The West

Packer s action replay
Matt Le Nevez as Dennis Lillee in Howzat! Kerry Packer's War. Picture: Natasha Blankfield.

Afunny thing happened in the office recently. After hanging up the phone to Matt Le Nevez, I turned around to find three female colleagues lurking behind me, eager to know what he had to say.

Le Nevez has attained heart-throb status in the past 18 months for his role as broody Dr Patrick Reid opposite Logie-winner Asher Keddie as Dr Nina in Offspring.

The good news is Le Nevez will be back in Australia later this year to start shooting season four of Offspring. The bad news is he has a girlfriend in Los Angeles, where he is now based.

But back to the good news. A moustachioed and sometimes shirtless Le Nevez will be back on TV on Sunday in Howzat! Kerry Packer's War, playing WA fast bowling legend Dennis Lillee.

The two-part drama is the compelling tale of how Kerry Packer, frustrated at being unable to obtain television rights for the Nine Network, took on the Australian Cricket Board by secretly signing up many of the world's best cricketers for his rebel World Series Cricket, which started in 1977.

Kalgoorlie-born businessman and producer John Cornell (Abe Forsythe), best known as Strop on The Paul Hogan Show, is credited with taking the idea that became WSC to Packer (Lachy Hulme).

It was a risky and expensive gamble that eventually changed the face of cricket and televised sport with innovations such as floodlit matches, coloured uniforms, white balls, drop-in pitches, motorised drink carts and better pay for players.

"He is a freak show, he is not human," said Le Nevez of his friend and Offspring co-star, Hulme.

"What he did for this show is unbelievable and I hope he gets respect for it.

"The very first day he turned up on set amongst many alpha males which we had on our crew, they all turned into pipsqueaks because straight away Lachy just commanded what Kerry Packer commanded and I am very proud of him."

The hirsute Le Nevez had no trouble growing Lillee's famous moustache.

"It is all my own growth. I actually have to shave twice a day on set for Offspring, so it is all home-grown mo. By the end of it I had the moustache envy of everyone else in the crew."

Le Nevez dreamed of being an Australian cricketer but gave up a promising career as a fast bowler when he was accepted to NIDA at just 17.

"I found out I had got into NIDA when I was representing my State as a kid so I gave up one dream to chase another," he said.

Le Nevez hit the nets for a month before filming and said he had a newfound respect for fast bowlers, who are like ironmen in what they put their bodies through.

"My hamstrings feel 15 inches (38cm) shorter, my back is lopsided, I could barely walk for about three days but I got to play Dennis Lillee! And I got to grow a moustache!

"He's an icon, I am even pinching myself to be able to talk about it."

Le Nevez says Lillee had one of the greatest bowling actions of all time and he watched lots of videos and practised for hours in the hope of coming close to replicating it.

"Ray Bright and I analysed his bowling action until we went blue in the face," said Le Nevez, adding that Bright, the former Test and one-day international cricketer and Victorian captain who played WSC and is now a selector and coach, was a "genius" for all the advice he offered the actors including Brendan Cowell who plays another WA legend, Rod Marsh.

The miniseries is directed by WA-born WAAPA graduate Daina Reid, who also directed Paper Giants: The Birth of Cleo and is working on the follow-up, Paper Giants: Magazine Wars.

"I think it is wonderful we are telling our own stories and people enjoy that," she said of her recent work. "It is fun to tell stories that personally for me are in our living memory. That is what I loved about Howzat! - we know all of those people."

Authenticity was paramount in everything from replicating the cricket grounds to the uniforms.

Reid went to great lengths to ensure vision of cricket matches from the 1970s were seamlessly integrated with the material shot for Howzat! by shooting with old cameras that gave a video look.

With so many of the cast already friends off-screen, it wasn't difficult to capture a party mood.

"I would often play music from the era and let them celebrate and just roll cameras to get that stuff and capture the spirit the boys all had," Reid said.

"They loved it." <div class="endnote">


The West Australian

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