Demanding: Sir Frank Packer (Lachy Hulme, left) stokes the battle for ascension between sons Clyde (Alexander England, centre) and Kerry (Luke Ford, right).You expect to encounter any number of things on the set of Power Games: The Packer-Murdoch Story.
Massive egos, extensive security and nervous network representatives might all be expected around a show portraying the two most powerful media families in Australia. What you don’t count on discovering is love, but it’s there in abundance.
On the day the Guide visits, the three ”Packer” men are presiding over the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron. The scenes being shot focus on Sir Frank (Lachy Hulme) and his two sons, Clyde (Alexander England) and Kerry (Luke Ford), though Sir Frank’s wife, Gretel, pervades proceedings.
In the morning the Squadron is doubling for Long Island, where Sir Frank entered his yacht Gretel in the America’s Cup. Later, the boys will film the scene where they scatter mother Gretel’s ashes.
That death proves a starter pistol for a tussle between the three to rule the roost. ”It’s called Power Games and it’s all about power play between the Packers and Murdoch,” England explains, ”but there are power games going on within the Packer unit and it’s kind of ugly.
”We’ve got dad as the No. 1, Clyde No. 2, Kerry a distant [No. 3],” Ford says. ”That’s where the relationship starts. Then the race begins.
”What you see is a father who makes it a battle between his two sons,” England says, ”And one of those sons is probably a little more apt at that than the other – has less of a penchant for kaftans.”
Beyond Sir Frank’s pitting his sons against each other to become his successor, Hulme sees him as a tyrannical, near-abusive father and ”an incredibly insecure, vain, complicated man”. The resulting contest is less of a two-horse race than a three-way street fight for Packer supremacy as a battle with Murdoch rages.
”You’ve got Sir Frank declining as Rupert ascends,” Hulme says. ”The Packers are incredibly passionate, driven, eccentric, smart people. I call them Australia’s first show-business family.”
”I have been involved in a few Packer stories,” England says. ”The stories keep coming up because they don’t need over-dramatisation. Things actually happen and they’re crazy.”
Off-camera, a noisy seaplane aside, the set is anything but crazy and there isn’t a hint of competition. The respect and affection between these three actors borders on a man crush.
In part, this is no surprise. Producer John Edwards has formed an unofficial ensemble of actors that he draws upon time and again. ”John’s loyal to those of us who put the hard yards in,” Hulme says.
This is Edwards’ fourth series about the Packers in two years and that ensemble has been busy. Hulme played Kerry last year in Howzat! Kerry Packer’s War. England played Tony Greig in Howzat!, then Jamie Packer in Paper Giants: Magazine Wars. Ford is a first-time Packer, but Hulme welcomed him to an expanding club of Kerrys (Rob Carlton, who played Kerry in the two Paper Giants series, being the founding member).
He also shared his extraordinary knowledge of Kerry. Fortuitously so, as Ford finished up his previous project only three days before shooting began, so had little time to prepare. ”I had Lachy,” Ford answers when asked about research. ”I’d give him 300 bucks for his mind. That’s how much an encyclopaedia is worth.”
Not that Hulme didn’t give Ford a bit of a hard time. ”The first couple of days he’d go, ‘Nuh, Kerry wouldn’t do that’; ‘Yep, Kerry’d do that’,” Ford recalls. ”Now he’s either surrendered to the fact that I can’t do it or he thinks I can.”
”It’d be daunting for Luke to come on board,” Hulme says. ”Kerry Packer’s a daunting role full stop, but to be working with the guy who’s just done it! So Luke’s in the crazy-brave mould of individuals.”
Hulme’s extensive research to play Kerry nearly prevented him taking this role.
”I was very resistant to getting involved at all,” he admits. ”The bad aspects of Kerry Packer’s behaviour, the way I played him, that was informed by his father. So I did a lot of reading about Sir Frank when I was getting ready to play Kerry and I didn’t find a lot to recommend Sir Frank Packer as a human being.”
Ultimately he decided to ”man up and figure out how to do it”. ”So it becomes a problem that needs to be solved to play a guy like this. Once I got excited about that, about solving the problem of Frank Packer, then it’s a reason to get out of bed in the morning.”
And he was keen to pass on the torch, metaphorically and literally.
The smoking actor cradles a 24-carat Dupont lighter. ”They gave that to me as my gift at the end of Howzat! because that’s what we used as Kerry’s lighter,” he says. ”So I thought to myself, ‘Since his father Sir Frank was a heavy smoker as well, we’ll get it in there somehow’. So this appears a lot.
”I said to Luke, ‘You should end up with this at the end so it links. It’s the journey of the lighter’. And Luke, with his wicked imagination, decided, well, Sir Frank would never give it to Kerry; Kerry would just take it. That features heavily in one of the last sequences.
”For all the internet nerds out there writing their Packer blog … keep your eye on the lighter.”
Power Games: The Packer-Murdoch Story, Nine, Sunday, 8.30pm.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.