Mind of a madman
Actor Mal Kennard tells HOLLY BYRNES how he faced up to evil to become notorious killer Ivan Milat
THE scene is set: a darkened room, Mal Kennard sits at a computer alone, exploring the dark corners of the internet late at night.
He’s researching the role of Australia’s worst serial killer Ivan Milat and even now, the actor admits, “some kind of miasma descends on you,’’ a palpable fear he’s not entirely comfortable talking about.
What happens next, Kennard claims, is enough to spook even the most hardened criminal but in reality, suggests the unsettling impact playing Milat – in Seven’s new miniseries Catching Milat – has had on him.
The 48-year-old tells TV Guide he found himself in a chat room, in an exchange with someone claiming to be the man who came to be known around the world as The Backpacker Murderer.
While a spokesman for NSW Corrective Services categorically denied that Milat, or any other prisoner for that matter, has internet access, the online encounter was real enough for Kennard.
“It felt like he was there in the room,” Kennard says.
“There was certainly a sense of that at the time [but] what I was actually afraid of was my imagination, which I think is what people are afraid of... that visceral response.”
It’s true for most who have come face-to-face with the killer that he has a chilling physical presence which Kennard has nailed in this spinetingling TV biopic.
Just who the actor “met” in cyberspace ultimately proved irrelevant to the actor, who used the experience to channel the emotion of it into his performance.
“It was very helpful for me as an actor because I think you have to have some sense of where the audience is at and that gave me a sense that people would have the same reaction, feel the same feelings I was having at that time,” he says.
It’s not the first time he’s “gone dark”, earning critical acclaim for
his intimidating role as drug-addled Victor Peirce in Foxtel’s 2011 crime drama Killing Time and later in Ten’s Milperra Massacre telemovie Bikie
Wars: Brothers In Arms.
But taking on the notorious role of Milat, embodying a public figure regarded as pure evil, clearly comes with some risk to his career, Kennard argues, but a job he found fascinating as a psychological study.
“You put that name [Milat] next to yours and people are going to have an idea, but actually this project is going to dissect through that myth,” he says.
“Human beings get caught up in dichotomies, good and bad.
“What’s good is what people can talk about at dinner parties and in conversation, but we are definitely attracted to the dark side. It’s why this production has been made... people want to know.” Based on the best-selling book Sins
of the Brother (written by esteemed journalists Mark Whittaker and the late Les Kennedy), the two-part biopic examines Milat’s long history of misdeeds well before his arrest, as well as the police investigation which finally caught up with him on May 22, 1994, when his Eagle Vale home, in Sydney’s south-west, was raided by more than 50 officers from Task Force Air.
While many people will think they know this story and the killer, Kennard says there remains “a morbid curiosity” about “how Milat behaves, what’s happening in his life and how they add up to these heinous crimes”.
“How does a person exist doing these things, hiding them, perhaps even hiding them from themselves?” Kennard asks.
“That was the point I started from and the reason I did the job. There are pictures in the book and stories of what Ivan was like as a child and you go, ‘Well, how do you go from this sweet child, with this open face to... ?’
“I really just had a lot of questions and in a lot of ways you just try to answer them as you’re shooting... you endeavour to answer them and hopefully in that attempt, you get to a performance. Well, touch wood.”
SUNDAY, 8.45PM, SEVEN