David Wenham on why he changed his mind about TV’s ‘Wake in Fright’

David Wenham on set of his directorial feature debut, 'Ellipsis'. 

In the second part of his interview with IF, David Wenham chats about his recent roles in 'Wake in Fright', 'In Like Flynn' and 'Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales'.  

When David Wenham was offered the role of the police sergeant Jock Crawford in the miniseries Wake in Fright he initially recoiled at the idea.

As a passionate admirer of Canadian director Ted Kotcheff’s seminal 1971 movie based on the Kenneth Cook novel he thought the idea of a remake was ridiculous.

Wenham had watched the restored movie twice, at the Sydney Film Festival and at the Chauvel cinema, rating it as a visceral experience and an incredible piece of filmmaking.

However he changed his mind after reading Stephen M. Irwin’s script for the Network Ten two-parter directed by Kriv Stenders.  The producers are Lingo Pictures’ Helen Bowden (The Slap, Devil’s Playground) and Kristian Moliere (The Babadook).

“I decided that not many people in the generations after mine had seen the movie and that contemporary audiences deserve to get an insight into the story,” he told IF. “It will never replace the film and the film can’t be improved.”

The legendary Chips Rafferty played the sergeant in the original in what turned out to be his final film; he suffered a fatal heart attack in Sydney shortly after filming wrapped in Broken Hill, aged 62.

Wenham tried not to think about Rafferty’s portrayal so he could bring a fresh approach to the cop who keeps a watchful eye on young school teacher John Grant (Puberty Blues’ Sean Keenan).

Grant gets stranded in the Outback mining town and endures a booze-fuelled living nightmare, tormented by the locals. The cast includes Caren Pistorius (Offspring), Gary Sweet (House Husbands), Alex Dimitriades (Seven Types of Ambiguity), Robyn Malcolm (Upper Middle Bogan), Lee Jones (The Bastard Executioner), Anna Samson (Winners & Losers), Hannah Frederiksen (Hunters) and Jada Alberts (Wentworth).

Last month the hard working Wenham played Christian Travers, the fictional mayor of Townsville in director Russell Mulcahy’s Errol Flynn biopic In Like Flynn, shot on the Gold Coast.

Produced by James M. Vernon and Corey Large, the film follows the early life of the Tasmanian-born Flynn (Red Dog: True Blue’s Thomas Cocquerel) as he and his friends set sail from Sydney to New Guinea in search of gold. The mayor is the local bookmaker and brothel owner. Other cast members include Callan Mulvey, Isabel Lucas, Corey Large, William Moseley and Clive Standen.

Wenham relished the chance to work with Mulcahy, describing him as a great character and an absolute hoot.

The actor also renewed acquaintance with Johnny Depp on the Queensland set of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. Wenham played a British naval officer, Lieutenant Scarfield, who hates pirates and witches and, like everyone else in the Disney adventure, is searching desperately for the mythical Trident of Poseidon.

The two worked together in Michael Mann’s 2009 crime drama Public Enemies. Depp, he says, is exactly as he seems, a “fun, left-of-field character.”

The actor is looking forward to the Sydney Film Festival where Ellipsis, his feature directing debut, screens on June 8 and 14. 

This is the first time in eight years that he will be in Sydney for the SFF and so will spend a couple of weeks soaking up films.

After that he will head to the Mitchell Library to research and write a movie script which he wants to direct. 

Read the first part of our interview with Wenham, where he chats the making of 'Ellipsis' here.