When TV Tonight spoke with David Wenham about the SBS miniseries Better Man, it was the day before he had to film some of the drama’s most harrowing scenes: the farewell between Van Nguyen, his family and legal team.
Wenham (pictured, left) plays Nguyen’s lawyer Julian McMahon, who teamed up with QC Lex Lasry (Bryan Brown) to fight the Singaporean government, which had issued the young Australian with the Death Penalty.
The final scenes with Remy Hii as Van Nguyen are traumatic enough to watch. I had to ask how, as an actor, he prepared himself for such a heavy scene.
“With everything these days I try not to over-prepare, because then you can sort of see it. I try to be relatively comfortable with the material but being completely open so that whatever comes your way you can respond accordingly,” Wenham said.
“I don’t run over lines and have rhythms in my head. I don’t do any of that. I let it all just come.
“I’m someone who is passionately opposed to the Death Penalty so it was a story I was proud to be involved in. Julian McMahon is an extraordinary man, someone who has essentially devoted his whole life to campaigning against capital punishment and being there on the front line. (He had) a client, in this case, who actually succumbed to the Death Penalty.”
McMahon, who is now representing some of the Bali 9, participated in the development of Better Man through director Khoa Do and later met Wenham during shooting.
“Julian came on the set and he’s thrilled with the story being told because right at the moment there seems to be wheels turning in countries to address the issue of capital punishment and the potential overturn in various cases –Malaysia being one, Singapore being another. He thinks this is a terrific opportunity to have a piece of drama going around the world,” Wenham explained during filming.
Remarkably, in the role of Van’s mother Kim Nguyen is Hien Nguyen -real life mother of Khoa and Anh Do.
“She’s amazing. She’s the emotional heart of the story, or Van obviously is, but to see it through her eyes is pretty harrowing.”
Last week a statement from Kim Nguyen was made public stating that she did not approve of the production, but SBS claimed it had sought to act sensitively towards the Nguyen family throughout the production process.
“The work that Khoa has done is pretty incredible,” said Wenham. “As many people as he could have access to, he certainly has. He spent an inordinate amount of time with some of the key characters including Julian and some of Van’s friends who were pivotal to some of the key moments in the trial. He spent time with them and they offered a huge range of assistance. There’s virtually none of it that is fictional. Every strange thing within scenes is completely factual.”
Meanwhile Wenham has also turned his hand to directing in the recent film The Turning, a 17 chapter anthology based on the work of Tim Winton, which has premiered at the Melbourne International Film Festival.
“For many years I’ve been a frustrated director in an actor’s body and a lot of people who I’ve worked with would probably say the same thing. So I’m very excited to do a little bit on The Turning and hopefully I don’t make an absolute botch of it,” he said.
“But regardless of where you are on the ladder it’s all relative. It’s always difficult, no matter who you are or where you are. But having a few runs on the board does make it a little it easier. Having worked with a number of people over the years I’ve stored away in my mind some fantastic approaches to work and little pieces of advice along the way.”
Better Man concludes 8:30pm Thursday SBS ONE.