills are Alive with the Sounds of Melbourne

This way of seeing the Centabank universe as a kind of post-modernist fever dream, all reflective glass and European Economic Union blue is part of the distancing 'look' of Connolly's vision. This is a world inhabited and run by computer software, where corridors hum silently and the characters are dressed by Armani, colour keyed to the air conditioned elegance. Cars glide along post-modern Melbourne bridgescapes (mainly Jeff Kennett's tollways - is this part of the message? It must be). Elevators hum, humans are reflected in mirrors and doors. Connolly's camera keeps its distance, even the love making is gliding, angled, glass-distorted.

Tristan Milani, who shot The Boys for Rowan Woods and recently the edgy inner city Angst (2000) for Daniel Nettheim, has done close to his best work here, though this time his camera style offers a strong graphic frame for the characters - the montage work featuring crisp images of a glass and steel Melbourne sometimes looks like a modernist City Symphony (perhaps early Walter Ruttman?). Overall, Milani creates a palpable sense of a metropolis of smoke and mirrors to echo Jim's arcane scheme to bring down Centabank.

dotpurp.gif  dotpurp.jpg  dotpurp.gif

Source: The Sunday Mail (Brisbane, Australia), August 26, 2001 p063.

Title: The IT man.(Features)

Byline: Anne Simpson

I have no success barometer, I'm only interested in how successfully I think I've done a role

DAVID Wenham might not be comfortable being one of Australia's A-list actors, but over the past year he has managed to find himself walking the red carpet at some of the film world's most illustrious events.

His almost anonymous Moulin Rouge role as the cross-dressing artistic director Audrey took him to opening night at this year's Cannes Film Festival.

Last month his latest Aussie flick, The Bank, opened the Melbourne International Film Festival.

And next week he will be in the spotlight again at the Venice Film Festival for the opening of the Balkan western Dust (in which he co-stars with Shakespeare In Love actor Joseph Fiennes) then on to the Toronto Film Festival with The Bank.

Not that Wenham will tell you all this. He plays nonchalant very well, perhaps not unlike down-to-earth Diver Dan from TV's SeaChange, the character for which he is best known.

"I have no success barometer at all,'' the ruggedly handsome actor says. "I am only interested in how successfully I think I have done a role. That's the only thing interesting me.

"Of course I'd like as many people as possible to see those roles. But whether I am an A-list actor, to me, is totally irrelevant.''

The 35-year-old Sydneysider attended drama classes from an early age and even had a small role on the long-running soap Sons and Daughters as a teenager.

While he continues to be passionate about acting, he says some of his best performances came while studying drama at the University of Western Sydney.

"Of course, because they were drama school times, no one ever really saw them. Ironically, one of the people who did see them was Robert Connolly, before we even knew we'd become great friends and co-collaborators.''

The pair later worked together on The Boys (Connolly was producer), the chilling thriller in which Wenham plays a psychopath released from jail in a performance that earned him an Australian Film Institute Award nomination.

When a futures trader gave Connolly the story idea for another thriller, this time set in the cut-throat world of banking, he told Wenham.

"We bounced the story back and forward until Robert decided to go and write the script,'' remembers Wenham, who was involved throughout development of The Bank.

Wenham jumped at the chance to team up again, this time with Connolly as director.

Wenham plays Jim Doyle, a genius mathematician who has designed a software system to predict the stock market. Doyle is employed by a ruthless bank CEO (Anthony LaPaglia) who needs to keep his profit margins high at any cost.

It is a fascinating story with great relevance considering "the Australian public's vehemence towards banks'', Wenham says.

Wenham admits he has never been much of a mathematician.

"The maths was a bit of a stretch, because I ain't too good at it!'' he laughs. "However, I did spend a lot of time trying to understand the formulas and the logic involved.

"I avoided maths at school and now it just frustrates me. It intrigues me and it frustrates me because I find it very difficult to get a grasp on it, but I want to.''

Unexpectedly, Wenham interrupts the interview with "Excuse me, I'm vibrating''.

For a moment his recent Australian films roles flash to mind -- the philandering husband Ethan in Russian Doll and the mostly undressed Josh in Better Than Sex.

But no, it's just the hunky actor's mobile phone. After a brief interlude he returns and apologises.

"Jim Doyle is certainly an enigmatic character who conceals far more than he reveals,'' he continues, "which is very difficult for an actor to achieve because he's the protagonist in the film yet he doesn't seem to propel the action.

"The audience know he's doing something, but they don't quite know what.''

For all his modesty, Wenham is not without ambition.

Last year he went at his own expense to London to meet director Milcho Manchevski and audition for Dust, the story of two feuding cowboy brothers who enlist as mercenaries on opposing sides during the Balkans War of 1912.

"I went expecting to audition but I met the director and he offered me the role. I think any actor in the world would want to work with him,'' he says of Manchevski, whose debut feature Before the Rain earned an Oscar nomination.

Shot in Macedonia, the low-budget British film took place in the area's worst heatwave in 30 years, with cast and crew hit by sunstroke and dysentery.

"I was one of the resilient ones, because I like extreme heat,'' Wenham says. "Most days it hovered between 45C and 47C and I was in leather. However, I did get bitten by massive wasps.''

Wenham may be taking yet another red-carpet stroll before the end of the year for the premiere of The Lord of the Rings, in which he plays the warrior Faramir.

* The Bank opens on September 6 and Lord of the Rings on Boxing Day. No release date has been set for Dust.

dotpurp.gif  dotpurp.jpg  dotpurp.gif

Wenham not just one of The Boys

He's an unlikely pin-up who prefers watching the Swans to strolIing down red carpets So why is David Wenham such a bankable talent By Rosemarie Milsom

Earlier this year, David Wenham was sitting by himseIf in a sydney restaurant('"I Iike cooking, but I like other people cooking more") when he noticed Paul Keating dining with two people at a nearby table. There they were, one of AustraIia's most popuIar men, and one of our once most unpopular.

Only the week before, the actor had been on stage at Adelaide's FestivaI Theatre narrating historical Australian texts, accompanied by the city's symphony orchestra. The pieces included the former primeminister's famous 1992 Redfern speech on the need for Aboriginal reconciliation and native title laws. "I so wanted to go over and tell him how much I admired it, but I couldn't. I sat there and was overcome with nerves. All I could do was stare at my meal. I could'nt even look up. Without a doubt, it was a missed opportunity."

We're seated in Morgans, a low-key Darlinghurst cafe, on an overcast Monday afternoon when Wenham describes the "missed oppotunity". And it's not at all what I expected. Having watched him dominate the screen with his tightly coiled portrayal of suburban killer Brett Sprague in the controversial film The Boys, and then as the uninhibited Josh, a laid-back photocrapher who is naked throuchout most of Jonathan Teplitzky's upbeat comedy Better than Sex, it's hard to imacine Wenham lacking in confidence. And, of course, there' s Diver Dan, the laconic fisherman who captured the affection of Laura(Sigrid Thornton) and the heart of two million viewers with his salty charm in the ABC drama SeaChange.

"I can be very shy, " Wenham admits, sipping a glass of mineral water. "Throw me in a group of people I don't know and I'm the person quivering in the corner or wanting to. I really wish I could approach people but I have a constant fear that I'll have nothing to say, that I'm not interesting enough. It's one of my character flaws. "

Self-deprecating, quietly spoken and intensely private, Wenham eschews red-carpet parades, preferring to stroll around the parks near his inner-city apartment with his long-time girlfriend Kate Agnew, an actor and yoga instructor. "I was amused to read twice this year that I'm apparentl A-list person, but I've only been to two opening nights this year and they happened to be for films I was in! " he says with mock amazement.

He is far more reserved than fIamboyant and there's a distinct absence of actorly affectation. There are moments during the two-hour interview when he pauses more than he speaks. And while he seems self-conscious, he manages to draw you in with a kind of understated charm. He's an unlikely pin-up whose unconventional looks closely trimmed ginger beard, smallish frame, toothy grin and transformative abiIity set him apart from the pack.

When we first meet earlier in the day at the office of publicist Maria Farmer, Wenham is scanning the sport pages for the Weekend AFL match reports. He's in good spirits because his beloved Swans((he's been a club member for a decade) clawed their way to a 21-point victory against Hawthorn in Melbourne the day before.

His is dressed in an elegant black Gucci suit on loan from the fashion house for the recent Melbourn International Film Festival at which his soon to be released thriller, The Bank, had its world premiere. He doesn't intend to prance around town in the expensive suit it's just for the photo shoot and has brought a change of clothes.

The women in the office fuss over his stylishly dishevelled shock of strawberry blonde hair, calling him by his childhood nickname, "Daisy". There's something slightIy camp about the scene played out in the narrow corridor. "We've had another request for you to do an interview with HM, what do you think " asks Farmer, seated in front of her computer. "ummm, I'm not sure if it's my thing. " offers Wenham. "I don't have silicone breasts. "

He's eager to get the photos out of the way so he can relax, though it's clear he isn't an enormous fan of interviews. In fact, Wenham has been noticeably absent from press reports for some time. But all that is about to change in light of the gruelling schedule he subjected himself to in the past couple of years. In rapid succession, he has worked on Better than Sex, Russian Doll, Molin Rouge, Dust, The Bank and the final two episodes of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, to be released in 2002 and 2003. He is cast as the heroic Faramir.

Dust, a "Balkan western about revenge and redemption" was filmed last year in heat wave conditions in Macedonia. Directed by Milcho Manchevski, the film will open this month's prestigious Venice Film Festival. Wenham, Who stars with Joseph Fiennes, will attend the festival and will therefore miss the national premiere of The Bank. Created by the team behind The Bank and filmed in MeIbourne, the bank-bashing thriller stars Wenham as a mathematician who seemingly sells his soul to Simon(Anthony La Paglia), a greedy, manipulative banker.

And then there will be the long-awaited reIease later this year/early next year of Paul Cox's Molokai - an epic about the legendary leper priest Father Damien played by Wenham in which he appears aIongside Peter O'Toole, Derek Jacobi, Leo McKern, Sam Neill and Kris Kristofferson.

It's little wonder that since completing the Lord of the Rings shoot in the south isIand of New Zealand late Iast year, Wenham has been enjoying as self-imposed break. "It wasn't a conscious effort to do that much work in that amount of time, it just panned out like that, "he says, photos done, Gucci suit packed away and replaced by dark trousers and a brown jumper. "By the end, I was tired but now I'm ready to go. I'm itching to get back to work. "

The 35-year-Old is happiest when he is working, though each time he accepts a role, he endures bouts of self-doubt. "I don't think I can do it. I think I'm not up to it. It's a good thing in a way because it forces you to think of a solution. It forces you to find a way into the role. " when he "gets it right", he enjoys a "very long exhalation of breath.... aahhh.... With a smiIe at the end. "

Friends and colleagues talk of his proffessionalism and integrity. "He doesn't let work consume him," says Robert Connolly, a long-time friend who produced The Boys and directed The bank. "He is protective of his private life and is selective about the roles he takes on. He works hard to create a balance. When you look at the range of roles he has accepted, you get a sense of what interests him and it isn't fame and fortune. "

There's also a sense that behind his calm, straightforward exterior is an intensity, an intellectual energy. It's there in his piercing, pale bIue eyes and his economic, yet compelling screen and stage presence. "I do have the potential to be extremely intense, it depends on where I am. I can get very worked up, particularly when it comes to what I do, but, you know, I'm not like that all the time. I have mellowed quite a bit, but I still have the potential for the odd explosion, " he says, grlnning.

Blue Mountains based artist Adam Cullen, Whose bold portrait of Wenham won last year's coveted Archibald Prize, says his friend "can really dig into the darkest areas of his head". "There's a kind of tension between his straightforwardness and something more complex that holds your attention. So much of his appeal on the screen is the way he occupies a lot of emotional space without excess. He doesn't even need to speak."

Wenham was born in 1965, the youngest of seven children, and grew up in the inner west. He first started acting as a teenager at Christian Brothers High School, Lewisham. "I didn't know where to channel my energy and neither did my teachers. I Iiked school but probabIy for the wrong reasons. But once I started acting, I suddenly had a focus. " His father began taking him to the theatre and would buy him subscriptions as Christmas and birthday presents. Wenham was hooked and made up his mind after finishing school to pursue a career on the stage.

His mother wasn't impressed and urged him to stay in his Job as a insurance clerk but Wenham enrolled in the first intake at Theatre Nepean at the University of Western sydney and moved to Kingswood, near Penrith. "When I graduated, I did littIe plays around here(Darlinghurst), little plays in church halls. It was hard work but it was fun. "

0ne of those "little plays" was Gordon Graham's The Boys, in which Wenham was cast as Brett Sprague in 1991. It was a role that stayed with him untiI the late '90s when he helped form a production company to transform the fringe play into the critically acclaimed film. By then, he had a long list of theatre credits to his name, including Hamlet and The Tempest for Company B at Belvoir street under the direction of Neil Armfield.

"I consider myself really lucky that I' ve been able to make a career out of something I absolutely love and that I've been able to sustain an existence. I'm always aware that the nature of this business is always precarious and it could all go away tomorrow. " What would he be doing if he hadn't found acting? "I don' t spend much time thinking about that, " he says, eyes lowered in the direction of his calamari. "It could be a depressing inner monologue, I think, because God only knows where I would have ended up. I have no skills."

Certainly, he struggles with a Iife that many wouId envy. He's a public figure who would rather Iet his work speak for itself. There's the stylish suit she can't wait to get out of and invitations to openings he selectively attends. His only public displays of success are a silver Alfa Romeo and a well-worn passport. "I don't earn an enormous amount of money, " he says, without even a hint of defensiveness. "I live a very modest life in a simple apartment. I have no desireto own more than one place of abode, I don't need a holiday house, I don't need a boat. I have one car, I don't need two. In fact, I don't really need much at all. My greatest extravagance is eating out, which I do all the time and if I can continue doing that, I'll be a very happy person."

He doesn't yearn for the kind of Hollywood success that accompanies a bIockbuster, but he's also honest enough to admit that fame can be alluring. "You do have to make a consciouse effort to avoid the hype. I'm happiest when I'm working and all the other stuff that comes with it is really just froth and bubbles.

"I've been to some pretty whoop-de-do parties overseas but to spend your whole life like that is a bit of a worry. I feel for people in those situations because I can understand how hard it must be to hoId on to some sense of normaIity. "

It would be fair to say that until Wenham took to the screen as Diver Dan, he didn't need to worry about the chalIenges of widespread fame. Suddenly, he was the romantic lead in a much-loved weekly drama that sent ABC ratings skyrocketing. "Initially, I was frightened by the idea of a recular gig on TV and was reticent to do it but I'm so glad I did, " he says now. "It was a gift of a character. You're more than halfway there when you're working with scripts that are so wonderfullly constructed. "

How has he coped with the sex symboI Iabel? ".... (long pause).... I don't see myself as anything extraordinary. I see myself as reIatively average and I think Mr and Mrs Joe Public recognise that as well. "

If Mr and Mrs Joe Public appreciated his easygoing charm in SeaChange, they're going to cheer in response to his new film, The Bank, though not necessarily in support of Wenham's Character. Conceived three years ago, the film is about ethics and greed. "I remember when we taIked about making it, peopIe said it would be dated by the time it made it to the screen. It was believed that the banks would have cleaned up their act. But, of course, tha's not the case," says Wenham.

Will it be a hard sell, I ask, between mouthfuls of sticky-date pudding. "All you' ve got to do is appeal to anybody who has stood in a queue for too long or has been affected by bank closures and increased fees. I think these sorts of people wiIl be interested in seeing The Bank. I think there's a mood around the world at the moment reflecting people's frustration and dissatisfaction. It's a kind of mini-revolution. "

Sounds like an oppotunity too good to miss.

The Bank opens nationally on September 6.

dotpurp.gif  dotpurp.jpg  dotpurp.gif

Wenham rides far on a bank of goodwill
The Australian
July 19, 2001
Byline: Georgina Safe

THEY seek him here, they seek him there, they seek David Wenham at film festivals everywhere.

And there he was lastnight on the red carpet at the world premiere of the corporate thriller The Bank, in which he stars, at the opening of the Melbourne International Film Festival.

"It's good to be returning to Melbourne and bringing the film back home,'' he said last night.

In May, Wenham jetted off to Cannes for the gala opening of Baz Luhrmann's blockbuster Moulin Rouge, in which he also appeared.

Next month, the Sydney actor will have opened three international film festivals in a single year, when he steps into the spotlight at the Venice Film Festival opening night screening of Dust, by Milcho Manchevski, in which he stars with Joseph Fiennes. "It's the grand slam of the film festival circuit,'' The Bank director Robert Connolly said yesterday.

Wenham last night made a pitstop in Melbourne to join a galaxy of stars including Morgan Freeman, Geoffrey Rush, Sigrid Thornton, Susie Porter and Helen Morse to celebrate the MIFF's 50th birthday at the Regent Theatre.

"Stylish, savvy, and dynamic,'' said MIFF director James Hewison. He wasn't talking about the A-list crowd, but the film that opened his festival of 350 films from about 30 countries during the next 2 1/2 weeks.

The Bank, an anti-bank thriller shot in and around Melbourne, shows the city best known for its footy and foul weather like you've never seen it before.

"A slick financial metropolis, with a romantic view of the Yarra,'' Mr Connolly said.

As well as that glamorous portrayal, the Melbourne community was also still celebrating this month's news that $40 million hi-tech film and TV studios are to be built in the city's Docklands precinct, and a four-year $31.6million film production package announced by the state Government in May.

Mr Hewison said the windfalls made The Bank, which depicts the world of high finance, an appropriate opener for the MIFF. "This year feels like a particularly good time for Melbourne film,'' he said.

Other festival highlights include the Cannes multiple prize-winner The Piano Teacher and Jafar Panahi's powerful feature The Circle about the dire situation of women in Iran.

The MIFF will close with another Australian film, He Died with a Felafel in his Hand, starring Noah Taylor and directed by Richard Lowenstein (Dogs In Space).

dotpurp.gif  dotpurp.jpg  dotpurp.gif

Read on, MacDuff!

More articles below:

(Answered by Fire, Gettin' Square)
(Better Than Sex, Three Dollars)
(Dust, After The Deluge, The Bank)
(The Boys, Molokai)
(Lord of the Rings, Theater, Miscellaneous)

Home | About | Bio | Links | Interviews | Gallery | Fiction | Movies | FAQs | Humor | Daisy's Sacred Grove