Rob Carlton in Packer mode. Photo: Supplied
WE HAVEN'T seen the last of Kerry Packer, it seems, not by a long shot.
Speaking on the set of Paper Giants: Magazine Wars, television producer Mimi Butler admits there will "definitely" be more instalments once this third chapter in the Packer saga is completed.
"We'd be crazy to stop now; we've only just started," she says. "There are some really good ideas around [for future TV series]."
Would Packer's alleged involvement in bottom-of-the-harbour tax avoidance schemes be one of them? "Maybe. Watch this space."
In Magazine Wars, the focus is the period 1987-97, when Packer's company ACP went head to head with Rupert Murdoch's magazine division in a Princess Diana-fuelled and paparazzi-led bid for the women's market. A sequel of sorts to last year's Paper Giants: The Birth of Cleo, this one has Rob Carlton reclaiming the role of Kerry Packer.
In between, of course, Lachy Hulme played Packer in the massively successful Howzat! Kerry Packer's War. (All three series are from Southern Star, and the work of drama head John Edwards.) The rap for Carlton's turn was extremely positive; for Hulme's tumultuously so. Word on the set is "we don't mention Lachy around here".
Today, the production has moved to the polo field at Werribee Mansion, for a crucial scene in which Packer suffers a massive heart attack while playing. There's a stunt double on hand, but Carlton is quite prepared to do it himself. ''I wouldn't say I ride, exactly,'' he says, ''but I have been on a horse before.''
He's had some polo coaching but this scene is more about his fall than his form, and it's utterly convincing. So much so that director Daina Reid is on the brink of tears as she watches the monitor. "I can't help it,'' she says. ''I always cry when it's great.''
Carlton looks more like Packer than Hulme did, although he had to resort to a $2000 fat suit despite bulking up for the role. "I've put on weight but it all goes to my chin," he says. "I'm normally devilishly handsome."
Hulme stayed famously in character throughout shooting Howzat!, but Carlton does not. In fact, says Reid, "I have to keep telling him to stay in Kerry mode. He's such a nice guy that he keeps running up to the crew between shots to apologise for being so rude."
The focus in this series, which is likely to screen on the ABC in the first half of next year, will be on Nene King (Mandy McElhinney, who played Packer's secretary Rose in Howzat!) and Dulcie Boling (Rachel Griffiths). King and Boling have been consulted on the stories and given them their blessing. "They were both really nervous about their lives being taken to the screen, as you would be," says Butler. There's no right of veto offered to anyone, she adds, but "we try to work with them so there's no surprises".
Making his entrance in this one is Rupert Murdoch (William Zappa), a man whose life would surely be ripe for dramatisation should Southern Star be looking for another franchise.
"Could be. Could be," Butler says cagily. "I can't say anything." She does note that any such series would have enormous appeal in Europe and the United States. There's one problem with a Murdoch series: Unlike Packer he's still around.