Daniel Henshall and Toby Wallace in ‘Acute Misfortune’

Daniel Henshall plays one of the most challenging roles of his career as gun-toting, manipulative and alcohol and drug-fueled painter Adam Cullen in Acute Misfortune.

Yet when the director Thomas M. Wright sent the actor the source material – Erik Jensen’s book Acute Misfortune: The Life and Death of Adam Cullen – four years ago, initially he had his doubts.

“I feared the film would sensationalise Adam and his poor behaviour,” Henshall tells IF from New York, where he now lives with his wife. “He could be very charming but I did not particularly like the character.”

Wright, who co-wrote the screenplay with Jensen, quickly convinced him otherwise, explaining the film would look at issues such as acclaim and identity, toxic masculinity and how deeply troubled people can create great art.

Romper Stomper’s Toby Wallace plays Jensen, who was an ambitious 19-year-old journalist at the Sydney Morning Herald when he was commissioned to write a profile of Cullen, the most prominent painter of his generation.

Cullen falsely claimed he had a contract with a publisher. The writer spent four years on and off with Cullen in an increasingly claustrophobic relationship until the painter’s death. Cullen lied to Jensen, shot him in the leg to test his commitment to the book and threw him from a speeding motorbike.

The artist was a big man so Henshall consulted a dietitian who recommended he go on a vegan diet to put on 15 kg. He then shed 20 kg over the six week shoot on a different vegan diet as the character succumbed to pancreatic cancer.

Thrilled with how the film turned out, Henshall says: “Everything we set out to achieve is in the film. It is bold, unique biographical cinema.”

The actor will come back to Australia to take part in Q&A screenings arranged by Robert Connolly’s Cinema Plus, which start next month.

Plot Media’s Virginia Kay and Jamie Houge produced with Wright’s Black Heath Films and Arenamedia’s Liz Kearney.

Wright says: “Acute Misfortune is the story of a relationship of abandon, warmth and intensity – and of control, tension and violence. It is a literary detective story, about trying to write the truth of another person.”

Daniel Henshall in ‘Acute Misfortune’

Currently he is shooting Defending Jacob, a limited series commissioned by Apple, in Boston, directed by The Imitation Game’s Morten Tyldum.

Based on William Landay’s novel, the thriller follows Andy Barber (Chris Evans), whose 14-year-old son Jacob (Jaeden Martell) is accused of murder. The cast includes Michelle Dockery (Downtown Abbey), Cherry Jones (The Handmaid’s Tale, 24), Pablo Schreiber (American Gods, First Man) and Betty Gabriel (Get Out).

Evans is a big fan of Henshall’s breakthrough movie, Justin Kurzel’s Snowtown. “Chris made me feel very welcome,” he says.

He will next be seen in the Lingo Pictures/Foxtel miniseries Lambs of God, which stars Essie Davis, Ann Dowd and Jessica Barden as nuns on a remote island who kidnap ambitious young priest Father Ignatius (Sam Reid).

Dan plays a local cop who investigates the priest’s disappearance with Father Ignatius’ sister (Kate Mulvany). “I had never seen anything like it on Australian TV,” he says of the comedic drama scripted by Sarah Lambert and directed by Jeffrey Walker. “It sets a new bar for quality and expansiveness.”

The actor decided to make New York his base after starring in all four seasons of US cable network AMC’s Revolutionary War drama Turn: Washington’s Spies. He played Caleb Brewster, based on a real-life officer in the Continental Army who was a member of the Culper spy ring.

His latest movie, Israeli director Guy Nattiv’s first English-language feature Skin, opens in the US on July 26. Inspired by actual events, the thriller stars Jamie Bell as Bryon Widner, a destitute young man raised by racist skinheads who is notorious among white supremacists.

Helped by black activist Daryle Jenkins (Mike Colter), he decides to turn his back on hatred and violence and transform his life. Aussie Danielle Macdonald plays his love interest, single mother of three Julie, and Henshall is Slayer, a member of the vicious Vinlanders gang.

While he is based in NY, he is always eager to return home to work, observing: “There are so many Australian stories to tell and so many brilliant people to do them with.”

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