Never Tear Us Apart: behind the scenes

The band crammed on stage at Bombay Rock are for the most part dressed in identical boiler suits. Little details mark them apart: guitarist Kirk Pengilly has just had his hair dyed black by the band’s manager and it drips down his face under the stage lights; singer Michael Hutchence goes bare-chested, all the better to make the girls at the front squeal when he drops to his knees and arches his back. They may be playing a small dive – they often play two a day, in fact – but they move with a cocksure confidence.

As well they should. It’s 1979 and INXS are fast becoming a tight live act, writing tracks like ‘Just Keep Walking’, which will appear on their self-titled debut album. They are soon to catch the eye of their long-term manager Chris ‘CM’ Murphy, but tonight, as Michael emotes through ‘To Look at You’, it’s teenager Michele Bennett he locks eyes with. She will go on to become his lover and then a lifelong friend – the last person to speak to him, in fact, as depicted in the hotel scene that winds up this two-part drama.

Time Out is on set of Seven’s Never Tear Us Apart at the Espy’s Gershwin Room, which is standing in for Sydney Road’s now defunct venue Bombay Rock. Artful lighting picks out Jane Harber as Bennett in the crowd, while a couple of dozen extras gyrate and bop around her.

It’s a surreal experience. For anyone who’s ever mourned missing a seminal band live in their heyday, being on set with the six actors playing INXS comes a convincing second. Drummer Ido Drent as Jon Farriss is always fidgeting on the kit in authentic sticksman style – in fact, Farriss and manager CM Murphy were insistent on finding an actor who could drum for real. Equally real is the camaraderie between the band members: Drent (Offspring, Shortland Street); Luke Arnold as Michael Hutchence; Andy Ryan (Tomorrow When the War Began, Underbelly: Squizzy Taylor) as Andrew Farriss; Hugh Sheridan (Packed to the Rafters,I Will Survive) as Garry Gary Beers; Alex Williams (Underground, The Reckoning) as Kirk Pengilly and stage actor Nicholas Masters as Tim Farriss.

The actors have been living in the same hotel apartment for nine weeks, going on excursions to the football and the flicks together between set times – not to mention getting perms and hair weaves together.

“When I was young, all I picked up on was Michael Hutchence,” admits Andy Ryan, who, like most of the other actors is in his mid-twenties, “but we discovered people have a really strong affiliation with the individual members of the band; they have their own recollections and stories about them.”

He recalls, “I went to a guitar shop when I found out I got the role, to get some picks. I was playing a bit of the INXS back catalogue, a bit of funk strumming, and a guy said, ‘Oh yeah, I was a roadie for INXS all across Australia.’ He showed me all of Andrew Farriss’ guitars and what Tim Farriss used, and he had a bunch of stories about it. So we’d pick up little nuggets here and there about all sorts of people.”

Seven’s art department have been equally diligent, harvesting old instruments, road cases and clothes that belonged to the band, but even with that and the on-set input of Tim Farriss, the cast and crew know they’ll have to contend with the general public’s sense of ownership of this iconic Australian band.

“I’m not happy with the disparaging way Michael is portrayed in the trailer,” says one fan on YouTube. “I feel extremely dismayed that INXS would do this, especially given that Michael is not here to defend himself.”

“There will be the same views people had on Oliver Stone’s Doors flick – we will never be happy,” reasons another.

And there are other works in production. Dogs in Space director Richard Lowenstein was a close friend of Hutchence and is soon to commence work on a feature film that focuses on the singer’s formative years. American producer Robert Galinsky will base his biopic Two Worlds Colliding on the biography written by Hutchence’s mother and sister.

Never Tear Us Apart keeps it focus on the band as a whole, rather than Hutchence. Part one is a joyride: a flash forward of playing Wembley in 1991, then back to performing on Countdown, supporting Adam Ant in the States, touring the world, and famous girlfriends in Kylie (played by Samantha Jade) and Helena Christensen (Mallory Jansen). In part two, things start to fall apart, with in-band fighting, Michael’s head injury and his fateful relationship with Paula Yates (Georgina Haig).

One thing’s for sure: when the makers of larger-than-life primetime TV dramas take on the truly surreal life of bona fide rock stars, the results are sure to be excessive.

Kerrie Mainwaring: Producer

Having overseen production of dramas including Rush, Puberty Blues, Paper Giants and Howzat, this INXS fan has one speed: fast

Kerrie, why INXS, and why now?
It was Mark Fennessy’s idea – the CEO of Shine Australia. He said to me, “I am going to do INXS, would you come along for the ride?” And so I joined Shine Australia. It was very close to my heart. I am a Northern Beaches girl and I grew up where all the boys grew up. I went to see them as a teenager. My girlfriends and I used to go out dancing to them and now I am making a show on them.

Despite INXS being a Sydney band, you’ve largely shot in Melbourne.
As much as it’s a Sydney icon show, there’s no way we could have shot this there. The locations and architecture that you get in Melbourne is just amazing.

What a find in Luke Arnold, who bears an uncanny likeness to Michael.
It’s quite bizarre how we got Luke. He heard about the project and before there was even a script or casting, he did a self-tape, saying it was a role he’d always wanted.

So how is this the untold story?
Prior to going to script, we spent a day at [INXS manager] Chris Murphy’s property, interviewing him. Then we filmed interviews with all the original band members, because with the early half of the story, there’s no archive or any information on them. If we’d given the script to every single band member, we wouldn’t have made this show because they would’ve all had their two cents worth. So Chris nominated Tim Farriss to be in charge. Tim would say, “We wouldn’t have spoken that way, we would’ve spoken this way…” and it was especially important when were recreating Wembley or the club scenes; getting that right.

A few years ago Chris outlined his game plan for INXS, with the idea that they’d be back in stadiums around now. Do you think he’d see this series as useful promotion?
I hope so. I hope they go back on the road, but they will have to find themselves a singer. As a songwriter, Andrew Farriss has got to be a genius.

Jane Harber as Michele Bennett

The Offspring actress plays Michael’s first love, who he called to his hotel just before his suicide

Jane, how difficult is it playing a character who has kept out of the public eye?
There isn’t a lot out there. There are a couple of photos that I’ve got, and obviously her production company [Cherub Pictures, who were behind Chopper] is pretty successful. There is a luxury to that, because there is this blank slate – more so than with Kylie and [actress] Kym Wilson.

Has it affected you, being involved in this role?
Absolutely – we’re shooting in hotel rooms and places that they’ve played, constantly feeling like there’s that presence.

In your scene today, you clap eyes on ‘Michael’ for the first time.
It’s definitely love at first sight. The scene afterwards is their first proper meeting, because he spotted her once and then she comes back to the next gig. They’re nervous teenagers and there’s that excitement about hooking up with someone for the first time. She had a lot of balls going to the gig by herself and essentially hooking up with him.

Did Michael’s death have an impact on you in real life? 
I was in Year 7 so I remember it as in there being this iconic rock star dying. I remember more Paula Yates and that story – her children and the aftermath of it.

Paula would be a very different character to play.
My take on it is that my character would have known him really well and would have known that his relationship with Paula probably wasn’t that healthy. Michele was such a big part of his life; they were friends for 20 years and she was the last person he spoke to. Hopefully he felt he had a touchstone with Michele that he could go back to. She was out of the scene, she was in Sydney… someone that as just a good friend and an anchor.

You’d never met Luke before, so how are you going to create that chemistry?
He’s a beautiful man, I mean who’s not going to fall in love with him?

Luke Arnold as Michael Hutchence

He’s starred as Lachie Clarke in Winners and Losers and as John Silver in forthcoming pirate series Black Sails. But can this skilled swordsman take on the ultimate pantsman?

Luke, what are some of Michael’s physical tics or mannerisms that you picked up on?
It’s all in the walk. The way Michael carried himself was individual, iconic, confident and sexy. It takes balls to move like that on a daily basis. Most of us Australians try not to draw attention to ourselves but you can’t ignore a gait like that. It took a lot of work to make it my own but once I did, it was hard to let go of. I’d catch myself on the weekend heading down Chapel Street and realise I was strutting.

How do you feel about the 1980s now? Less laughable?
Music from the ’80s has always made up a huge part of my playlist. Some of the greatest bands of all time reached their heights in the ’80s. The fashion does let the decade down, but I have to say, after dancing round in the 70 or so costumes I got to wear on the show, I can see the appeal. I did take my pair of leather pants home once we finished.

What was the toughest scene to act?
Every day had its own challenges but the closer we got to the end of the story, the heavier the responsibility of the role became. It’s one thing to play an icon in his heyday; there is obvious pressure to live up to people’s fond memories. But the greater responsibility is how you handle the darker times and the events that are still emotionally affecting people today. We present the end of Michael’s story with truth and respect but there is no denying he had his share of troubles. The lead up to the end, that last night, was the most intense thing I have ever done as an actor. I was very relieved after we had captured those scenes and I was able to move on.

Eight trivial things you should know about INXS

Arm yourself with these before taking to the sofa with your Never Tear Us Apart viewing mate

  1. Their original band name was the Farriss Brothers. Midnight Oil’s manager Gary Morris suggested INXS after seeing the boldness of the IXL strawberry jam label and trying to come up with a punny name as per British new wavers XTC.
  2. You haven’t heard their debut single: it was released in 1980, it was called ‘Simple Simon’, and it was so lame they didn’t even put it on their self-titled album later that year.
  3. ‘Original Sin’ was recorded in one take by producer Nile Rodgers. The band thought they were just running through a rehearsal. Also, that’s Daryl Hall on backing vocals.
  4. On the Friday beforeListen Like Thieves was to be sent to their record company, producer Chris Thomas insisted that it lacked a killer single and gave the band a day to come up with one. The band wrote and recorded ‘What You Need’ in two days. It became their breakthrough US hit.
  5. You know that they did well in the US, but you may not know just howinsanely well that was. Five albums did platinum or better – The SwingListen Like ThievesKickX and Welcome to Wherever You Are.
  6. Beck recorded a track-by-track cover of the entireKick album in 2010, which he made available through his website.
  7. There have been three proper replacement lead singers since Hutchence’s death: Jon Stevens; Rock Star: INXSwinner JD Fortune; and most recently Ciaran Gribbin. Terence Trent D’Arby, Russell Hitchcock, Jimmy Barnes and Dan Sultan have also fronted the band for performances at various times.
  8. INXS invented the Australian touring festival model with Australian Made in 1986, when they, Jimmy Barnes, Divinyls, Models, the Triffids and several others toured the entire nation doing day-long outdoor shows. They also invented the Australian festival financial model by losing a lot of money in the process.

Never Tear Us Apart airs on Seven at 8.30pm on Sun Feb 9 and Sun Feb 16.