Murray Whelan Series: articles

Evergreens directing a path away from reality

IF Sam Neill had had any idea how frightening his first foray into directing would be, he might never have taken the leap.

Deciding he needed “a self-inflicted kick up the rear end”, the AFI Award-winning actor decided to try his hand at directing a feature, using his old mate David Wenham as his guinea pig.

“It was terrifying,” Neill said. “Not least of which was the suspicion that you have been working in films for 25 years and learned absolutely nothing.”

Nevertheless, Neill revelled in the project, a television adaptation of Melbourne writer Shane Maloney’s The Brush Off, part of the Murray Whelan series of crime comedy novels.

The mini-series will screen next month on the Seven Network along with the first book in the series, Stiff, directed by political satirist John Clarke. Conveniently, both men star in each other’s shows.

Neill and Clarke understand the pressures placed on them by devotees of the Whelan series, who have very firm ideas of how Whelan, a shambolic, hapless ALP political hack, should look and feel.

Clarke is confident Wenham—who has transformed himself from a chilling psychopath in The Boys to a hilarious, bumbling, mullet-wearing crim in Gettin’ Square—has what it takes.

“David’s pretty rumpled and very good at playing a reasonably unsophisticated chap whose life could be going a little bit better,” Clarke said. “Plus he loves the books, so there was really no choice.”

Maloney’s books, which are published in the US, France, Japan, Britain and Germany, centre on Whelan, a political adviser who is forever finding himself caught up in unsavoury situations, generally involving dead bodies.

The TV mini-series co-stars Mick Malloy as the Minister for Energy (later demoted to the Minister for Arts and Water), Deborah Kennedy and Steve Bisley.

Clarke and Neill, who have also co-produced the mini-series, are hopeful the waning interest in reality television, and support for mini-series, indicates a renewed interest in local drama.

Upcoming local mini-series include an adaptation of Bryce Courtenay’s novel Jessica (starring Neill) and telemovies The Alice, Troppo [Big Reef] and Small Claims, which aired on Monday.

“Reality TV has been clogging the arteries of the media in a rather unhealthy way,” Neill said.

“It looks like the wheels are beginning to fall off and I can’t say I’m all that upset.”

By Jane Albert
May 19, 2004
The Australian