Hii better for the experience
SADLY actor Remy Hii knew the history behind his breakout role as executed Australian drug trafficker Van Tuong Nguyen in the SBS miniseries Better Man.
Hii was at the Queensland University of Technology studying human rights the same year Nguyen was sent to the gallows in Singapore.
For the best part of 2005, Hii followed the plight of Nguyen, a 25-year-old Vietnamese-Australian who was caught with almost 400 grams of heroin at Singapore’s Changi airport in 2002.
Even though pleas for clemency were made by the Australian Government, the Vatican and human rights campaigners, Nguyen was hanged on December 2, 2005.
Now Nguyen’s story – his arrest, conviction and death are captured in the two-part miniseries Better Man.
‘‘I remember it being a really tragic and horrible thing to have happened to an Australian citizen,’’ Hii says.
‘‘To be executed alone and denied the chance to hug his family before he died, it’s an incredible personal story.
‘‘It leant an immediate emotional connection to the material and resonated with me heavily.’’
Hii was plucked from relative obscurity to play the main character alongside Australian screen veterans Bryan Brown, Claudia Karvan and David Wenham.
As a graduate of NIDA, it’s Hii’s first mainstream role.
Writer-director Khoa Do handed Hii a pile of research material to read and watch before production started in Melbourne, and Vietnam, toward the end of 2012.
Among the research material were newspaper clippings surrounding the case and DVDs containing interviews with family friends and Nguyen’s lawyers.
‘‘I haven’t had any contact with the family, but we got their blessing for the production,’’ Hii says.
‘‘Being such a recent event it’s still very, very raw for them.’’
Better Man is more than a warning for Australians not to traffic drugs, says Hii.
The story is also heavily based around family loyalty.
Nguyen was believed to have been carrying the drugs in return for money to pay back debts, totalling $25,000, that he and his twin brother had incurred.
‘‘What runs across the whole arc of the story is the notion of family – and what would you do for someone else in your family?,’’ Hii says.
Better Man: Today and Thursday, August 1, 8.30pm, SBS1.