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Rewriting an icon: David Wenham on the ABC's 'difficult' Les Norton adaptation



  • **Despite Aussie TV's romantic fixation with tales from our underworld, the ABC's new series Les Norton still seems an unlikely proposition.

    Based on the cult novels of larrikin-lit author Robert G. Barrett, its rabble-rousing lead – a naive Queensland country boy who falls into Kings Cross' criminal '80s – has been described in the past as "a feminist's nightmare, a pacifist's nightmare". The series itself pulls largely from Barrett's earliest collections, short stories originally published in Penthouse magazine in between nudie pics.

    A prestige series based on such PC-challenged, if idiosyncratically "Australian", material may appear a tough sell for our public broadcaster, but Barrett has his champions: the Bondi born-and bred author, who revelled in playing up his outcast reputation among Sydney's hoity-toity literary set, had sold more than a million books across 27 years of writing by the time of his death, aged 69, in September 2012.

    Surprisingly, actor David Wenham was unfamiliar with Barrett's work before taking a gig on the series.

    "I was sent the script to gauge my interest, and it was unlike anything I'd read for a number of years. It was really distinct, it wasn't just another homogenised drama or comedy," he says of creator Morgan O'Neill's take on Barrett's crunchy one-liners.

    "Afterwards I read the first book in the series You Wouldn't Be Dead for Quids (1985) and, you know, it's certainly written for another time. However, I could see what the producers on the TV series were doing with the adaptation. They've been very clever, taken all the good bits from the book and made it a series for a contemporary audience, which is no small feat."

    Set in 1985 in Sydney's criminal underground, Wenham stars as illegal casino operator Price Galese, an old-school mobster who hires fish-out-of-water Norton (Alexander Bertrand) to be his bouncer-cum-standover man. A remarkably detailed set, peppered with baccarat tables and peanut shells, built in the hollowed-out remains of a former children's court in inner-city Glebe, became Wenham's main port of call.

    Like most of Barrett's characters, Galese has a real-world counterpoint: notorious Sydney gambling identity Perc Galea. Wenham says he dove into a rare biography of Galea, who died in 1977, "because it was fascinating reading more than anything else".

    "He was a very flamboyant character that people in the community, in a bizarre way, seemed to revere," Wenham says. "He was well-known in the racing community and punters loved him because he was very open with his tips.

    "There was one famous occasion on the Melbourne Cup, where he was asked on television who he thought would win. Not only did he pick the first past the post, he picked second and third – so punters would just back him... Price, in the series, would regard himself as similarly honourable. As long as people don't cross his line, everything's going to be hunky-dory."

    Around Wenham is a remarkable cast, including Hunter Page-Lochard and Justin Rosniak as Price's cronies, and Rebel Wilson as his nemesis, off-kilter brothel madam Doreen Bognor. But it was relative newcomer Bertrand who most impressed the screen veteran.

    "I thought, well, this is going to obviously succeed or fail on the strength of who they cast in the lead role, because the whole show is on this guy's shoulders, and off the top of my head I couldn't think of anybody who would be the perfect casting choice for it. But when I met Alex for the first time in the production office, I was bowled over," Wenham recalls.

    "Here is Les in flesh and blood. He looks like Chesty Bond. In the very first read-through, I thought: 'Yep, he's got it – he's got the laconic, wry, slightly innocent delivery that Les should have.' Yep, the perfect choice, and he's been a joy to work with. He's taken the opportunity with both hands and just run with it as only Les Norton would've."

    Creator Morgan O'Neill has voiced some anxiety on what the books' fans might think of the creative updates he's taken with Barrett's source material, including gender-flipping Norton's debauched flatmate Woz (played by Kate Box) and Price's casino manager George Burman (played by Pallavi Sharda). Is Wenham anticipating blowback from Barrett purists?

    "Look, who knows... Morgan will have to deal with those aficionados," he laughs.

    "There's obviously huge fans of those books out there, but it would've been very difficult to make a screen adaptation that's completely faithful to the books as they are; I honestly don't think they would've stood up. So I think Morgan's doing them a huge service – he's taken the essence of all the characters, but polished them with a contemporary piece of cloth."

    Les Norton premieres on ABC, Sunday, August 4 at 8.30pm.!**

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  • That's Les? looks a total fuck knuckle

    Typical ABCzeera

    How to totally fuck up good yarns with gender bender PC snowflake Watermelon crap.



  • Meh, Woz was a minor character anyway, seen the shorts for this - looks the goods so far. Last book I read in the series was the one where he goes to Barbados or somewhere in the Caribbean for his usual shenanigans. Good month for Aussie TV/Movies in August. You got this and the new Long Tan movie that I'm dead keen to see at least twice 😉



  • It will be a travesty, having a sheila play a blokes role is just a typical ABCzeera shit for brains decision.



  • Bob Barrett would be turning in his grave.



  • TKL Give it a watch first then pull it apart......Lets face it it, if it was done close to the books the ABC switchboard would of been jammed with complaints of everything from extreme violence to graphic sex.....Hopefully one day if this TV series is a success there will be a few movies made a lot closer to the books.





  • @Drop-Bear said in Rewriting an icon: David Wenham on the ABC's 'difficult' Les Norton adaptation:

    TKL Give it a watch first then pull it apart..

    Fuck it, everything that shit for brains mouthpiece for leftards/snowflakes/SJWs/Watermelons/NPCs/ does is a total and utter hunk of hot cocky cack.



  • @Lizard-King said in Rewriting an icon: David Wenham on the ABC's 'difficult' Les Norton adaptation:

    @Drop-Bear said in Rewriting an icon: David Wenham on the ABC's 'difficult' Les Norton adaptation:

    TKL Give it a watch first then pull it apart..

    Fuck it, everything that shit for brains mouthpiece for leftards/snowflakes/SJWs/Watermelons/NPCs/ does is a total and utter hunk of hot cocky cack.

    I bow to your much more extensive experience with 'hot cacky cack' ... but I'm still going to watch the show 😛



  • @Dread said in Rewriting an icon: David Wenham on the ABC's 'difficult' Les Norton adaptation:

    I bow to your much more extensive experience with 'hot cacky cack' ... but I'm still going to watch the show

    It's passable, gave me a reason to reread all the books.

    First time I have watched any ABCzeera show for 10 years.



  • Last nights episode was a cracker 😉



  • Boys from Binjiwunya was a separate book, not a bloody episode.


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