Sam Worthington was so entranced with Deadline Gallipoli he turned executive producer as well as actor to tell the tale. By DEBBIE SCHIPP
AS A schoolkid in Fremantle, Sam Worthington was no history buff.
“I didn’t care much about history. I couldn’t see how the past was relevant to the present,” the 38-yearold actor says. That changed when he became involved in Deadline
Gallipoli, Foxtel’s sweeping miniseries marking the 100th anniversary of the Anzac campaign.
Told through the eyes of four war correspondents who defied the censors to tell the truth of the conflict, the story resonated with Worthington. He signed up because it offered new light on a huge slice of Australia’s history and identity.
The fiercely private Worthington has just welcomed his first child – son Rocket Zot with partner Lara Bingle. He did not answer personal questions for this story, but was more accommodating about Deadline
Gallipoli, his creative baby. “We wanted to craft a story whose issues and themes were still relevant to people now,” Worthington says of the role that brought him home from Los Angeles, where his portrayal of Jake Scully in Avatar had launched him into the Hollywood stratosphere.
“This fight to know what we are truly fighting for, the struggle to understand the truth in a sandstorm of propaganda and the faith that war reporters have that they can make a difference hasn’t changed, no matter the geography or time period.” Worthington and the Deadline
Gallipoli production team were determined to give a fresh take on the Gallipoli story, mindful that many before them had chronicled the battle.
“We didn’t want to present a story that was a continual barrage of despair and violence. We all know war is hell,” he says. “If we were going to deliver something, the main objective was to find a unique point of view from which we could tell our story.
“[Producer] John Schwarz realised that everything he was reading and looking at came from somewhere, or someone, and so he started looking into who wrote the articles and who took the photos he found in his research. This was the key and this was the angle that we presented.”
The job of war correspondents at Gallipoli – and indeed covering any conflict at the time – was to write articles which essentially encouraged more men to enlist.
But Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett (Hugh Dancy), Charles Bean (Joel Jackson), Keith Murdoch (Ewen Leslie) and Phillip Schuler (Worthington) found themselves unwilling to be responsible for more slaughter. Instead they began defying the censors and reporting what was before them.
As war photographer Schuler, Worthington ultimately abandons his set-up shots to reveal the images the military big-wigs would prefer were concealed – ironic given his and Bingle’s continuing modern-day war with the paparazzi.
Deadline Gallipoli doesn’t hold back from taking aim at the mismanagement of the Gallipoli campaign, but Worthington is adamant the show “doesn’t aim to lay blame so much as highlight the role that journalists have”.
“You can’t leave the explanation of war up to the warrior himself,” he says. “You have to have independentminded people offering up their opinion of what’s happening.
“And sometimes it’s not just for the archives, it can change the course of
He says the censorship issues war correspondents faced then remain relevant today. “Absolutely. I have always been passionate about war journalists and photographers. James Nachtwey is one of my heroes.
“I love people who try to wake people up to atrocities that we are often blind to. They do not often show war in general, but more the tragedy it has on the single man or family. The events they record should not be forgotten and must not be repeated.
“As they say, ‘They used to be called war photographers, but they are more like anti-war photographers’.”
Juggling the role of executive producer and that of Schuler – a character very different to his recent Hollywood alter egos – was a matter of balance.
“There’s a great balance between producing and acting, and balancing those hats and the characteristics and skills each one requires,” Worthington says.
“The other actors had begun filming before I began. I was at a loss as to the direction I wanted to take [with Schuler]. Here was a man who had a privileged upbringing but found an empathy with the grunts he would film.
“I found that we needed a character who had more humour and that we could use this humour to help serve the character’s journey better than playing him oversentimental.
“I found a character who I could have fun with, a man whose idea of disaster was having his suits creased, or his breakfast served cold. But because of the events that he bears witness to, he learns and understands the true nature of the horrors of war.
“This is a strong journey to play and expose the toll of war without it being maudlin or stodgy.”
The write stuff: From left, Sam Worthington, Joel Jackson, Hugh Dancy and Ewen Leslie.
“Joel was a great find. I have been given many opportunities myself in this industry and Joel had just stepped out of drama school and I saw his passion and integrity and I wanted to help champion that.”
HUGH DANCY: “I had seen Hugh on the show
Hannibal and his commitment to his craft is infectious.”
“Ewen is one of the finest actors Australia has. It’s a crime that he is not well known, but maybe for a man of such chameleonic power, that’s a compliment.”