Aaron Jef­fery un­der­went a huge trans­for­ma­tion for his lat­est role.

Kiwi ac­tor Aaron Jef­fery plays no­to­ri­ous crim­i­nal Mark ‘Chop­per’ Read in a new Aus­tralian mini-se­ries drama. He tells Sarah Nealon why he rel­ished the role.

The TV Guide - - CONTENTS -

Some peo­ple at­tract the glare of the pub­lic spot­light for all the wrong rea­sons. Mark ‘Chop­per’ Read was one of those peo­ple.

The no­to­ri­ous Aus­tralian crim­i­nal, who died of liver can­cer in 2013 at the age of 58, was a vi­o­lent psy­chopath who spent more than 20 years be­hind bars.

Read, who was known to tell tall tales about his past, had his ears cut off in prison and typ­i­cal de­pic­tions of him in pop­u­lar cul­ture show him heav­ily tat­tooed and sport­ing a mous­tache and gold-teeth fill­ings.

In the 2000 film Chop­per, Read was por­trayed by ac­tor Eric Bana. It was the role that launched the ac­tor’s Hol­ly­wood ca­reer. Mark ‘Chop­per’ Read’s life is now the sub­ject of Un­der­belly: Chop­per, a mini-se­ries star­ring Aus­tralian-based New Zealand ac­tor Aaron Jef­fery in the lead role. Un­der­belly: Chop­per also stars Michael Ca­ton (The Cas­tle, Packed To The Rafters), who plays Read’s fa­ther Keith. Other ac­tors in the drama in­clude West­side’s Reef Ire­land and ex-Home And Away star Todd La­sance. For Jef­fery (Went­worth, McLeod’s Daugh­ters) it was a big un­der­tak­ing which re­quired dras­tic changes to his clean-cut ap­pear­ance. “Well ob­vi­ously I put on weight and there was quite an ex­ten­sive make-up call,” says Jef­fery, 49. “There were 200-odd tat­toos and 15-plus scars and, ob­vi­ously, there are pros­thetic ears and I had some brown con­tacts. “It was just awe­some as an ac­tor to be able to make that phys­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion.” To play Read, Jef­fery gained 25kg which he says was achieved by con­sum­ing “all the things you might have once a

week, you just had ev­ery day, (like) sugar and carbs.”

While the ex­tra body mass helped him get into char­ac­ter, it also af­fected his gait.

“It wasn’t so much the weight, it was the walk be­cause you kind of walk like a pen­guin with your feet splayed out,” he says.

The ad­di­tional ki­los put a strain on Jef­fery’s back and he turned to a chi­ro­prac­tor for help.

Turn­ing up on set each morn­ing meant spend­ing hours in the make-up depart­ment.

“If I had to do full-body stuff, it was like three and a half hours just for the tat­toos and the scars, 45 min­utes for the ears,” says Jef­fery.

“All up it could be four and a half hours and then, ob­vi­ously, I had to get it all off for the end of the day.”

It was a de­mand­ing role for the ac­tor who has three chil­dren aged 15, six and three.

“It was quite a busy sched­ule. We shot two tele-movies in 22 days which is pretty much un­heard of,” says Jef­fery. “So I was work­ing some­times 17-hour days. It was the most full-on shoot I’ve ever done.”

This isn’t the first Un­der­belly role for Jef­fery, who ap­peared in the fran­chise’s 2012 se­ries Bad­ness as a bikie named Frank ‘Tink’ O’Rourke. Co­in­ci­den­tally, he had to gain weight for that part too.

To pre­pare for this Un­der­belly, Jef­fery’s re­search in­cluded read­ing books and meet­ing a prison war­den who spent 15 years with Read.

“I don’t think it’s your stan­dard Un­der­belly,” Jef­fery says of the mini-se­ries. “I guess it’s just a great psy­cho­log­i­cal ex­pose into what makes some­body tick. “It’s got hu­mour in it. And also the fact that he (Read) wasn’t born that way. He was made. That’s a so­ci­etal thing on in­sti­tu­tions and peo­ple’s up­bring­ing and how that can af­fect them mov­ing for­ward.

“He wrote 17 books. He was a fas­ci­nat­ing char­ac­ter and a one off. The prison war­den I spoke to said, ‘I will never meet any­body like that again’. He’s kind of out of the box.”

In­ter­est­ingly, Jef­fery tried out for the part of Read in the 2000 film but lost out to Eric Bana.

“The funny thing is I thought Eric Bana was just a shoo-in for that role and I ac­tu­ally said that to the pro­duc­ers when I au­di­tioned,” re­calls Jef­fery.

Of all the crim­i­nals in Aus­tralia, you can’t help but won­der why there is such a fas­ci­na­tion with Read.

“It’s a beau­ti­ful ques­tion be­cause I’m a Kiwi and there is not re­ally a New Zealand equiv­a­lent is there?” says Jef­fery.

He thinks Aus­tralians like char­ac­ters who are un­der­dogs and a law unto them­selves, like Ned Kelly.

“So there is that real Aus­tralian psy­che, that at­trac­tion to those kind of char­ac­ters and I think Chop­per re­ally epit­o­mises that,” says Jef­fery.

“He was very funny. He was very in­tel­li­gent and he was bru­tal. There is some­thing in the Aus­tralian psy­che in that they are at­tracted to that per­sona.

“This char­ac­ter lived his life with no rules and bucked the sys­tem.”

“If I had to do full-body stuff, it was like three and a half hours just for the tat­toos and the scars, 45 min­utes for the ears.”

– Aaron Jef­fery

Aaron Jef­fery as Mark “Chop­per” Read

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