Hack­ing into the true story

It’s a view of As­sange like you’ve never seen be­fore, writes

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - FRONT PAGE -

TALK about one steep learn­ing curve. In his first role out of act­ing school, Alex Wil­liams plays a teen Ju­lian As­sange in Chan­nel 10’s new tele­movie Un­der­ground.

He works un­der di­rec­tor Bob Con­nolly ( Bal­ibo) and some of the best Aus­tralian ac­tors in the busi­ness. They in­clude Rachel Grif­fiths ( Broth­ers & Sis­ters) who plays As­sange’s mother Chris­tine and An­thony La Paglia ( With­out a Trace, Men­tal) as the de­tec­tive who heads a task­force set up to stop As­sange and his hacker friends.

For ic­ing on the cake, Wil­liams saw the film for the first time­with Con­nolly, cast­mates and an au­di­ence of film lovers at the Toronto Film Fes­ti­val, where Un­der­ground: The Ju­lian As­sange Story had its world pre­miere just a few weeks ago.

‘‘It was a bit daunt­ing re­ally,’’ says the 21-year-old, who calls from Los Angeles, where he has ‘‘meet­ings and script read­ings’’ sched­uled over the next few weeks based on the strength of his role in the film.

‘‘This was de­signed for TV and made for TV on a TV bud­get. Then sud­denly bang, you’re watch­ing it in an IMAX the­atre which is about as big as it gets. It was pretty nerve-rack­ing.’’

Wil­liams says he used the ex­pe­ri­ence as a learn­ing ex­er­cise.

‘‘Toronto is re­knowned for at­tract­ing these large crowds of peo­ple who are re­ally in­ter­ested in film and it was warmly re­ceived,’’ he says.

‘‘There was a Q&A after­wards and there peo­ple were re­ally in­ter­ested about specifics. They threw some real curve ball ques­tions – like had Ju­lian As­sange seen the film?’’ The an­swer, says Wil­liams is ‘‘no’’ ‘‘You know I think he might be a bit busy at the Ecuador Em­bassy in Lon­don right now,’’ he laughs.

Un­der­ground fo­cuses on As­sange’s late teenage years and his role in Mel­bourne’s pre-world­wide web hack­ing scene.

Us­ing the hack­ing name Men­dax, As­sange man­aged to ac­cess elite US mil­i­tary and other se­cu­rity sites in ca­hoots with a loose Aus­tralian brethren in the late 1980s and early ’90s. His ex­ploits at­tracted the at­ten­tion of in­ter­na­tional se­cu­rity bod­ies and he was ul­ti­mately ar­rested in Mel­bourne.

Di­rec­tor Con­nolly says the film is based on a book about hack­ers which As­sange con­trib­uted to as a re­searcher, though there had been some factcheck­ing done with As­sange’s mum be­cause ‘‘there are cer­tain things you want to get right’’.

‘‘Ev­ery­one had seen the film and they wanted to know specifics about Wik­ileaks, hack­ing and the cul­ture of the time,’’ says Wil­liams.

‘‘There are a lot of peo­ple there who were happy to see a film done about tech­nol­ogy at this time and done with a cer­tain level of au­then­tic­ity.’’

For Wil­liams, that in­cluded learn­ing how to play games on an early home com­puter – a Com­modore 64.

‘‘Ever tried to boot a game up on a Com­modore 64? It took me days and I strug­gled. A mo­bile phone from the same time is so big it’s like a club or some­thing,’’ he says.

‘‘The most in­ter­est­ing thing about this film is not many peo­ple know this story . . . what Ju­lian was do­ing when he was aged be­tween 17 and 20. It’s helped me to un­der­stand why he has the vigour to do what he does to­day . . . what made him the man he is to­day.’’

Sun­day, Oc­to­ber 7, 8.30pm, Ten, Ten SC; opens on Oc­to­ber 4.

Jor­dan Raskopou­los, Alex Wil­liams and Callan McAuliffe.

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