Alex Williams embraces pressure of playing Warnie

He is the 'go-to' guy for TV biopics but with sensitivities, press scrutiny, paparazzi and a beloved character, Alex Williams admits playing Shane Warne may be the toughest yet.

Alex Williams has become the go-to guy for TV biopics which, by his own sums, now tallies 7 including, Underground: The Julian Assange Story, INXS: Never Tear Us Apart, Catching Milat, Brock, Friday on my Mind, Underbelly Files: Chopper.

But playing the title role in Nine’s new Warnie maybe be scaling the most well-known character so far.

“Playing someone like Shane Warne, who is pretty much universally loved in Australia, India and UK there’s a lot of pressure to go through,” he tells TV Tonight.

“But at the same time you want to take on that pressure and obviously, do as good as performance as you can, and honour that legacy. So yeah, there was a lot of pressure going into it but you’ve got to think you’re the man for the job and you can probably do it better than most.”

Even filming of the two part drama had to be kept on the lowdown, with paparazzi keen to snap photos of Williams dressed as the famed spin-bowler.

“It was my first experience of having paps on set”

“It was my first experience of having paps on set so it was a bit of an odd experience, if I’m honest. You don’t tend to get to heaps of that in Australia,” he explains.

“We were shooting in Brighton and people knew that the show was happening, so obviously the paps rocked up to get shots of you. The crew worked really hard to not let that be a factor. They’re doing their job and you’re trying to do yours. So you’ve just kind of got to let it go.”

Written by Matt Ford (Underbelly: Vanishing Act, Informer 3838, Bloom, My Life is Murder) and directed by Geoff Bennett (Underbelly: Vanishing Act, Informer 3838, Bump, Wolf Creek, Harrow), the series dramatises Warne’s life from an ordinary kid from the suburbs who became the best in the world and describes him as “passionate and unpredictable.. a brilliant showman… dangerous, whenever he got the ball” who “battled serious injury and adversity… made mistakes, fell out of favour and fought his way back.”

Williams and his agent chased the role through auditions, sending footage of him playing cricket and referencing his own recollections of Warne as an Australian icon.

“I’ve always loved playing cricket with my brothers and my dad in the backyard. I actually took up cricket  because someone needed an extra ….I’ve kept playing over the last three or four years which helped a lot, actually,” he recalls.

“Leg spin bowling is a completely different artform entirely to how I play cricket, but it definitely gave me a really strong base to work on.”

There was no shortage of source material from which he could draw inspiration including sporting matches, interviews, photos, entertainment, reality TV, radio, podcasts and, presumably, even SMS texts.

“There was probably more content than I’ve had to work off than ever before, playing a real person. That’s obviously a blessing and a curse sometimes, because there was so much, that things started to contradict,” he continues.

“I’m also playing him over quite a few eras”

“I’m also playing him over six different eras. Things would change vocally and mannerisms would change. I had to try and keep that consistent throughout.”

While Williams is already naturally fair, he also put on 8 kilos to achieve the right look for the role.

“He was incredibly powerful and had a body like a discus thrower, really. He was thick through the trunk, strong shoulders and chest.

“There were also plotlines about the diet pills and that kind of stuff. He has talked a lot about his battle with weight gain / weight loss and so I needed to find a body that could kind of go both ways… a bit chubbier when he was younger but then I could sort of realign a little bit and have a more svelte look when he was older.”

“The core relationship of the show is Shane and Simone’s relationship”

Also featuring are Marny Kennedy as Simone Warne, Anthony Hayes as coach Terry Jenner, Jeremy Stanford as Keith Warne, Jacquie Brennan as Brigitte Warne.

“I think the through line really, and the core relationship of the show, is Shane and Simone’s relationship and love for each other. Working with Marny was fantastic, having someone who I already had a prior friendship with, gave us that familiarity really nicely,” he says.

“There’s his relationship with Terry Jenner as well, played by Anthony Hayes, who is a really tough, old school mentor. It’s a really nice representation across multiple generations…the generation before, being much harder and tougher. Then there’s new generation, which he was sort of a part of …the commercialisation of sport, the earring and the blonde hair, the Ferrari and all that kind of stuff.”

Amongst the volatile chapters of Warne’s life is his on-again, off-again relationship with Britain’s own Liz Hurley, played here by UK-born Shanti Kali.

“He said multiple times that she’s one of the loves of his life, and she meant a lot to him. So to have that spark and that energy, post-cricketing career, there were less distractions going on as well. Working with Shanti on that was fantastic.”

Yet Nine has also copped early criticism from both the Warne family, and cricketing fans, for undertaking the project so soon after his tragic death. Mindful of the controversy Williams, who is in almost every scene, admits to staying focussed on his duties as actor and letting others worry about the politics of it all.

“Once you’re in that process of trying to have your head in a script and a book and the research, you don’t really have time to read too much outside that,” he reveals.

“I’ve done a lot of biopics ….this is a little more of a real character piece”

Yet for all the early criticism, there is one aspect of the story he believes rises above the straight bio-pic narrative: what does our relationship with a flawed Warne say about us too?

“That’s what threw me in the script when I read it,” he insists.

“I’ve done a lot of biopics, sometimes it’s just biographical… but this is a little more of a real character piece. It muses on the idea of how things get blown out of proportion, how stories change.

“There’s quite a few bits that (ask), ‘Is this really what happened?’ and talking to the viewer about how stories change. I found that shooting down in Melbourne -where somehow he’s even bigger than everywhere else in the country- you would hear everyone had a story.

“A lot of those stories would contradict each other. So you become bigger than a human, bigger than just a story or just a person. So it’s a comment on that.”

Warnie screens 7pm Sunday and 7:30pm Monday on Nine.

4 Responses

  1. Promos had my mates and I laughing. Looks really cheap and tacky. Any wonder people turn to streaming services when channel 9 serve up this crap. I thought the Paul Hogan wig for that bio was bad…this one is next level horrendous!

  2. They certainly picked the right look alike but imho its just too soon, have some respect. I reckon at least five years after someone passed & with family permission when it comes to biopics anyway.

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