The cameras hadn’t even started rolling on INXS: Never Tear Us Apart when up-and-coming actor Luke Arnold received a poignant reminder of the responsibility that comes with depicting a real-life character, whose memory is still fresh in the minds of those who knew and loved him.
On the first day of rehearsals for the two-part mini-series, in which Arnold depicts Michael Hutchence, the lead singer of INXS, fellow band-member Tim Farriss was on set.
Farriss was visibly upset when Arnold emerged from a dressing-room looking cannily like his late friend.
”Can I tell you something?” he whispered to Arnold. ”You’re not Michael.”
Tears well up as Farriss recalls that first meeting. ”I wanted to say things to Michael,” he says.
Since Hutchence’s death in a Sydney hotel room in 1997 in circumstances that are still open to much conjecture, there has been no shortage of interest from film and TV program makers in a project about the charismatic singer and the globally successful band he fronted.
The consent of the band and its manager, Chris Murphy, was a key factor in greenlighting Never Tear Us Apart.
”There were a lot of obstacles to navigate about who owns what,” says executive producer Mark Fennessy. ”INXS took a huge leap of faith in backing us. They’ve had a lot of approaches over the years, a lot of opportunities for movies and mini-series from all corners of the world. Ultimately, they backed us, which is a big call, given [production company] Shine [Australia] hasn’t done a lot of scripted drama.”
In addition to giving the production the rights to the music, the remaining band members were closely involved. Tim Farriss regularly attended the shoot and offered advice.
”The very first day I could tell he knew nothing about [playing a] bass,” he says referring to Hugh Sheridan, who plays Garry Gary Beers, while Kirk Pengilly lent wardrobe items for his alter-ego, played by Alex Williams, and others to wear.
Mark Opitz, who produced many INXS albums, was also on board.
Fennessy was an executive at MTV when INXS were topping the global music charts in the late 1980s and early ’90s. ”It was an amazing ride, so to see some of that stuff a second time around.
”The concert at the [Myer Music] Bowl freaked me out, because I went to the shows and the minute I went on the set, so many memories flooded back.
”We’re going to make all of Australia remember why they love this group of guys and their music so much.”
While the mini-series doesn’t deal with the circumstances of Hutchence’s death, it is an inescapable part of the story, says director Daina Reid.
”The more I got involved in the story, the more tragic it becomes, because you realise how long they had known each other, the lifelong friendships and connections that are difficult to achieve.
”The more I delved into that part of the story, the sadder it got, but, having said that, our story is quite happy.
”For a band that stayed together that long, there’s a lot of fun to be had and a lot of enjoyment.”
Wilde side: Samantha Jade as Kylie Minogue and Luke Arnold as Michael Hutchence.
While various books have been written about INXS, the starting point for the screenplay was interviews with the band and Chris Murphy. Those interviews were filmed and handed to writers Justin Monjo and Dave Warner to flesh out.
”All the stories had to come from the guys,” says Kerrie Mainwarring, who left her job as head of drama production at Southern Star to produce Never Tear Us Apart.
For 29-year-old Arnold, playing Hutchence is his first lead role.
As well as a background in music, which allows him to use his own voice in rehearsal and song-writing scenes, Arnold bears a strong resemblance to Hutchence.
”Over the years, as I grew my hair out, people would mention the similarity with Michael and that included people who knew him back in the day.
”[Playing him] was always in the back of my head. When the opportunity came, I had to seize it with both hands.”
The Western Australian was working in South Africa when the call for auditions came.
He taped several scenes to land the part.
Although it’s a ”dream role”, he says the pressure was evident from the start.
”I had about two weeks before rehearsals started, so I had time to lock myself away and find his walk, his way of talking, see footage.
”When we got into our first rehearsals and Tim came in and was obviously quite moved, that was a relief.”
It was important that the fictional band look like a bunch of guys who had known each other for years, he says.
Along with Sheridan and Williams, the mini-series includes Damon Herriman (Chris Murphy), Ido Drent (John Farriss), Nick Masters (Tim Farriss) and Andrew Ryan (Andrew Farriss).
”We were put in the same hotel, went out for dinner and within 15 minutes we knew that it wasn’t going to be a problem,” says Arnold.
”There was never a worry of us looking like we didn’t get on. The only worry was trying to rein that in and focus on the scene.”
He hopes Never Tear Us Apart will remind contemporary audiences of how big INXS was.
”They weren’t at the height of their career in Australia when they went overseas and decided to start tackling it over there.
”There were times when that gamble they took to pack up and go to America didn’t pay off and almost left them worse than when they started. They were a little band, a bunch of guys from the northern beaches getting together and taking on the world and they succeeded. I think that’s why it’ll be fun to watch.”
INXS: Never Tear Us Apart premieres on Seven next week.