The timeless story of Joseph, told with great attention to biblical accuracy.
WHEN Paul Mercurio was offered the lead role in an $18 million American mini-series, which also ended up co-starring Oscar-winners Ben Kingsley and Martin Landau, he said he'd like first to read the script.
Then, at a meeting with the director, he was asked what he thought.
Mercurio responded that he liked it very much but thought it ended rather abruptly. "Well, Paul," replied director Robert Young levelly, "that's because they've only given you half the script."
After that little glitch was overcome, Mercurio readily agreed.
And although the biblical story of Joseph was one of the toughest projects he'd undertaken, it also provided his proudest moment.
"I came back to Australia finally feeling I was an actor," he says. "I felt like I had actually done something."....
Joseph, he feels, has been a real turning point. First, he worked with actors of the stature of Kingsley, Landau and Lesley Ann Warren, and, by all accounts, held his own. Second, the mini-series was no American prime-time pap - it won the best mini-series section at the Emmy Awards last month.
Yet if that suggests glamour as well as success, Mercurio, 32, is eager to dispel that impression.
The Old Testament story of Joseph, which shows tonight on Nine, was not so much a labour of love, but hard labour under appalling conditions filmed over eight weeks in the deserts of central Morocco.
"The conditions were very hard, dirty, dusty and hot," says Mercurio. "The coldest day was 38 degrees and the hottest was 47 degrees. It was in the middle of the summer and we were in the middle of nowhere.
"My wife had given me some homoeopathy stuff to take while I was there so I didn't get sick, but a lot of people did drop. Some of the extras had to stand in the sun for the filming and a number got heat exhaustion. Never think moviemaking is easy. The glamour only comes later when you see a scene up on the screen, or when a limo takes you to the opening night."
Mercurio had to step into his role almost as soon as he arrived on the set. After 40 hours in the air, he had to go straight away for costume fittings. Then, the next day, he had to film the last scene of the mini-series alongside Landau.
"It was hard, because there had been no time to acclimatise or work with anyone," he says. "And the last scene was quite a long scene." Punishing days that started at 5am and finished at 8pm were quite the norm in the American-Italian-German co-production. Reliving the adventures of the man who rose above the treachery of his brothers and a life of slavery to deliver his people from famine might have been hard enough, too, for someone used to working miracles in the film business, but Mercurio still considers himself pretty much a beginner.
6 October 1995