Heart-throb to hero
Matt Le Nevez. Picture: Supplied

It's winter in Tamborine Mountain and there's a chill in the air and mud everywhere; on the ground, on boots, on clothes and on the faces of weary Australian soldiers.

"It is beyond ankle deep, the mud becomes your friend until you get clean then you have to go back in it," explains Matt Le Nevez during his lunch break.

"The ladies in make-up have done an amazing job; look at a lot of the lads kicking around here, they look exhausted.

"It's hard to make well fed actors look like war veterans."

We're on the set of Parer's War in Queensland in which Le Nevez plays acclaimed World War II cameraman Damien Parer.

Parer risked his life to bring complacent Australians a truer picture of the conditions faced by our soldiers not so far away in New Guinea.

He was cinematographer for Australia's first Oscar-winning film, Kokoda Front Line! But his story is mostly unknown to the generation of viewers who were left devastated last year when Le Nevez' beloved Offspring character, broody heart-throb Dr Patrick Reid, died after being hit by a car.

"The generation I'm in, we don't know the story of Damien, he was a hero," Le Nevez says.

"He was championed with saving Australia and also telling the true story of these soldiers that were sacrificing their lives for their country and also for their friends and their mates.

"That idea of self-sacrifice and not wanting to be thanked for it is sort of lost on our generation, so to be able to tell this story to a younger generation and learn about it like I have; I think it is a very noble thing the ABC has decided to do."

Producer Andrew Wiseman from Pericles Films, who made the acclaimed Sister of War for the ABC in the same area in 2010, based the telemovie on Neil McDonald's biography Damien Parer's War.

It is directed by Alister Grierson, who wrote and directed the feature film Kokoda, and written by Alison Nisselle, who Wiseman worked with on Curtin.

"We found his story and him utterly fascinating," Wiseman says.

"He was a war cameraman who was arguably pioneering some techniques at the battlefront including use of cinema verite; a man who seemed to be respected by everyone he met.

"He was genuinely courageous and yet a very complex man, a devout Catholic, very tentative with his blossoming romance and courtship with Marie Cotter. So it was these twin elements of a war story and a romantic story that intrigued Alison and myself."

Le Nevez read McDonald's book three times, as well as other material, admitting he was unaware of Parer's story before he landed the role.

"I wasn't actually but as soon as you start to look into it, a lot of the iconic imagery that he has (taken), you go 'I know that shot'. The digger being led across the river who's blinded is one of the most iconic shots in Australian war history or even history.

"Suddenly when you start to dig into the life of this man, it's fascinating, he was such a spirited man.

"I was blown away by his dedication to not only to his craft but his cobbers, his mates and diggers."

Le Nevez lost six or seven kilos to play Parer and spent six days walking the Kokoda Track as part of his research.

Gunfire, or could it be an explosion, suddenly punctuates our conversation.

At a nearby table sit Le Nevez' parents, who have come from NSW to watch their son - who spends much of the year in Los Angeles - at work.

"We're about to blow some stuff up," Le Nevez explains.

"One of the things I remember early from my childhood is watching war movies with my dad, and westerns, and it was always a dream of mine to be in a war movie.

"So now that I'm in one, albeit my gun is a camera, it is still quite an honour. So I did want Dad to come up and visit."

Fans of Offspring might not ordinarily embrace a war movie but Le Nevez, like Wiseman, is at pains to explain Parer's War is also about the difficulties the traumatised Parer had reconciling his war work with life back in Sydney with Marie, played by Adelaide Clemens.

"Even though you're here on a day when there are a lot of men with guns, this is a love story," he says.

"This is predominantly a story about Damien and Marie and it is a beautiful love story with such delicate moments told about two people who were meant to be together but the war is keeping them apart.

"Adelaide is nothing beyond beautiful and the tender moments they share, which happened in real life, people I am sure will connect with.

"This isn't Saving Private Ryan, it is a love story and that's one of the reasons the ABC decided to make it."

Sue Yeap travelled to Queensland as a guest of the ABC.

The West Australian

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