Murray Whelan Series: articles

David Wenham

TROUBLESHOOTER… David Wenham as Murray Whelan. Wenham is proud of his telemovie collaboration with New Zealand’s finest exports, writes Robert Fidgeon.

Partners in crime

DAVID Wenham isn’t into interviews. Tougher than any acting role, it’s a facet of the business he regards as an obligation rather than a pleasure.

Though he’s always charming, you just know he’d rather be doing something else.

“You have to publicise your project,” he says. “It’s just I don’t find it easy talking about acting.”

This interview, however, is going like a dream, possibly because Wenham is with friends and business partners, Kiwis Sam Neill and John Clarke.

The trio pooled their impressive individual talents to produce two telemovies, based on the novels Stiff and The Brush Off, by Melbourne writer Shane Maloney. Both feature the exploits – misadventures is probably more apt – of political troubleshooter Murray Whelan.

Wenham stars as Whelan, a character with whom he shares a lot in common. Wenham’s a long-standing fan of the books.

“When John (Clarke) first approached me, I was immediately interested,” Wenham says.

“I’ve always liked the books and always felt they would make great telemovies. In many ways (Whelan and I) are similar – disorganised, heart in the right place.”

Wenham, 38, also has flirted with politics. As a boy, he’d accompany his father to Labor Party meetings in Sydney’s Marrickville.

Clarke adapted both stories for the small screen. He also directed the first telemovie, Stiff, and guest stars in The Brush Off.

Neill guest-starred in Stiff, and directed The Brush Off, which screens on Seven on Sunday.

In The Brush Off, Whelan finds himself immersed, not by choice, in the world of contemporary art.

Whelan works for ambitious politician Angelo Agnelli (Mick Molloy) who, within hours of being appointed Minister for the Arts, is stunned to find artists suddenly killing themselves.

Well, that’s how it appears when a body is fished out of the Arts Centre moat, and Agnelli sends Whelan to find out what’s going on.

It’s not long before Whelan discovers the world of contemporary art is seething with corruption, double deals and murder.

Wenham, Clarke says, is the perfect Murray Whelan.

“He understands the character, the flavour of the books and knew what we wanted to do,” he says.

Wenham, in return, heaps praise on Clarke and Neill because they are prepared to trust the actor, and understand the process of acting.

The Sydney-based Wenham is very much the family man these days. He and his partner, actor Kate Agnew, have a one-year-old daughter, Eliza Jane. And though many of his colleagues are trying to make their name overseas, Wenham is happy to pursue his craft in Australia.

“I’m not into moving to Los Angeles,” he says. “The business is different over there. I’m more than happy to work here.”

Certainly, he’s more than happy to work on projects involving Sam Neill and John Clarke.

“These two telemovies have been a terrific experience,” Wenham says. “If the network chose to do more, that would be fine by me. Working with John and Sam has been a joy.

“I hope the viewers enjoy Brush Off as much as they appear to have enjoyed Stiff.”

 The Brush Off, Seven, Sunday 8.30pm

By Robert Fidgeon
September 02, 2004
The Courier Mail