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David Wenham’s latest role as Eddie in Three Dollars is the epitome of decency, yet the man finds fate unkind to him. Andrew L. Urban talks to the actor who has just played Cyrano on stage and is about to take a break – unless he’s offered the role of van Gogh....

In David Wenham’s words, Three Dollars “is the story of a man who’s married, with a beautiful daughter, a mortgage and with just three dollars to his name. He’s a genuinely good man who tries to live his life in the best way possible and remain true to himself yet due to external forces finds it increasingly difficult to do so; he comes to a turning point in his life. He loses his job and he goes back through the turning points in his wife, to reassess – and he also has to make a decision as to what happens now.

"to be as good a man as he possibly can"

“He’s an admirable character – only yesterday I thought of Polonius’ advice to Laertes [from Hamlet]: to thine own self be true, and Eddie tries to do that, to be as good a man as he possibly can.”

The film’s theme is decency or integrity, something Eddie suffers for in various ways, from losing his job to helping others. Each time he goes to help someone, he pays the price. But in the case of his decency toward one homeless man (Robert Menzies in top form), he is repaid in kind.

“Decency is a perfect word for it, actually, I hadn’t used that word, but it’s absolutely spot on; he’s a very decent man. Not to say he’s flawless…And yes, I do hope it will speak to people. It seems to affect people on an emotional level, and the last 20 minutes does have an effect on people. And it provokes reflection; it needs to be digested.”

He says making Three Dollars was a joy – partly because he was working with The Bank and The Boys team. “It was also terrific to work again with Frances O’Connor who I do regard as one of the great actors, I think she’s amazing, and Sarah Wynter. As for Joanna Hunt-Prokhovnik, she’s the real McCoy, an actor that comes along once in a million. No sign or precociousness, who can access things that you’d think are years beyond her. It was a delight to play on set and create and make this family exist.” Wenham also pays tribute to Robert Menzies’ “beautiful” performance.

"An intelligent actor who never fails to communicate effectively"

An intelligent actor who never fails to communicate effectively, Wenham regards each role he gets as a gift; consequently there is never any cause to complain, even if the work is demanding. Some films have a bigger impact than others, of course, and one earlier role of which he is rightly proud is Father Damien, in Paul Cox’s biopic, Molokai, Based on the life of Father Damien (Wenham), a Belgian priest who volunteered to set up a parish on Molokai, the Hawaiian island home of a leper colony in the late 19th century. His dedication and care changed the lives of the suffering lepers before medication and humanity caught up with their plight. He is not helped by the Catholic hierarchy of Fr Fousnel (Derek Jacobi) or even Bishop Maigret (Leo McKern) and definitely not by Prime Minister Gibson (Sam Neill). 

The film, set in the still existing colony, had such an impact on Wenham – he says you can’t help but be changed by the experience of working amongst the lepers – he’s been back twice. Once with Paul Cox to screen the film to the community. They had to fly everyone in the colony from the base of the cliff to the top for a screening on a makeshift screen. Watching their reactions moved Wenham deeply. He returned a second time on his own for a private visit.

The future is open: in an ideal world, “someone would plop a beautiful script in front me of me and say, here, you direct this.” He’s always on the look out. But not for a while; he’s just finished playing Cyrano on the Melbourne stage, which was “bloody brilliant”, so he’s hoping to have a rest, as soon as promo tasks for Three Dollars are complete. But note for filmmakers: Wenham reckons he’s now the perfect age to play van Gogh.

[Three Dollars was released in Australia on April 21, 2005.]

Published April 28, 2005

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