INXS biopic tells an all-too familiar story

GRANT SMITHIES
Last updated 05:00 10/08/2014
luke arnold
PLENTY OF EXCESS: Luke Arnold says playing Michael Hutchence was a dream role.

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He was, at the end of the day, a charismatic narcissist with a Jim Morrison complex. Arms spread wide like Jesus, leather pants painted on, a second-hand Jagger swagger and, according to one girlfriend, "the Taj Mahal of crotches."

Talent, too, of course. The boy spoke fluent Mandarin. And there's no denying Michael Hutchence could sing. "He was one of the greatest frontmen of all time," reckons young Aussie actor Luke Arnold, who plays Hutchence in INXS: Never Tear Us Apart, a two-part mini-series kicking off this Thursday on TV3.

"People who knew Michael told me he made you feel like you were the only person in the room, whether you were talking to him at a party or he was singing in a huge stadium. He seemed to be a really creative, caring, inventive guy, at the start of his career, anyway. And he never dreamt of being a singer. He was this wannabe poet, and it was only because he became friends with a bunch of musicians at high school that he was suddenly thrown in front of a microphone."

Arnold is in LA, taking a break from shooting another series. As he drives around looking for a place to park, he jokes that he was born to play Hutchence. "Oh, yeah! For me, this was a dream role. Even in high school, I'd joke that if I ever became an actor, this would be the role I'd be called on to play because of my long, curly hair. Whenever INXS came on at parties, I was on the dancefloor, hamming it up. So yeah, it was weird that I really did end up playing him in this story."

Said story will be very familiar, not just to INXS fans, but to anyone who's ever watched a rock'n'roll biopic. We meet a bunch of naïve young dreamers practising in the garage, with tiny audiences yawning into their pints when they play live and their parents wishing they'd get real jobs. Galvanised by the right frontman, they tour their arses off, build a respectable following, go apeshit when their first song comes on the tour van radio.

International stardom follows. Cue sudden wealth, pliant groupies, oceans of booze, snowfields of cocaine. After that- burnout, decline, death.

Comprising three brothers and assorted schoolfriends, INXS started out as two Sydney pub rock bands with the resoundingly unpromising names of Doctor Dolphin and the Farriss Brothers. Once combined, they would eventually become Australia's answer to U2, filling stadiums around the world through the 80s and early 90s with their clipped and shiny dance-rock, selling 30 million records worldwide, playing to audiences exceeding 25 million people in over 50 countries.

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Rich with period detail, Never Tear Us Apart rattles through a checklist of key moments. Blossoming friendships between bandmates. Shabby assignations with Adam Ant's left-over groupies. Hutchence's turbulent affairs with Kylie Minogue, Bob Geldof's wife Paula Yates and Danish model Helena Christensen. A rapid-fire rollcall of triumphs and turning points, shagathons and shouting matches, set against a backdrop of acid wash jeans and stringy mullets, with more bare breasts on display than Woodstock.

There is, sadly, little room for narrative complexity as the makers attempt to cram in every chronological event they considered half-interesting.

Arnold, however, is convincing in the lead role, capturing the sexual magnetism and brooding darkness of Hutchence. As he leaps in and out of the scratcher with assorted hot sheilas, some reviewers have also noted the actor is blessed with a "nice arse".

"Ha! I'm glad to hear that. When your arse gets featured as much as it does in that show, you'd hope it might have a positive effect on people! But yeah, it's a great story. The first two-thirds is more fun, a rock star dream, but then Michael had a terrible bike accident in 1992 that injured his brain, and he was never the same after that. He lost his sense of taste and smell, and became much more moody and depressed. We didn't pull any punches with that side of him, but we also wanted to show there was a cause for it, rather than just fame sending his ego out of control."

The mini-series is billed as "the ultimate story of sex, drugs and rock'n'roll".

What other key themes would Arnold add? "I think it's primarily about friendship between a group of mates who are all going through strange and special times together. The story was gathered from the surviving members, and focuses on their camaraderie as they deal with the blessings and the curse of fame. They could have whitewashed over the bad bits, but I think it was very brave of the band to be so honest about the darker days towards the end."

Of course, the end in question is well known. On November 22, 1997, Hutchence was found dead in his Sydney hotel room, aged 37. The coroner ruled he had committed suicide while severely depressed and under the influence of cocaine, Prozac, Valium and alcohol, though speculation persists that his death was an act of auto-erotic asphyxiation gone horribly wrong.

The film doesn't make a call one way or the other.

Depressed, angry, drunk and pilled-up, his career in decline, Hutchence is depicted in his hotel room, wracked with distress after discovering his British girlfriend, Paula Yates, and their daughter, Heavenly Hirani Tiger Lily, would not be joining him in Australia for Christmas. And then, fade to black.

"I'm really happy with how that was treated. When things happen like Michael's death, it can get ugly.

"People soon can start throwing blame around. But the band made a good choice there, because they didn't pull any punches but also avoided becoming gratuitous with the darkest elements of the story. No one except Michael knows what really happened in his final hours in that hotel room, so we didn't need to go there.

"It's already tragic enough without some TV show trying to bump anything up for dramatic effect."

INXS: Never Tear Us Apart airs 8.30pm on August 14 and 21 on TV3.

- Sunday Star Times

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