At my set visit for Howzat: Kerry Packer’s War, the directives from Publicity were pretty clear: there would be no photos of Lachy Hulme as Packer.
The big reveal is being kept under wraps by Nine, as producer John Edwards explains.
“They’ve got a secret plan. Whether it works or not is another matter. They’re working on it right now and they’ll probably try it out on sales people before they try it out on audiences,” he says.
“There was something in the rushes that sparked an idea and it provided a concept for launching the show.”
The casting of Hulme (Beaconsfield, Offspring, The Hollow Men) was a surprise to many, given Rob Carlton was so impressive in ABC’s Paper Giants. Carlton even won a Logie for his performance.
In Howzat! Packer is older, and according to Edwards, front and centre.
“The Kerry that existed in Paper Giants was very much a support character t the character of Ita, but here he is front and centre. It’s a Citizen Kane-like role of a very big man in the centre of big events,” Edward explains.
“We tested Lachy in 4 scenes and frankly, he sent shivers down people’s spines, particularly for those who knew Kerry.
“He promised a huge amount and even though it’s been an extremely difficult journey, it’s very exciting. The light and shade and the complexities that he’s bringing to the character is pretty compelling.”
Watching office scenes with Hulme roaring like a lion it’s pretty evident audiences may have to re-think things.
Hulme is so committed to the part, he’s been known to stay in character even when the cameras aren’t rolling, much to the alarm of the crew.
“We had a disagreement over a scene at the top of our voices and it was just like I was talking to Kerry Packer,” Edwards admits.
“It’s a bit scary.
“From time to time he speaks to people gruffly, and he terrified one poor hotel manager.
“But you get a sense of the passion he has. He put on about 14 kilos to play Todd (in Beaconsfield) then lost it then stacked it back on again to play this. So he really takes it very seriously.”
The two part mini-series, to air later this year, looks at the way Packer reinvented cricket for television in the 1970s, defying the traditions of the game and revolutionising sporting broadcasts forever.
“Cleo was his first triumph, an accidental triumph if you like, because they lost Cosmopolitan and he took a punt on Ita. He saw what was in front of him and he played it and won. But that was sort of more her story than his,” says Edwards.
“This one is very much his story, presented to him by John Cornell (aka ‘Strop’). So there was a sense of the time was right to take a risk. And even though he said he would never bet the whole farm, the truth is he did. So it’s an incredibly big story, entrepreneurially.
“It’s also the birth of professional sport in this country, and in world terms it was the birth of sophistication of coverage of sport on television. The things that David Hill did went to the world. The mikes in the stumps, the number of cameras, the level of the coverage –it was honed and developed here and then Hill took it to the NFL and the rest is history.
“It’s a David and Goliath story because they took on the establishment and won. Taking on the lords of the MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club) was a big target.”
Howzat is written by Christopher Lee and directed by Daina Reed (pictured, centre), both of whom worked on Paper Giants. Reed will also direct the second Paper Giants instalment for the ABC.
Nine CEO David Gyngell was hands on in greenlighting the project and the casting of Packer, Cornell (Abe Forsythe) and Delvene Delaney (Cariba Heine). He also ensured one element of Packer’s family life remained off limits. But Edwards says his support has been enormous.
“I have no doubt at all that this is happening because he wants it to happen. He was the one who rang up at 10:00 Monday morning after Paper Giants and said, ‘I want it!’” he says.
“I’ve never had a more excited or animated network boss go on a commit.
“He was a kid during this and there was one scene when he was there and Delvene Delaney teaches Kerry to dance. So he was at the edge of the whole thing.
“It’s a story very close to his heart and emotions.”
Howzat: Kerry Packer’s War airs on Nine later this year.