Q&A with Brock TV star Matt Le Nevez

Matt Le Nevez is one of the brightest stars in Australia, and from Sunday he'll be playing Peter Brock in a dedicated TV miniseries. What's it like re-living the life of the King of the Mountain? Le Nevez chatted to Andrew van Leeuwen.

Q&A with Brock TV star Matt Le Nevez
Brock TV show filming
Matthew Le Nevez as Peter Brock
Peter Brock television show filming
Peter Brock television show filming
Peter Brock television show filming
Peter Brock television show filming
Actor Matt Le Nevez in Peter Brock television show filming
Actor Matt Le Nevez in Peter Brock television show filming
Actor Matt Le Nevez in Peter Brock television show filming
#5 Holden: Peter Brock, Allan Moffat, John Harvey
Peter Brock's Bathurst winning cars
A great tribute to the late Peter Brock
Peter Brock Tribute
Fans remember Peter Brock
Peter Brock Tribute
Peter Brock Tribute
Peter Brock Tribute
Peter Brock
An exhausted Peter Brock
Race winner Peter Brock
Race winner Peter Brock
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MOTORSPORT.COM: You’ve played Dennis Lillee in Howzat!, and now a Peter Brock portrayal is on the way; are you just ticking off a list of great Australian sporting icons to star as? You’re off to a good start…

MATT LE NEVEZ: Yeah! It’s like a childhood dream come true, isn’t it? I grew up playing cricket, as a fast bowler, and I also grew up with a little Brocky toy car, pretending to race at The Mountain.

I’m very lucky, firstly to have a career in this country, and secondly to have now played two of our most iconic sporting stars. I could retire now and be a happy man.

Howzat! wasn’t based around Lillee, but this is all about Peter Brock – was there been a different level of preparation needed to understand how the person and the sportsman worked, in comparison?

Yeah, it was a massive difference. Howzat! was about a movement in cricket, and Dennis did play an integral part to the beginning of it. But the film was really focusing on Kerry Packer.

For this, it was a huge undertaking for me. Every script is different, and every script challenges you to work in a different way, and demands a different approach. This one, it wasn’t only the script we were filming, but also the countless hours of footage you can watch, the numerous books you can read, and the amount of people that he knew and the lives he changed.

I had a few months to prepare for this, and it was overwhelming. I read a lot of books about Brocky, and I had about 500 pages of info about him. I worked my way through it, I started trying to understand motor racing a bit better, I started trying to understand the way that he approached racing, his public and private life, his walk and his talk, all that stuff.

And then we got to day one of rehearsals with the director in Sydney, and he said ‘look mate, we’re making our movie. At some point you have to let all that go’. I had a plan with the walk and talk and the director told me that we weren’t going to do that stuff, we weren’t going to impersonate anyone and cheapen their legacy.

Ultimately, you’ve got five weeks to shoot something that you want to share with the nation. We’re not making a documentary, we’re making a film that we’re trying to get out there. We’re hoping that the motorsport fans tune in and relive some of the magic moments of Peter’s life, but we’re also really hoping that this reaches beyond motorsport. And beyond sport, really. We’re really hoping that this story can reach a whole new generation of Australian viewers who can fall in love with PB – and see how special Australian motor racing is.

We wanted to tell the story from the inside out. There were a few biopics that the director and I watched together, to try and understand the essence of people rather than mimicking or impersonating them. What we’re trying to tell is the man behind the racing suit, a story about his heart and his passion and the sacrifices he made.

We had a lot of support from [Brock car collector] Peter Champion, who was a great supporter of Brocky when he was alive, and now keeps the HDT legacy going. And… I got to watch it last night, and I feel like we might have made a special little project, that will hopefully transcend sport and really share this incredible man with a whole new generation of Australians.

Peter Brock was a sporting icon, much-loved, all that stuff. But he was also a complicated man with some complicated issues. How much has that been explored in the show?

He wasn’t perfect, and a lot of motorsport fans do know that. That is in our story. We really tried to tell Peter’s story, and represent him as a young man climbing up through the motorsport ranks, and then becoming one of sport’s real rock and roll stars. He was a god in this country in the 1970s. And then that all fell apart.

Obviously there is a lot of controversy surrounding his second wife Michelle Downes, and we do touch upon that. But the other thing is, as filmmakers we have to be aware that Peter always denied it, and Bev [Brock] has always denied it. At the same time, Michelle has always made those accusations.

We hope that we’ve represented Michelle in a way where her voice is being heard. And we also hope we’ve represented Peter and Bev in a way where their voice is being heard. He wasn’t charged with one of the controversial issues that was raised. We do touch upon it on the show, but we also don’t accuse anyone, and we also don’t judge anyone.

The other thing is the controversy surrounding the last few years of his life, and we do show the last six months too. But a lot of the people I’ve spoken to who knew Peter say he was quite happy at the end of his life. So we do show that he was happy with Julie in the end.

I hope that the family do get to see this, and do realise that we’re trying to share the man that they loved with a whole new group of people. We’re not trying at all to sensationalise, in any way, his story. And we’re not trying at all to judge him or judge any of them in a way that they’re not proud of.

As I touched on, this isn’t just for motorsport fans. We want the wives, girlfriends, cousins, mums and dads of motorsport fans to watch this. And then we might inspire a young kid to take up motorsport – because as you’d know, motorsport struggles to get on the back page of the newspaper here apart from a few days of the year. We really want to share what an incredible man Peter was, because he conquered the world.

It’s an amazing story about an incredible man who backed his passion no matter what. That’s what is fascinating, for me. This was a guy that went up against GM. That’s unbelievable. And he raced amazing cars.

I was fortunate enough to go to Bathurst for the first time. I’ve been watching it on TV since I was a kid, but it was incredible. To get to go there and meet some of his friends, it was moving. I’m very passionate about this story, and I believe in trying to share his story.

Even though I never met him, I feel like I love him. It’s a very important story to tell, and I feel it’s the right time to tell it. I hope that the family and some of the people who knew him can look beyond the small things, and see in the greater picture that we’re trying to do the right thing. We’re trying to keep his name alive.

Through the process of learning about Peter, did you reach out to other motor racing guys like Craig Lowndes, people that really knew the guy?

I got to know Peter Champion really well, and he knew him in the last 10 years of his life. I’ve met Craig, but it was at Bathurst so obviously he was pretty busy. I met him on the grid, actually.

I’d love an opportunity to sit down with some of those racing guys and watch it with them. I think that would be fascinating, to have a camera and we all sit down and watch it together. Maybe one day we can all crack a beer and celebrate Peter’s life.

I know it will be tough for some people to watch, and I know that Craig was very close to Peter. And obviously it will be tough for the family to watch. I but I hope they all get an opportunity to see this, and really see it for what it is.

Did you get to do much driving through it all?

I did, mate! Obviously everybody asks if we went to Bathurst, and we did. But the thing is that Bathurst doesn’t look anything like it did in the 1960s and ‘70s; not only the pits, but the entire track has changed with the barriers and all that.

So we did a bit of filming there, but we were also lucky enough to have a private racetrack in St Ives, which is an old police ground, where we could use the cars. And we also built the pits out of an old army marching ground in Cattai, where we could replicate the pits from the ‘60s and 70s, and then transition them into the ‘80s before they were completely redone.

Back in the early days, they often drove the cars to the track, so there was a chance for me to do some driving. I got to drive the Monaro from ’69 that he came third in, I also drove the rebuilt A30, two of the Toranas, I sat in the Daytona that they rebuilt, and the VK as well.

Every bloke who will watch this show, and reads your website, will think that they can drive a car fast. And I’ve done a lot of driving. But one thing I realised is that I’m not a scratch on any of those racing car drivers. They are athletes like no others.

That’s one thing I’m really glad I learnt. They are making life and death decisions in the blink of an eye, in a tenth of a second, in a metal cage going down the road at 250 km/h. It’s phenomenal what they can achieve.

So I would drive into the pits, do the pitstop, drive out of the pits – but then we get to see Brocky, on The Mountain, doing his magic and sliding that car around.

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