My Brother Jack: cast guide

Matt Day as David Meredith

Matt Day

David Meredith is a young man trying to find his place in the world. As a small boy he has to endure a violent father. He idolises his brother Jack yet knows he is different from him. David is intelligent, talented, ambitious and idealistic. As a journalist and writer he finally realises where his future lies.

Matt Day saw producer Sue Milliken at a Christmas party the year before production. She told him about My Brother Jack and sent him a copy of the book. He thought it was fantastic. After meeting with director Ken Cameron, Matt agreed to take on the role of David Meredith before even seeing the scripts.

“The best thing about the whole project is the amount of depth in it. The thing that struck me about David is the intelligence of the character. The book uses the two brothers—David and Jack—to expose two very different sides of the Australian psyche. One is at home with the Australian identity of the battler and one is struggling to find meaning and intellectual stimulation.

“For David, not fitting into the ‘she’ll be right’ almost anti-intellectual culture we celebrate makes it difficult to find his own place in the world. For David that meant he had to leave. That is a character a lot of people understand and that is the key to the appeal of the series.”

Preparing for the role Matt read George Johnston’s biography, the second book in the Meredith Trilogy, Clean Straw for Nothing, George’s war diaries and some of his earlier novels. He found the Diaries evocative and Clean Straw for Nothing a satisfying read.

For Matt it was a long shoot and physically demanding, but it wasn’t arduous because he enjoyed the role so much. “David Meredith was the most complex character I have ever played and the most satisfying. The project had more richness and subtlety and depth to it than any other thing I have worked on. It is very rare to get that depth in any kind of project unless you are doing the classics on stage.”

Matt Day is now based in London. His film, television and theatrical credits are extensive. They include the feature films Kiss or Kill, for which he was nominated for an AFI and Critics Circle Award, Doing Time for Patsy Cline, Love and Other Catastrophes, and Dating the Enemy. Some of Matt’s theatrical credits are the stage productions Fred and Six Degrees of Separation and his television credits include Farscape and The Love of Lionel’s Life.

Simon Lyndon as Jack Meredith

Simon Lyndon

Jack is David Meredith’s older brother. He is the archetypal Australian “good bloke”, full of life and unselfish when it comes to his family and his mates.

When the depression hits, Jack isn’t prepared to sit back and wait for things to improve. His desire to provide for his family nearly costs him his life. And when war is declared Jack is keen to enlist and get into the thick of it.

Simon Lyndon loved the book and was very happy to have the opportunity to portray the decent Jack Meredith, particularly as his most recent roles have included rapists and violent druggies—as in the feature films Chopper and Blackrock.

“It was a huge compliment to be cast in the role and a privilege to do it.” Preparing for the role of Jack, Simon took boxing lessons. This was just an extension on his previous martial arts training, which included Tai Kwon Do for the past eight years.

“Jack is so determined. He stands up for his convictions. He goes to such lengths—going to Chile for a job that doesn’t eventuate and he walks from Sydney to Melbourne to return to his family.”

The novel began Simon’s education on Australia in the depression years. He also read other books—all of which made him realise how lucky we are today. Simon’s grandfather was an anti-aircraft gunner during WWII. “He has shared his stories with me, but he doesn’t boast about it.”

Originally from Western Australia, where he graduated from WAPA, Simon now lives in Sydney. He is co-director of a theatre company with Jeremy Cumpston from All Saints. He has directed and performed in productions with this company.

When he is not working he enjoys surfing.

Simon won the 2000 AFI Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Chopper and was nominated for an AFI Award for his performance in Blackrock. His other film and television credits include Dogwoman, Wildside, Roar, Sample People and The Thin Red Line.

William McInnes as Mr Meredith

William McInnes

Mr Meredith returns home from the war a shattered man. He has witnessed horrors that no person should have to endure. His health is ruined after exposure to mustard gas and his job as a tram driver is gone. Bitter and unable to cope, he resorts to violence as a way of dealing with life and his family.

William McInnes read My Brother Jack at school. “It has a hold on people’s memories. It is a terribly important piece of Australian history.

It is great that an Australian network is getting behind an Australian classic. I am sure all Australians will be proud of it. It is a story that has captured the imagination of three or four generations of Australians.

“The story has carved a niche in the Australian psyche—Australia’s idea of itself. It is about the struggle of the last century and you only understand yourself when you understand your past. It is an important part of our culture. It was a time when the Australian character was still being sculptured.”

During the story Mr Meredith ages from his 30s to his 70s. This meant hours in the make-up chair for William. He is sure the audience will find the old Mr Meredith as believable as the young man who returns home from the war. William is one of the most recognised faces on Australian television after appearing in Seachange and Blue Heelers. He found My Brother Jack a pleasant change of pace and something different from his other television work. It was an experience he greatly enjoyed.

A graduate of WAPA, William’s other television credits include The Lost World, Something Stupid, Full Frontal and The Micallef Program. His film credits include The Heartbreak Kid, Turtle Beach, and Wendy Cracked a Walnut.

Angie Milliken as Min Meredith

Min Meredith, David’s mother, works at the local military hospital while her husband is fighting on the battlefields of France. On Mr Meredith’s return home life changes for Min and her three children. Like so many returned soldiers, Mr Meredith is a changed man. Min must keep her family together and deal with her husband’s violence and illness.

Angie Milliken’s parents had an original edition of My Brother Jack . “I loved it. It was revolutionary for its time. It is timeless.”

She was moved by the character of Min because she is so like members of her own family. Angie’s grandmother was also a nurse. “Their lives were characterised by sacrifice—sacrifices that women don’t make any more. Their lives were driven by hard, physical labour. They were strong and resourceful. The early scenes set in the family home gave me a glimpse into how hard they worked—backbreaking work.”

Angie’s grandmother began nursing at the end of the First World War. She loved being a nurse and talked to Angie often about the experience. “I had a strong emotional connection with her. She was a strong, independent woman. In her mind men were in charge and she respected them, but in her daily activity she was utterly in charge.”

Angie loved the role of Min and admits she found the aging process confronting—imagining how she would be at 50 and 60 years of age. But it was the relationship between Min and her son David that drew her to the role. “The love between her and David is so strong. There are three young men playing David and I had an extremely strong bond with them all. It stirred up something strong and new in me—inextricable love that knows no bounds.”

Angie and her friend, Sarah Ducker, have their own film production company, Hoot Productions. She is a member of the Board of the Sydney Theatre Company. She also collaborates with her sister Catherine, a musician, on multi-media projects incorporating music and drama.

Her most recent theatrical credits include A Month in the Country and The White Devil. While probably best remembered by television viewers for her portrayal of Jo in Feds, Angie’s more recent television credits include Farscape, Stingers and Beastmaster. Among her feature film credits are Exile and Paperback Hero, which co-starred Claudia Karvan.

Jack Thompson as Bernard Brewster

Mr. Brewster is the editor of The Morning Post. His faith in David Meredith’s journalistic ability is pivotal to David’s career.

Jack Thompson is one of Australia’s most famous and best-loved actors. George Johnston was a contemporary of his father who was also a journalist and war correspondent. The two men knew each other in Sydney.

“My Brother Jack is a tale of my father’s generation. In a sense it is a very personal tale, but it is also about the effect the war had on a single family. It is typical of the effect the war had on many people.”

Preparing for the role, Jack read the book again, along with a number of books on the period.

“My father encouraged me to be interested in Australian history. To understand who you are as a community you need to know how you came to be and what were the steps along the way”.

While the role of Mr Brewster wasn’t big in screen time, Jack had no hesitation in accepting the role when approached by Sue Milliken. “It is a really good part. Brewster has a seminal effect on the young David’s life. Brewster is an ambitious man, but he is also ambitious for David. Brewster is the man who opens the doors for a talented young writer. It is Brewster who thinks it is a wonderful idea that David should go off to the war. The accounting of the war was a really horrifying experience.

Jack had never worked with Matt Day before and was looking forward to working with him. “That is the joy of the craft of acting—the opportunity for interaction. There is wonderful opportunity for interaction between the two – the senior man leading this young man along the way.”

Since beginning his career with roles in the classic Australian films Wake In Fright and Breaker Morant, Jack Thompson has starred in more than 40 films, including most recently, Midnight In The Garden of Good and Evil and Star Wars Episode II.

Claudia Karvan as Cressida Morley

Cressida Morley is the woman who will change David Meredith’s life forever. A chance meeting when she is an AWAS gunner and he a war correspondent leaves a lasting impression on David. Reunited towards the end of the war, David realises this woman will make his life complete.

Claudia Karvan is one of Australia’s most popular and accomplished film and television stars. While the role of Cressida isn’t large in screen time, it is crucial to the journey which David Meredith embarks upon, and required an actor of great power and presence.

“My Brother Jack is not a sentimental story about growing up in Australia. It is a perceptive analysis of the two sides of the Australian character, and it is still very valid today. It is a moving and honest portrayal.”

In preparing for the role, Claudia researched the life of George Johnston’s wife Charmian Clift. She read her essays and novels and was moved by her warmth, love of life and humanity and the poetic style of her writing. She also spoke to friends of her parents who knew Charmian Clift and George Johnston.

Claudia’s most recent credits include the new Network Ten series, The Secret Life of Us, Farscape (in which she plays an alien), Never Tell Me Never, Risk, Paperback Hero, Passion and Strange Planet. She has worked with Matt Day before, in the play Fred and the feature film Dating The Enemy.

Claudia won an AFI Award for Best Actress in a Television Drama and an Australian Film Critics Award for Best Actress for Heartbreak Kid. She was also nominated for AFI Awards in 1998 for Never Tell Me Never and 1999 for Passion.

Raelee Hill as Sheila

Sheila is the devoted wife of Jack Meredith. She brings laughter and love into his life and provides the strength needed to face the bad times.

Raelee Hill describes herself as “one of those brats who was meant to read the book at school, but didn’t”. When told that she would be auditioning for the role of Sheila she read it in a matter of days.

She looks at Sheila and Jack as the epitome of the Aussie battlers. “And they have so much class about them at the same time.”

The effect the First World War had on Australia and Australians is not lost on Raelee. She has attended every Anzac Day dawn service since she was about 11 years old. “I am very sentimental and nostalgic about Anzac Day. My grandfather, who I was very close to, served in the Second World War.” Raelee’s grandfather was a Rat of Tobruk and she began going to the Dawn Service with him. As an adult she has continued the family tradition.

Preparing for the role of Sheila, Raelee read some other books on the depression years in Australia but feels that the novel itself is the perfect research material.

Raelee always wanted to act and dropped out of university to pursue her passion… and she hasn’t looked back.

And while she may have avoided reading the classics at school, Raelee is now a huge fan. “Since I discovered the classics I haven’t stopped reading them—Hardy is my favourite. I read Far From the Madding Crowd and I was gone. I now read the Bronte sisters and Jane Austen.”

Raelee’s most recent television credits include Water Rats, Shark Bay, and Beastmaster.

Robert Menzies as Gavin Turley

Robert Menzies

Gavin Turley is a Special Writer at The Morning Post and influences David Meredith’s career and his life. Cultured and intellectual, Gavin sees David as a young man with potential. He is aware of David and Helen’s problems – probably before they are themselves. The Second World War shatters Gavin

– both physically and emotionally.

Robert Menzies sees Gavin Turley as the truly civilised man. He can see the ambition in David and can see that he is a driven person.

He first read My Brother Jack as a teenager. “It is an Australia I remember from my childhood. My father was in the Second World War yet he didn’t talk about it. My experience of men of that generation was that they didn’t talk about the war within the family.

“I feel like I know the people My Brother Jack is talking about. The atmosphere of the book is incredibly familiar to me.”

Robert is one of Australia’s most respected theatre performers, and his extensive credits include plays with most of Australia’s leading theatre companies including the Melbourne Theatre Company, Sydney Theatre Company and Belvoir Street, and most recently the Barry Kosky Oedipus. His film credits include Siam Sunset, Innocence, On Our Selection, Lust and Revenge and Muggers, in which he worked with Matt Day. His most recent television credits include Good Guys, Bad Guys, State Coroner and Wedlocked.

Attempts at a law degree and then a BA made Robert realise that he should fulfil his life-long desire to act.

Felix Williamson as Sam Burlington

Sam is an art student who opens up a new and exotic world to David Meredith. Sam introduces David to the bohemian world between the wars. David is in awe of Sam’s relationship with the beautiful artists’ model, Jessica. Sam and David are unlikely friends and that friendship is tested when Sam is accused of murder.

Felix Williamson is one of Australia’s rising young actors. He has acted extensively in theatre, including The Merchant of Venice for the Bell Shakespeare Company, Pygmalion for the Sydney Theatre Company/Glen St. Theatre, and Six Degrees of Separation for the Sydney Theatre Company. His television roles include feature roles in Farscape, A Difficult Woman, Wildside, and Water Rats. He has appeared in a number of feature films, including Me Myself I, Strange Planet, Babe II, The Thin Red Line and Thank God He Met Lizzie.

Lucy Taylor as Jessica

Jessica is beautiful and sophisticated. She is an artists’ model and the sexiest woman David Meredith has ever seen. She is in a tempestuous relationship with Sam whom she loves but does not trust. When Jessica is brutally murdered, David is interviewed by the police and finds he can’t be completely honest with them.

Lucy Taylor graduated from the Victorian College of the Arts in 1998. Since then she has appeared in the feature film The Wog Boy, and The Talented Mr. Ripley and Pride and Prejudice for the Melbourne Theatre Company. A gifted comedian, she co-wrote and performed in Red at the Melbourne Fringe Festival in 1997 and 1998, and the Adelaide Fringe Festival in 1998

Ellouise Rothwell as Helen

Helen is bright, well read and politically aware when she meets David Meredith—she seems to be everything he desires and they marry. But Helen becomes the person she believes is the perfect wife for the up and coming journalist. Unfortunately, this isn’t the type of wife David wants or needs. Ellouise Rothwell was discovered by Casting Director Alison Barrett for this, her first major television role.

“Ellouise did an amazing screen test,” said producer Sue Milliken. “Helen has to be beautiful, stylish and alluring, but when David realises he doesn’t love her, the audience has to understand how he feels. Ellouise encapsulates this ambivalence.’

Ellouise always wanted to be an actor but didn’t tell anyone of her ambition. At school she turned down roles in the school productions so she could concentrate on her studies. She didn’t want people to think she was “crazy”. Ellouise told her family that she wanted to be a vet. It wasn’t until she landed her first role that she admitted her desire.

Ellouise understood the reluctance of many of the characters in My Brother Jack, to discuss their war exploits. Her own father served in the Australian Army in Korea, Malaysia and Vietnam.

“He wouldn’t talk to most people about it—it was a taboo subject. He had a photo album but wouldn’t talk about the people in the photos. Once I was cast in the series he talked to me—opening up about his experiences. This has brought us much closer together,” says Ellouise. “His experiences helped me to understand men like Bert and Mr Meredith.”

Since beginning her career as an actor Ellouise has appeared in many short films and co-operative theatre productions.

Nick Russell as David Meredith as a teenager

This is Nick Russell’s first role in an adult television series and he has enjoyed the experience that he describes as “just being normal”, rather than doing scenes with aliens, as he did in Pig’s Breakfast.

He had to combine his Year 9 studies with My Brother Jack. While his mother doesn’t want Nick’s acting to interfere with his schooling she was very supportive of him being a part of such a quality project.

Nick hopes to work in the industry when he leaves school, hoping to be a director of photography or a director.

Damien Arena as Jack Meredith as a boy

This is 12-year-old Damien Arena’s first professional role, but he has had roles in many school plays. He has followed in the footsteps of his brother who has appeared in a television series and a commercial.

Damien loves drawing and would like to be a cartoonist when he leaves school. He has already completed portraits of his family and when it is time to do the dishes he can often be found in his room—drawing.