All guns blaz­ing

Fight­ing for the role of a life­time was a no brainer for the boys of Gal­lipoli, writes An­drew Fen­ton

Herald Sun - Switched On - - COVER STORY -

“For what seemed like the first time a hush came over Gal­lipoli,” says Tolly (Kodi Smit-McPhee) of the ar­mistice where Turks and An­zacs min­gled for the first time in no man’s land to bury their dead.

Un­for­tu­nately, news of the cease­fire has failed to reach the recre­ational shoot­ers at the Wer­ribee Ri­fle Club next door to film­ing and the crack of gun­fire con­stantly punc­tures ‘the day the guns fell si­lent’. War is hell, but mak­ing tele­vi­sion is of­ten just deeply ironic.

Then again, if you can turn a large mound of earth dug out of City Link’s Domain Tun­nel into a con­vinc­ing fac­sim­ile of Gal­lipoli, a few er­rant ri­fle shots on the sound record­ing are noth­ing to worry about.

Recre­at­ing no man’s land on top of a 20m-high mound in Wer­ribee means rogue gum trees can’t pho­to­bomb the “Turk­ish” land­scape, and al­lows the mak­ers to drop in real footage and CGI into the back­ground. It’s day 25 of a 69day shoot, which has also seen Mt El­iza on the Morn­ing­ton Penin­sula dou­ble for An­zac Cove and Bac­chus Marsh stand in for Shrap­nel Gully.

Harry Green­wood — Hugo Weav­ing’s son — says the cast are en­joy­ing be­ing “in this trench world”. “It’s dif­fer­ent to the first cou­ple of weeks which was mostly spent run­ning up hills in the sun,” he says. “Which was tough.” Based on Les Carlyon’s book, the se­ries is seen through Tolly’s eyes, a 17-year-old who lies about his age to fol­low older brother Be­van (Green­wood) to war. They ex­pe­ri­ence the hor­rors of the cam­paign along­side new mates Dave Klein (Sam Par­son­son from Love My Way) and Cliff Sut­ton (Tom Budge from The Pa­cific).

To­day’s ar­mistice scene, in this week’s sec­ond episode, shows the Turks and Aus­tralians meet­ing face to face, swap­ping pic­tures of their fam­i­lies and shar­ing a smoke. Green­wood says it’s a won­der­ful but “bizarre eyeof-the-storm” mo­ment.

“It’s beau­ti­ful, they’re the en­emy that they’ve been killing for a month,” he says. “How do you con­tinue this farce of a war with­out think­ing what a mon­ster the other side is? They re­alise (the other sol­diers) are not just a tar­get but a per­son with a heart and a brain.”

The main set is com­prised of two 100m-long trenches that snake their way through op­po­site sides of no man’s land. The bat­tle­field is lit­tered with body parts and dis­gust­ingly re­al­is­tic look­ing “corpses”, with hor­rific in­juries and bloated, dis­coloured stom­achs.

The de­tail on the dum­mies is in­cred­i­ble, down to thou­sands of tiny hairs on each arm.

Ris­ing Hol­ly­wood star SmitMcPhee, who’s seen a few fake corpses mak­ing Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and The Road, is im­pressed.

“Oh God, th­ese ones a ter­ri­fy­ing,” he says. “I can never tell if it’s a stunt man or a (fake) dead body. They’re in­sane, that’s all I can say.”

With his ca­reer tak­ing off over­seas — he at­tracted glow­ing re­views at the re­cent Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val for Slow West op­po­site Michael Fass­ben­der — why has he re­turned home af­ter five years in LA?

“I think it’s a re­ally wor­thy thing to come b back for, it means a lot to me,” he says. “The story it­self is very truth­ful, it’s not so much chest pound­ing and pa­tri­otic, it’s more show­ing the real emo­tional side and tak­ing the mask off the sol­dier and look­ing at them in the most tragic times when they’re ter­ri­fied.”

The battle scenes have given the young ac­tor a glimpse into what it must have been like.

“Ev­ery time they have those big ex­plo­sions our ears are ring­ing and there’s shoot­ing and dead sol­diers ly­ing all around us and we just look at each other and go ‘Whoa, that’s the clos­est we’ll feel to that’. It takes you out of your body and puts you in an­other zone.”

On screen, he cer­tainly looks like he’s in a sol­dier’s headspace. The four leads went through a week of boot camp to­gether, learn­ing to march in for­ma­tion, use bay­o­nets and ri­fles. They’ve formed a strong friend­ship which shows.

“From the first day we met we just clicked,” he says. “We were like broth­ers, were al­ways laugh­ing and jok­ing. It feels like we re­ally are the char­ac­ters.”

Pro­ducer John Ed­wards ( Pa­per Gi­ants) says the source ma­te­rial gives it real weight. “I was struck in Les Carlyon’s book by the po­etry of it and the tragedy of the story,” he says.

The only lib­erty they took was that in re­al­ity no sin­gle sol­dier saw the cam­paign from dawn land­ing to the with­drawal.

It’s also partly al­le­gor­i­cal, he says, with Smit-McPhee’s char­ac­ter rep­re­sent­ing Australia’s loss of in­no­cence.

“The fun­da­men­tal point of view is that Australia is a boy in a man’s body thrown into cir­cum­stances be­yond its con­trol,” he says. “We make that metaphor man­i­fest.”

“I can never tell if it’s a stunt man or a (fake) dead body. They’re in­sane, that’s all I can say.”

KODI SMIT- MCPHEE ON THE RE­AL­IS­TIC SET

GAL­LIPOLI, CHAN­NEL 9, MON­DAY, 8.30PM

/ BEN KING

Harry Green­wood and Kodi Smit-McPhee have a taste of life in the trenches.

Kodi Smit-McPhee and Kazim Kane in a scene from the se­ries.

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