Friday, 16 April 2010


This is an article I wrote which will run in the April issue of Cafe Society magazine. Thanks to Paramount Pictures for organising the interviews with two of the actors from Beneath Hill 60, Brendan Cowell and Steve Le Marquand.

The Intercontinental Hotel in Sydney is a far cry from the muddy trenches of Belgium, circa 1916, or even Townsville, QLD for that matter. That’s where, under the direction of Jeremy Hartley Sims, leading man Brendan Cowell spent some eight weeks in 2009, wet and caked in mud, shooting the war drama, Beneath Hill 60. 

Mud-free and his hair grown out from the buzz cut he sports in the film as Captain Oliver Woodward, Cowell, out of uniform and in suit jacket and skinny jeans, recalls from the comfort of a suite at the Intercontinental, those days on set. “The make-up artist said, ‘we can put the mud on you or you guys can just go jump around in the mud; wrestle each other for 10 minutes’, so we just did that.”

Mud is a key feature of Beneath Hill 60, the true story of a group of Australian miners who, in World War I Europe, tunnelled under the German frontline in Belgium to plant explosives which would produce the largest explosion in history, one felt as far away as Dublin and not eclipsed until Hiroshima.

For whatever reason, this tale of daring-do has gone largely unrecognised in Australia, something the film aims to redress. “This is a very complex, fascinating story; a cat-and-mouse game underneath the ground. The fact that they were miners, normal Australian blokes thrown into the most horrific endeavour – it’s mind blowing,” Cowell says. “Hopefully we learn something [from them]. True stories are something Australian audiences are really into and hopefully this [film] will resonate on that level.”

Cast mate Steve Le Marquand concurs. “It’s all there: a good war story, a good romantic back story – all the bells and whistles – and it holds together nicely.” Le Marquand, who plays Lieutenant Fraser, an older, cynical member of the team of miners, is also in awe of what those men endured.

“We did a two-day boot camp a week before we started shooting; we lived in the trenches, ate bully beef, the crackers and all the rubbish those guys had to eat for five years while they were there [in Belgium],” he explains. “It was nice knowing that you were going to go home the next morning and have a nice warm shower and good feed. You can just imagine what it was like for those blokes who had no end in sight.”

Le Marquand is similarly in praise of his director with whom he has collaborated previously. “Jeremy comes from an acting background – he’s a terrific actor – so he knows how to communicate what he wants. There are a lot of directors who are good directors but don’t necessarily know how to communicate with the actors. Jeremy will come up, have a word in your ear, and bingo, ‘I know exactly what you want’.”

Beneath Hill 60 is screening nationally now.

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