KERRY Packer was a man everybody knew of and very few people knew.
And that set Lachy Hulme a challenge when he was cast as the late media mogul.
It was well- known Packer could be belligerent.
Lawyer and Federal MP Malcolm Turnbull, who at one time worked for Packer, said that while he could charm the birds out of the trees, he could also be a brute. But for Nine miniseries, Howzat! Kerry
Packer’s War, the story of how World Series Cricket was formed, Hulme concentrated on a different side of the man to get to grips with the character.
‘‘ I broke the story down to an easily digestible concept in my head,’’ says Hulme, star of Beaconsfield and Offspring.
‘‘ For me, it was a lonely rich kid with no friends who starts a secret club called World Series Cricket and when all the bad guys find out that he’s got his secret club, he has to fight tooth and nail to protect his friends.
‘‘ If you’re lonely and you make these new friends, what’s at stake? Everything.’’
The story of World Series Cricket starts with John Cornell ( Abe Forsythe) going to Packer with the idea of a televised one- day cricket match to benefit Australia’s best cricketers who, despite their sublime ability and fame, are paid very little to play.
At that stage Packer has already failed to persuade the cricket authorities to give him exclusive TV rights.
He not only embraces the idea, but expands it to include a series involving the world’s best players, day- night games and far more cameras. It’s a revolution.
Everyone knows that Packer ultimately won the battle. Fewer will remember that initially WSC failed.
Only a few hundred turned up to that first game at Melbourne’s VFL Park in Waverley.
There were long and expensive legal challenges. Packer’s players, particularly in Australia, were declared ‘‘ disapproved players’’. There were plenty of people close to Packer who urged him to cut his losses.
Like WSC itself, Howzat!, from producer John Edwards’ Southern Star stable, is a wonderfully vibrant and colourful production. Hulme captures Packer’s menace and vulnerability perfectly, Forsythe is excellent as the shrewd Cornell who’s not quite sure what he’s got himself into, while Matthew Le Nevez, Brendan Cowell, Damon Gameau, Clayton Watson and Richard Davies as, respectively Dennis Lillee, Rod Marsh, Greg Chappell, Ian Chappell and David Hookes, are brilliantly cast and by coincidence they are all accomplished cricketers.
But at the centre of it all is Hulme’s brooding Packer.
‘‘ Kerry was a complex man,’’ Hulme says. ‘‘ He smoked 80 cigarettes a day . . . and he drank nothing but Fanta, or freshly squeezed orange juice as he called it.
‘‘ We didn’t know that was his name for Fanta [ Nine chief] David Gyngell told us that and if we’d known that beautiful little bon mot, we would have whacked it into the script somewhere.
Kerry hated it when they called it a circus but at the end of the day we all embraced it and Kerry was the ringmaster
‘‘ But most of my research was chatting with my fellow actors, who in many cases met the people they were playing.
‘‘ Mattie Le Nevez, whose hero was Dennis Lillee, would come in with this story about Fot [ Lillee’s nickname] and he’d say, ‘ there was this story about Fot and Kerry one time’ and I’d think, ‘ OK, now I understand a bit about that relationship’.
‘‘ Tony Briggs plays Clive Lloyd and Tony would come in and say ‘ Clive and Kerry would do this and Clive and Kerry would do that’ and again, I’d think, ‘ OK, I’ve got that now’. I’d glean all these stories and it’s a bit like safecracking. You tumble the lock a bit . . . and finally you can open the safe.’’
For Hulme, the key to understanding Packer came in the scene set at his 40th birthday party.
He’s surrounded by the cricketers he has idolised and they present him with a token of their appreciation for what he has done for them.
It’s a hugely emotional moment for the big man.
‘‘ At the party the players give him a bat with their signatures on it. And I said to [ director] Daina Reid, when they give him that bat he doesn’t just say, ‘ hey, thanks for the bat’.
‘‘ In so many ways, this is a 12- year- old boy standing in front of Dennis Lillee, Greg Chappell, Ian Chappell and they’re presenting him with a bat.
‘‘ Clive Lloyd is there, Rod Marsh, they’re all there and these great men produce this signed bat and say, ‘ Kerry this is for you’.
‘‘ For me that was the key scene that unlocked Kerry. I wanted to be able to communicate what was a very simple moment in the script and I said to Daina, just keep the camera on me and we’ll be able to tell the audience everything about Kerry that we want to. And she did.’’
The British press called WSC Packer’s Circus, which infuriated Packer.
But Hulme believes it was a fair description.
‘‘ Initially Kerry hated it when they called it a circus,’’ he says.
‘‘ Greg Chappell told me that. He said, ‘ Kerry hated that but at the end of the day we all embraced it’, because it was a circus and Kerry was the ringmaster.
‘‘ Greg said to me ‘ It was the best two years of our lives, we played our best cricket we had the most fun we ever had and we revolutionised the game’.
‘‘ He said, ‘ If you guys can capture even 10 per cent of the fun we had, then you’ve done your job’.’’