Killing Time with actor David Wenham

Richard Cawthorne (left) and David Wenham (right) on the set of TV series Killing Time. Picture: Craig Borrow.

DAVID WENHAM – his name alone is enough to conjure up some of the most memorable performances.

He sent chills down our spines as the cold-blooded psychopath Brett Sprague in The Boys, and made millions of women go weak at the knees as the irresistibly hunky Diver Dan in SeaChange. This versatile actor has also left his mark on Hollywood, after playing Faramir in The Lord of the Rings trilogy and Dilios, the storyteller, in 300.

The Aussie actor is set to have you glued to your screen yet again in TV1’s stunning new drama series, Killing Time. Wenham portrays Andrew Fraser, the real-life former criminal defence lawyer who made his name representing Melbourne crime figures including Lewis Moran and Dennis Allen.

Ironically, when FOXTEL magazine caught up with Wenham, he had very little time to kill. “Every day is crazy,” he said during the quick chat he managed to squeeze into his hectic filming schedule. “[Working] 12 to 14-hour days isn’t unusual. What is slightly unusual is the fact that on this project I’ve been doing that five days a week for something like 13 weeks. “I don’t think I’ve done a project like this before, where I’m literally in every scene bar about three. It’s a marathon,” Wenham said.

The 10-part drama series has also proved to be an experience where Wenham must run the emotional gauntlet as he takes viewers through the life and times of Andrew Fraser. A man who became rich by helping some of Australia’s shadiest criminals avoid jail time in the high-flying ’80s, Fraser crashed and burned – and wound up in prison himself.

“He’s a man who is extremely intelligent, extremely talented – a formidable lawyer at the top of his field – yet he has a fatal flaw which becomes an addiction to drugs, which causes his downfall,” he said. “I found that interesting, the fact that we follow the journey of a man at the height of his powers, and see how that is taken away from him.”

Prior to succumbing to a $1000-a-day cocaine habit, and ending up in maximum security after being found guilty of drug trafficking, Fraser had a client list that read like a who’s who of Australian crime. He represented everyone from the Pettingill family, who were implicated in the cold-blooded murder of two Victorian police officers; to footballer-turned-drug trafficker Jimmy Krakouer; and even troubled businessman Alan Bond.
“You can’t invent these characters,” Wenham said. “The things they do are seemingly so far fetched and incredible.”

Throughout the series, which is told mostly in flashback as Fraser sits in his prison cell, we meet many of his clients in a production that’s recruited some of our best actors. “We’ve got some wonderful people in there,” he enthused. “We’ve got legends of the Australian screen. People like Colin Friels [who plays Lewis Moran], who’s just wonderful to work with; Diana Glenn, who plays my wife; and then you’ve got Richard Cawthorne, who plays Dennis Allen – an amazing character and Richard has just run with that.”

Wenham’s attraction to the project stemmed from the completely new perspective offered by telling these true-crime stories: not from the cops’ side or the criminals’ side, but from the point of view of a successful defence lawyer. “It’s a totally fresh look on stories and narratives we may be familiar with,” he said. “Fraser sort of straddles both worlds.”

Playing Andrew Fraser also provided a much-needed opportunity for Wenham to take a stroll back to the dark side. “People who aren’t perfect interest me,” he said. “I hadn’t delved into that sort of territory for [a while], and it must have been time to scratch that itch again because when I read the script it was a compelling read. I thought it had the essence of really good drama.”

But perhaps most irresistible, was the chance to drown Diver Dan once and for all. “I think characters like this go some way to debunk that,” Wenham said. “Andrew Fraser is sort of an energetic and charismatic character at times, but he also does some hideous things that I think may appal some people.” “But I like that, because he is a very divisive character,” he said.

This article first appeared in FOXTEL magazine, November 2011.