Alex hits role gold
FOR a young man whose head had every right to be spinning, Alex Williams remained admirably grounded as he shot the title role in Ten’s new telemovie, Underground: The Julian Assange Story.
The 21- year- old ( pictured) won the part of the teenage Assange not long after graduating from the WA Academy of Performing Arts and, barely before he could draw breath, found himself working with artists such as Rachel Griffiths and Anthony LaPaglia.
‘‘ I finished high school and did my audition for WAAPA and got into that and then I finished WAAPA and signed with an agent and my first audition was for Underground,’’ the West Australian says.
Written and directed by Robert Connolly ( Balibo, The Bank) the film, adapted from the book by Suelette Dreyfus, covers the time when Assange and others formed a group called the International Subversives to hack into organisations’ systems. Assange went under the name of Mendax but in 1991 was caught in the act of hacking into Nortel, the Canadian telecommunications company.
He pleaded guilty in 1995 and was fined and released on a bond. But for his disrupted upbringing – Assange has said he lived in 50 towns and attended 37 schools – he would have been jailed.
Assange, who is in the Ecuadorean embassy in London trying to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning on sexual assault charges, is known to be a complex character, but Williams isn’t interested in impersonating his subject.
‘‘ The great thing is that it’s an origin story so I’m not playing Julian Assange as he is now,’’ Williams says.
‘‘ He’s in his 40s now and you learn something in 20 years or so travelling around the world and doing what he does. What I was interested in was what made him the man he is now. What gives him that strength? Where did it come from?
‘‘ And our story, it’s not just people sitting around playing with computers. They’ve got a lot of power and a lot of ego. What they were doing was completely original. In a way they were explorers of a new frontier and they just dominated it – they understood it when most people didn’t. No one is coming to this film fresh, everyone’s got an opinion on Julian Assange already. But very few really know much about his background.’’
Not many young actors on their first major role get to work with artists of the calibre of Griffiths and LaPaglia and Williams is delighted and daunted.
‘‘ Working with people like Rachel Griffiths and Anthony LaPaglia, you have to pinch yourself. I can’t believe that this is the first thing that I get to do. But you’re in there and the best thing you can do is not think about it too much.’’