INXS: Are you ready for an old sensation?

By Joanna Hunkin

Thirty years after INXS first topped the Aussie charts, the band is back in the spotlight thanks to the mini-series Never Tear Us Apart. Guitarist Kirk Pengilly talks to Joanna Hunkin.
The cast of INXS: Never Tear Us Apart pose as the Aussie chart toppers.
The cast of INXS: Never Tear Us Apart pose as the Aussie chart toppers.

Q: So just how much involvement have you had in the project?
Not a lot! We did all individually sit down with the writers very early on last year and did a bunch of lengthy interviews with them. I guess as far as the story goes, they relied fairly heavily on the book we put out in 2005.

Tim [Farriss] was involved in being present for pretty much all of the actual shoot. I went down so he could have a break and spent two or three days on set, which was great fun. But it was a concious decision to let one guy in the band look after it. We tend to find if all of us get involved, we've all had Chinese whispers in our heads and everyone will tell a story differently.

Q: Yes, I imagine you've all got a slightly different perspective on what played out ...
Exactly. It was just less complicated than if we were all there going, "nah, nah, nah that's not what happened". At the end of the day, we're all really, really pleased with it.

It's a great cast, great acting and great directing. The way they were able to tie in some of our own, real footage, like Wembley. They literally built that stage set so they could do close ups of the actors and then cut away to the real footage. It was really clever and it's pretty accurate for the most part.

Q: So you were happy with it?
Yeah. I mean, trying to cram over 20 years into three or four hours is pretty hard to do. I personally would have liked it to be a six-part series or something. But anyway, they did an awesome job in two parts.

Q: And how much artistic licence was taken?
Well there was a lot about Tim in it! [Laughs] Really I don't think they took too many liberties at all. There's little things like perhaps some of the vehicles aren't exactly like the ones we had, but that's really superficial. I think what it does get across is the story of how hard we worked and how successful we became at a certain point. I think all of that's pretty on the money.

Q: And is it strange seeing yourself and your life play out on screen like that?
Yeah, it is kind of weird. To a certain extent, a lot of my life is surreal and a bit of a dreamscape anyway. All of that is a memory now. It is kind of weird seeing it, on the other side of the coin, I kind of look at it like I look at my life -- on stage, on tour -- it is like a dream sequence. And now here I am walking around my house in my slippers ...


Kirk Pengilly of INXS.

Q: Yes, that's not very rock 'n' roll.
No! Mind you, they are Versace slippers that my wife stole from the Versace Hotel.

Q: Well, I stand corrected!
[Laughs] But it is weird. We had a bunch of friends come over to watch it when it aired here in Sydney. We put on dinner and there were about 20 of us, neighbours and friends and whatever. In the ad breaks, they'd all turn around and start asking me questions and interviewing me. "Is that what happened!? Did that really happen?". That was weirder than watching it.

Q: And when it did air in Australia, it started a resurgence in the band's popularity. Did that then spark talk of getting back together and heading on tour?
Look, not really, through our own choice. We're not interested at the moment. We may do down the track. It probably would have been a really smart thing to do. I remember around that time and for a while after, all the INXS cover bands were selling out the RSL clubs, and we thought "oh hang on ... ". Maybe it would have been smart to go and cash in on it, but for me, the joy I got from the miniseries was people coming up to me in the street saying "always loved the band but I never realised how hard you worked and how big you became".

I don't think many Australians ever realised how big the band got overseas. We always played that down a bit. It's really nice to know that people know, acknowledge and understand what we did.

The final hours...

Michael Hutchence's last hours have been handled with care and the reason for his death has been left open to interpretation, says actor Luke Arnold, who plays Hutchence in the telemovie.

Hutchence was the voice and face of INXS, when it took the world by storm in the late 1980s and early 90s. He was linked to some of the world's most desirable women, including supermodel Helena Christensen and pop star Kylie Minogue. He also fathered a child (Tiger Lily) with TV presenter Paula Yates, who had been married to Sir Bob Geldof. Hutchence was found dead in a hotel room in November, 1997. The circumstances surrounding his death have remained the subject of debate, although a coroner officially ruled it suicide. Producers chose to tackle the final scenes early in the filming schedule, allowing the cast to cut loose with some of the series' wilder moments. "For me it was an important part of the story," says Arnold.

"I knew it was crucial how we handled that, by getting some of those later scenes out the way early you can let go and have a lot of fun with the early days stuff in which this band partied and enjoyed themselves." He says it was important the final chapter in Hutchence's life was shown with sensitivity. But it was also vital to be true to the series, being promoted as an authentic and uncensored behind-the-scenes look beyond INXS' music.

Who: Kirk Pengilly, INXS guitarist and saxophonist
What: INXS: Never Tear Us Apart miniseries
When and where: Tonight on TV3 at 8.30pm.

- AAP

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