Gallipoli mini-series brings Anzac spirit to the small screen

Kodi Smit-McPhee as Thomas
Kodi Smit-McPhee as Thomas "Tolly" Johnson in Gallipoli. Ben King

IT'S an overcast, although not particularly cold, day as Jo Ford greets me at Bacchus Marsh.

A sprawling shooting range has been transformed into a trenched Turkish hillside thanks to her vision and the work of dozens of tradesmen.

This is the main set of Gallipoli, Channel 9 and Endemol's multi-million dollar adaptation of Les Carylon's bestselling novel.

Everything down to the soup tin labels has been meticulously researched and designed.

As we walk through a trench Ford explains how the walls giving us that claustrophobic feeling are not going to cave in; they're made from painted concrete for occupational health and safety reasons - a luxury not enjoyed by the Anzacs themselves during the Gallipoli campaign.

 It is a fact not lost on the show's young star, Kodi Smit-McPhee.

The 18-year-old describes the three-month shoot as his most physical role since The Road, the post-apocalyptic film in which he played a boy travelling hundreds of kilometres on foot with his father (Viggo Mortensen).

"There were bombs going off, and shooting; it really puts you in the moment," McPhee tells APN.

Jeremy Lindsay Taylor as Captain Taylor in Gallipoli.
Jeremy Lindsay Taylor as Captain Taylor in Gallipoli. Channel 9

"It's the closest you'll ever really get to what they experienced and yet it's still so far from what it really was.

"When I'm not acting I'm skateboarding or just doing normal things that I love. To think that this was real, that kids my age were going to war and dealing with such things for months on end, really is horrible."

McPhee plays 17-year-old Tolly Johnson, who lies about his age so he can enlist with his brother Bevan.

The brothers, along with their mates Dave and Cliff, are amongst the first troops to land on April 25, 1915 on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Australia's first major military action.

The subsequent 10-month and ultimately unsuccessful battle would define the Anzac legend and help form the identity of the young nations of Australia and New Zealand.

The seven-part mini-series follows the entire saga through the eyes of Tolly, from the first beach landing to the risky evacuation of tens of thousands of Allied troops.

"I've never done a mini-series before," McPhee says.

Harry Greenwood, Tom Budge and Kodi Smit-McPhee in Gallipoli.
Harry Greenwood, Tom Budge and Kodi Smit-McPhee in Gallipoli. Ben King

"Thanks to the scale and Glendyn (Ivin) being the director, it feels like the whole thing has been one big film."

Gallipoli is a rare TV entry in McPhee's feature film career, which is impressive and varied considering his age.

Now based in Los Angeles with his family - his father Andy McPhee and sister Sianoa Smit-McPhee are also actors - the Adelaide native jumped at the opportunity to be part of a series commemorating the Gallipoli Centenary.

"This is something a little more close to home. My friends and family and their families are all going to watch it on TV," he says.

"It's something I can show for why I've been disappearing to America (to further my career)."

Gallipoli debuts tomorrow at 9pm on Channel 9/WIN.

Topics:  channel 9 gallipoli

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