For Axle Whitehead one of the more bizarre contrasts of filming The Wall in Poland was during his downtime.
One day he was giving away thousands of cash filming Seven’s new shiny floor game show.
The next he was visiting Auschwitz concentration camp near Krakow.
“It was a life-changing experience,” he tells TV Tonight.
“(Auschwitz) was not that long ago. And just to see what humans can do to each other…. the men had 9-5 jobs with their wives at home and went to the concentration camp to do their 10 hour shift and went back home. What was going on was just horrific.
“I don’t know a lot about war history, so I just found that fascinating.”
When he wasn’t delving into history, Whitehead was getting up to speed on Seven’s new show, the first show he has hosted in a decade, and the first in the game show genre.
Since he wrapped on Home & Away in 2012, Whitehead has been largely based in the US, scoring a recurring role on both Shameless and Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD. Returning home for Seven he is the smiling host of mega-show The Wall, in which contestants compete for millions of dollars (as much as $12m is on offer).
But with its 4-storey wall resembling a giant arcade game, production took place on one of 3 existing sets (US and France are the other 2).
“It was probably cheaper to fly everyone over there,” he admits when I ask why Seven didn’t construct an Australian set.
“When we got there Russia was shooting their first season. So we watched a bit of that, which was weird. And after that was Romania, Hungary and I think Czech Republic.
“We were kind of on the fly. Everyone was learning it together. When I used to host Video Hits for Channel TEN a few years ago, I was kind of involved in the production side because it was such a small team.”
Describing the production period as “land, rehearse, shoot, get out,” Whitehead familiarised himself with the format playing the game with a DVD in his hotel, prior to set rehearsals.
In addition to a largely Polish crew and interpreters, the crowd comprised English speaking audience & ex-pats.
“So it was an interesting language barrier,” he muses.
“But I had an absolute blast.”
“The contestants ….. are not ‘game-show whores.’”
The US format show has screened in 15 countries, with the US version hosted by Chris Hardwick. In its first episode, a whopping $240,000 was given away to 2 Queensland parents.
“The show is about giving good opportunities to good people. So the contestants are people who do things for the community, maybe face adversity or family struggles, and people who are not ‘game-show whores.’
“Money doesn’t define who they are.”
In addition to its trivia, luck and risk, couples can wager their winnings, sight unseen for much more. Whitehead’s elaborate explanation of the gameplay was accompanied with an assurance that things are much easier to view than to explain.
“At the end of round 3 the person behind the wall has to make a decision whether to sign a contract for the guaranteed amount that they have at the end of round 1 or they can tear it up for what is potentially left on the wall at the end of round 3. But they have no idea what that amount is.”
He also took the view that the show doesn’t trade on exploiting the ‘worthiness’ of ‘bleeding-heart contestants.
“The second episode is 2 cops, where 1 is a detective and the other was the first female to be accepted into the bomb squad. So they don’t necessarily have any adversity, they just do a lot for the community,” he assured.
“We have no control over the balls.”
Finally, with $12m on offer each game, how confident is he of not sending the network bankrupt? Just how fair and balanced is the gameplay?
“I asked all of these questions,” he insists.
“We have no control over the balls. Obviously with the trivia that has to be locked away and verified and that’s very strict.
“But the balls, there is literally no way of controlling them. They weigh 1.5kilos in a bowling ball-shape. Having some of the Channel Seven guys there recording they were (very nervous).
“I was watching the balls behave wondering if there was any way to rig them? But I’ve held them, put them in the chute, seen them drop time and time again, but there is no way.
The Wall returns 7:30pm tonight and continues Sunday & Monday on Seven.