All guns blazing
Fighting for the role of a lifetime was a no brainer for the boys of Gallipoli, writes Andrew Fenton
“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
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.