Having fun around the world

Berlin, Paris, London, Venice, Milan, Hamilton, Cambridge, K Rd. It could be a list of places that don't start with a vow or terrible baby names used by the Beckhams, but that's about as close as the relationship gets for most people.

But not Matt Whelan.

For the Auckland-based actor, it's a list of locations he travelled to during the filming of his new movie The Most Fun You Can Have Dying, due to be released in April.

In 2010, the cast and crew of the New Zealand film spent nine weeks travelling around the world, tracking the story of Michael, a young man dying of liver cancer who "borrows" the money raised by his hometown for specialist treatment so he can live out his last days the way he wants to.

And what he wants includes a trip halfway around the world, an unexpected romance and a bunch of new experiences.

Whelan says making the film was a once in a lifetime experience, but not always an easy one.

"It was so much fun.  It was a dream come true to travel overseas and shoot a film overseas, where I absolutely loved the story and loved the character and loved the people I was working with. It was one of the most incredible experiences ever.

"It was a very challenging role as well.  Very demanding role, lots of long hours shooting and lots of intense character preparation."

The 27-year-old is on the path to becoming a household face, if not name. 

From his haplessly loveable Brad in TV2's Go Girls, to the boy who learned Mandarin for love in the 2011 film My Wedding and Other Secrets, Whelan is popping up all over the place and winning hearts, minds and awards - he won a Qantas Award for Go Girls last year - in the process.

But his role in The Most Fun was a stretch for the 1.9m-tall actor.

"I had to drive this film, and I've never really had to do that before. 

"It's all 'Michael', so that was a huge challenge.  But I could never stop and think about that, because if I did, I would just blow up, I would just freak out.  I had to be in the moment and focus on Michael and on the story"

So playing the leading man is tough, but what about a leading man who is dying? 

Whelan says he did a lot of research - gathering images and music that summed up the character's mood, often revisiting these during the shoot, as well as first-hand accounts of the effects of cancer on those suffering, as well as their family and friends.

But for Whelan, the film, and his character, has a positive outlook, not one of doom and gloom.

"Michael has moments at times, of course, but overall, he's not down, he's all about making the most of the time he has and living life to the fullest.

"It's about living, it's not about dying.  We are constantly reminded throughout the film that he has this disease, and it is taking over, but only at particular points.  [First] and foremost, I think it's about living.  I didn't want Michael to be down on himself. 

"He's a really cool guy, a bit of a rockstar in my mind, really.  He's got attitude and I really loved finding the cool in myself to play Michael, you know?

He credits debut director Kirstin Marcon, who has been working on the film for seven years, for creating the movie he has always wanted to make.

"I knew, reading the script, that it was the film that I've always wanted to make, and then when I saw it I though 'wow, this is it'."

But that doesn't mean he can put his feet up. 

Whelan is currently in L.A. "getting the lay of the land" and looking for what's ahead.

One thing he's not thinking about is what he would do if he was in Michael's position.

"What would I do?  I just don't know.  Michael never would have thought about that, that's the last thing he would have been thinking.  He's a young guy; he's invincible in his head.  I just don't know how I would react."

The Most Fun You Can Have Dying is due to be released in April.

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