Q&A: Brock actor Matt Le Nevez
Matt le Nevez talks with Speedcafe.com Editor-in-Chief Gordon Lomas about all aspects of the widely anticipated miniseries on one of Australia’s sporting icons.
SPEEDCAFE: Are you happy with the finished product?
LE NEVEZ: I watched it from about 10 until about 1am last month. I’m usually pretty nervous when I see things and a bit freaked out. Looking at yourself back is always a bit of a challenge but I’m quietly proud of what I saw in my preview.
SPEEDCAFE: Motor racing fans are notoriously ferocious on facts. Will they be satisfied with the production?
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LE NEVEZ: There’s obviously aspects that the true motor racing enthusiasts are going to pick up on like, ‘they aren’t the right gloves or the right car’ but sometimes it’s hard to get everything right like a documentary can.
But we have been able to seamlessly transition some interesting and compelling drama with some beautiful old race footage.
SPEEDCAFE: What were some of the challenges you confronted with this role compared to some of the other projects you’ve worked on?
LE NEVEZ: Every job and every script brings with it their own challenges.
And this brought with it a whole circus of stuff whether its the motorsport enthusiast who loved him or who didn’t love him.
Or the complicated issues with his private life up until his death and also his family.
For me when you are playing a real life person, and I’ve been lucky enough to play a few, I’ve played Damien Parer and Australian war photographer from the second World War, a murderer, Matthew Wales, Dennis Lillee in a telemovie, there is a lot of respect you have to have in telling their story.
And also for their family. That was paramount for me. In this production we were not interested in trying to sensationalise anything.
We are not interested in trying to take advantage of Peter. We are really just interested in trying to share his story and tell it honestly.
When I went up to Bathurst last year I was blown away by the welcome I was given by the family nature and tribal nature of motor racing.
I’ve been watching Bathurst for 20-30 years really but I’d never been previously.
To get to go and get to know the people who knew him and the public who knew him, and the private him and the complicated him and I really thought it was important to tell that story with integrity.
Everybody remembers the first time they met PB. It was sort of the same with Dennis Lillee. People came up to me on the street and said, ‘I remember it was a Sunday afternoon, it was a little cloudy and the wind was blowing.’
SPEEDCAFE: Were there any compromises that had to be made in playing Peter?
LE NEVEZ: Whenever you make a film you always have to make compromises. It’s the nature of film-making. You might have six weeks and you are for example filming the year that he won when its raining. Then you go out to the day when you’ve got the racetrack and its 45 deg and there is not a cloud in the sky.
You have to figure out a way. You can get a rain machine but by the time the rain hits the ground its already dry.
We’ve been lucky enough to get some amazing footage, really unique footage from fans and some quite interesting avenues.
There are certain things we had to make for instance when he first went to Bathurst in 1969, he had a goatee.
That day that I was filming I had a goatee when I started but when we didn’t have the racetrack for the first week of filming we had to shoot some other stuff because one of the other actors had to leave the country where I had to be Peter when he was 45. So you can’t keep the goatee.
If you want to go through and knit-pick, unfortunately when you are making a film it’s not as easy to shoot chronologically and have it that way.
SPEEDCAFE.COM: To maintain the level of integrity during filming, I take it, would have been a constant challenge?
LE NEVEZ: Especially when you’ve got the lead actor going from 27 to 61 years of age. I fought very hard to have the integrity right.
I became difficult on purpose. I became difficult with the director or the writers because I would say PB wouldn’t say that or he wouldn’t do that. There’s no way he would say that.
I really stood up for what he believed in and hopefully that shows. You can’t please everyone but having said that you really want to share his story with everyone.
SPEEDCAFE: Did you touch on some of the personal issues in his life such as in the 1970’s for example?
LE NEVEZ: We have, early on with his second wife Michelle Downes. But in saying that Peter and Bev have always denied it (abuse allegations). And Michelle has always alleged it. So we have her accusing my character of something and we have me denying it.
We are not here to sensationalise or paint the brush in any way. We have certainly tried to be respectful to Peter and Bev and in a way to Michelle and have her represented in a way that her voice is also heard in a little way.
He was never charged so its one of those precarious situations where there’s a lot of rumours floating around and a lot of people approached me and said this, that and the other.
But we are not here to disturb his legacy and piss on his grave mate.
We are here to tell a truthful, honest representation of the time and who he was.
I really wanted to represent him in a way that he might be proud of.
SPEEDCAFE: Has your perception of Australian motor racing changed after playing Brock?
LE NEVEZ: Yeah, it has massively. I see it as a bunch of incredibly passionate people working against the clock with no money most of the time to try and achieve a dream.
That pops up now and then and it still happens to this day. It’s a very tribal, family based industry.
It’s quite fascinating getting to know the way Peter came up and the way that Harry mentored so many people.
Then you hear stories about Dick Johnson and what he achieved. It’s quite amazing.
Motorsport punches above its weight because of the passion of the people.
They (the sport) still fight for the back pages in the newspapers.
Hopefully a project like this will bring it more into the mainstream and leave an impression.
SPEEDCAFE: Did you have much influence from Bev Brock who I think was quite vocal against this production at the beginning?
Bev was talking to the producers every now and then. I know she had her own script as she was looking at trying to develop it with a production company.
When that didn’t happen I think she was a little bit cautious of ours.
The other thing that happened in the last few years of Peter’s life is that Bev wrote a book about him and he didn’t feel quite comfortable with that.
We really wanted to tell his story and she is a huge part of his story and I feel that Ella (Scott Lynch) who plays Bev has done an amazing job.
But ultimately this is his story. Everyone that I know who knew him at the very end says he was also very happy with Julie (Bamford) at the very end. So we’ve tried to represent that as well.
There’s a lot of controversy around Bev and him and the last few years of his life. I’ve really tried to tell his story.
It’s important to continue his legacy and especially now that he’s been gone 10 years last month.
I think Bathurst is going to be a really big event.
Hopefully people can switch over from watching an incredible race and learn a bit more about the man behind the helmet.
SPEEDCAFE: It’s a shame you didn’t meet Brock when he was alive but I guess in some respects you actually have now that you have plunged head-long into playing him in this role.
LE NEVEZ: I feel now that I have met him. I know some people will probably think that will be a ridiculous thing to say. There’s an aspect of me that loves him and loves what he stood for.
Against all odds, against the General he stood up because he believed in something.
A lot of the second part of the film is focusing on him developing HDT and the Brock specials and the Energy Polariser etc.
Looking at it now, it’s quite unbelievable that the man who conquered the mountain and conquered the industry which is very unique, also happened to believe in a spiritual sort of awakening, the crystals and the healing.
You couldn’t script it if you tried.