Murray Whelan Series: articles

David Wenham

David Wenham is selectively deaf when Hollywood calls. He tells Claire Sutherland why making an Australian telemovie is no comedown.

‘Stiff cheese, Hollywood’

DAVID Wenham would like to clear one thing up. He’s not a Gladwrap-on-the-toilet-seat kind of guy. That kind of prank is lame, unoriginal and frankly, he’s better than that.

Word of Wenham’s alleged food wrap hijinks was spread by his Van Helsing co-star Kate Beckinsale.

She alleges he and his fellow Australian castmates Hugh Jackman and Richard Roxburgh spent much of the shoot making fools of each other.

“Those interviews are grossly incorrect in terms of the type of practical jokes I’d indulge in,” Wenham says.

“Like the Gladwrap on the toilet seat. I don’t know who said that, but it’s certainly not my type of practical joke.”

While Wenham, 38, found himself in the Czech Republic with good mates and a budget for Van Helsing that could buy and sell most of his Australian films five times over, his latest, more modest film had just as much potential for practical jokery.

With John Clarke directing and Mick Molloy co-starring, the Channel 7 telemovie Stiff is just the sort of gritty Australian film Wenham is happy to do instead of desperately chasing Hollywood action.

Based on Shane Maloney’s Murray Whelan novel of the same name, Stiff trots out a Who’s Who of local Labor Party identities, adding colour to the tale of Wenham’s hapless Labor Party staffer Whelan.

Barry Jones, Joan Kirner, John Button and even Victorian Premier Steve Bracks make cameo appearances.

Wenham is an associate producer as well as star of the movie and its follow-up The Brush Off.

Stiff comes after Wenham well and truly dipped his toe into Hollywood waters. He starred in the phenomenally successful Lord of the Rings movies and then in the big-budget Van Helsing.

So it would be reasonable to expect Stiff and The Brush Off, with lightning-fast shooting schedules and gritty Melbourne locations, to feel like a comedown.

But Wenham doesn’t see TV as film’s poor cousin.

“I don’t actually, and never have,” he says. “I think it’s a brilliant medium because it can access so many people and terrific things are made on television that wouldn’t necessarily work on the big screen, like Kath and Kim, The Office and The Sopranos.

“I really love this medium and never feel that I’m working on an inferior project,” he says.

But plenty of people in the United States do. Wenham recalls a time when he turned down a US picture to appear in a Melbourne Theatre Company production.

“I said, ‘No, I’ve agreed to do this play.’ The brochure had been out six months and nobody involved in that film could understand that he was going to do that play instead of just pulling out and going over and doing the film.

That’s why he lives in Sydney with his partner, actor Kate Agnew, and their baby daughter Eliza Jane, not Los Angeles.

“It’s a different world over there. A totally different business. They can’t see outside that existence whatsoever. Hollywood and American films is world domination, 90 per cent of the world market, so anything else is very small fish in their eyes.

“I think you have to treasure those little things when they come along.”

Wenham had the odd small TV role (Police Rescue, Blue Heelers, A Country Practice) before his astonishingly menacing performance as Brett Sprague in The Boys won him national attention. He followed it by playing Diver Dan on ABC TV’s popular SeaChange and a handful of Australian movies that won him decent reviews.

From the murderous Sprague in The Boys, Wenham has played a priest (Molokai: The Story of Father Damien), a mathematician with a world-changing invention (The Bank) and a crim in leopardskin budgie-smugglers in Gettin’ Square.

His range is seemingly limitless, but he has no clear explanation of why.

“I find it slightly awkward talking about acting because I find it a difficult thing to deconstruct,” he says.

Stiff is not the first telemovie he has done since an international career beckoned. He also made Channel 10’s After the Deluge.

But for now he is uncommitted to anything, and seems to relish the idea of time at home, rather than being panic-stricken at the lack of work on the horizon.

By Claire Sutherland
June 17, 2004
The Courier Mail