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WENHAM, DAVID: The Boys

WENHAM DOES VENOM
It's often been said that both the stage and screen versions of The Boys were loosely based on the infamous Anita Cobby murder. Not true, David Wenham tells PAUL FISCHER.

"The play was written nine years ago as a workshop at a Playwrights' Conference in Canberra, then a year later there was a workshop that I was involved with for the Griffin Theatre Company, then a year after that, we went into production. By the time we'd gone into production, it wasn't too far removed from that particular case, so people IMMEDIATELY assumed that that's what the play was about." Wenham adds that the play was written "in response to a series of crimes that occurred all around Australia over a long period of time. In fact it was more based on a family that lived next door to the playwright in the outer suburbs of Perth. So I guess it was either fortunate or unfortunate that the Cobby thing happened, and it's fine, but when we did the stage production, it was soon after that particular crime, and the media circus was huge, so they couldn't see past that."

"I've come across many people like Brett."

Ultimately, however, the role of the unnervingly venomous Brett was a defining moment in the life and career of David Wenham, and a role that immediately brought some exciting new challenges for the young actor. "I could see that he was an extremely complex individual, and the danger with playing something like this is to portray him as two-dimensional Mr Evil, which I don't think is the case. The depths within the character are far greater than just that, and the reasons behind some of the events that unfold in the story are extremely complicated. His emotional range is HUGE, possibly greater than the average person, which I suppose is what makes him a fascinating individual.

"He is extremely charismatic, and capable, on the one hand of intense love, and on the other hand, of the most tremendous violence. So it's the balance between the two extremes within the individual that makes him fascinating." Wenham found it easy to identify with this character. "I've come across many people like Brett."

Since the success of the play, Wenham has always believed that there was a film waiting to emerge, and stuck with the project through it's metamorphosis from stage to screen, to the point where he now serves as the film's associate producer. "That was always going to happen, because I was always convinced that it would make a great film, as long as we added a certain cinematic depth to the material, which I believe we have."

"The film was never about THE CRIME, but the events leading up to it."

The film explores various aspects of family behaviour, of the fragmented family unit, torn asunder over the years. In some ways, Wenham argues, Brett retains an idealised sense of family duty, which ultimately has darker consequences. "I suppose that everything that he does is an attempt to bring this family together as a unit, and in an attempt to create order, he actually goes through a method of creating chaos." Though the film explores what it is that can lead to atrocious violence, one of the strengths of the film, is that the ultimate violent act perpetuated by the brothers is never shown on screen, nor was there ever a temptation to do so. "The film was never about THE CRIME, but the events leading up to it. It was a search, on our part, for understanding. We don't come up with any solutions."

Despite Wenham playing such a dark and chilling character, there's no danger of the actor being typecast; after he all, he recently played a nerdy scientist in Peter Duncan's A Little Bit of Soul. Wenham is riding high now, first co-starring opposite Sigrid Thornton in the new ABC tv series, Sea Change, which he describes "as an awful lot of fun". Next it's off to Hawaii, to work with Peter O'Toole in the new Paul Cox film.

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Australian actor David Wenham, an established member of Melbourne's frenetic theatre scene, seems to have been rediscovered, as it were, through his meticulously chilling performance in The Boys. Wenham first created the role of Brett Sprague, the jail inmate on the edge, recently released from prison after serving a sentence for assault with a deadly weapon and grievous bodily harm. Now back home, he brings with him a coffee table he made behind bars, and a brooding black attitude….

He returns to the suburban family house where he grew up with his younger brothers Stevie (Anthony Hayes) and Glenn (John Polson); they live with their mother, Sandra (Lynette Curran), and her current lover, George (Pete Smith), a Maori who is contemptuously referred to as "Abo" by the boys.

The slow-witted Stevie, whose pregnant girlfriend Nola (Anna Lise) nervously observes the events that unfold, is content to go along with anything Brett proposes. Glenn on the other hand, has made some effort to escape from his environment. His wife, Jackie (Jeanette Cronin), is eager for him to make something of himself, and he has a job, though he takes the day off to celebrate Brett's return. The other key character is Brett's girlfriend

Michelle (Toni Collette), who has waited for him. She's greeted with a mixture of suspicion, hatred and lust. Brett's impotence provokes Michelle's furious accusation that he indulged in homosexual sex while in prison, resulting in one of the film's major confrontations.

Brett is also angered by the fact that while he's been away, someone has stolen his stash from a padlocked locker in his bedroom. He suspects various members of his family, and as the day wears on, and as he gets drunker and more stoned, his rage mounts, even though he declares he is seeking "peace and serenity" for his family.







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