Murray Whelan Series: articles

David Wenham

Wenham’s world… The hunky actor is back on the small screen.

Wenham back to slay ‘em

DAVID Wenham is talking boots. Not just any boots, but a pair of sleek black leather ones with a fake snakeskin pattern.

Wenham’s world… The hunky actor is back on the small screen. His fellow actor, Sam Neill, is rather impressed, especially when Wenham casually lets on they were tailored by a couple of trendy UK cobblers when he was last over that way.

Wenham’s latest character, on the other hand, is a crumpled, $30 nonleatherupper shoe kind of guy.

Murray Whelan is the star of a two telemovie series, the first of which, Stiff, airs on Sunday.

Yet despite their radically different footwear, Wenham feels he’s walked more than a mile in Murray’s shoes.

The actor identifies with Whelan, a justdivorced Victorian political advisor who stumbles upon murder mysteries, more than any other character he has played.

“I do empathise with Murray,” says Wenham.

“He’s possibly the closest character to me I have ever played. I came from a background not dissimilar to him.”

The films were written by John Clarke, who directed Stiffand plays a role in The Brush Off.

Neill directed The Brush Off, has a role in the other and all three were co-producers of the relatively low budget project based on a novelseries by Shane Maloney.

Both are black-humoured murder mysteries with a political and personal edge.

In Stiff, Murray is just divorced, his home’s roof is buggered, his son is visiting for the week, he hasn’t been lucky in the sheila department for ages, his ministerial boss (played by Mick Molloy) is a bastard and someone keeps trying to kill him.

His suits are of the St Vinnies kind, the old car creaks, the briefcase is a plastic bag—yet he has a battered sense of optimism which keeps him going.

It’s yet another role for Wenham in a decade-long career defined by carefully chosen characters in projects big, small and otherwise.

John Clarke says the films are a collaborative effort among long-time colleagues who rallied around the project more out of love than money.

But he’d never met Wenham.

“You get to an age in this business where you find you do know quite a few people around the place or know people who know them,” he says.

“You know who you like and what work they’ve done, so there’s a general drifting of people into a project like this.

“I expected to find David extremely intelligent, a very, very good actor and extremely good company—which he is because I know a lot of people who regard him in a very high way.”

Clarke particularly admired Wenham’s theatrical characterisation in Stiff.

“He has a wonderful gift for doing things that are telling but quite little,” he says. “He had a real instinct for doing very small things and seemed to really understand Murray.

“Murray has a job and a suit and we were organising his character’s look.

David said ‘I don’t know that Murray would have a briefcase’, and I agreed.

“He said ‘I think he’s the sort of bloke who would carry his stuff around in a plastic bag’.”

Which is anathema to directors as plastic bags make loads of noise.

“He said ‘I’ll make it work, don’t worry’,” says Clarke. “I said ‘How?’ And he said ‘Because I carry all my stuff around in a plastic bag’. It’s a lovely touch. It wasn’t in the book or script it was David.”

It says loads about Wenham that he’s as satisfied by a $2 million project as his other recent project, the $220-million plus blockbuster Van Helsing where the catering bill alone dwarfed the telemovie budget.

Both Neill and Wenham—stars in films grossing more than $2 billion (including Jurassic Park and Lord Of The Rings respectively) don’t mind doing rich or poor.

“There’s no fundamental difference between the two, which is story-telling,” Wenham says. “These were shot extremely quickly in a couple of days and as an actor I loved the momentum which built up during shooting.

“So I don’t really draw a line between the two. Some projects appeal much more to me than others. This appealed to me enormously—and I don’t decide based on budget anyway.”

Murray is the last we’ll see of Wenham on screen for quite some time. He’s off to recharge the life-batteries that all good actors rely on. “I do feel a bit tired now but it’s healthy to take time out, it helps your perspective and the way you approach work as well,” he says.

“I also love living a normal life, because I can observe it and if and when I get the opportunity to portray a character, I have an inkling of what a normal life is so I can actually portray it.”

By Marcus Casey
June 16, 2004
The Daily Telegraph