david williamson photo by wolter peeters

David Williamson writing Rupert Murdoch mini-series for American cable TV

Elisa Blake
The Sydney Morning Herald

David Williamson apologises for looking a little haggard.

“I’m absolutely swamped,” the 74-year-old playwright says. “Unprecedented things have happened in my life.”

david williamson sydney
In demand in the US: David Williamson. Photo: Wolter Peeters

It’s not the opening of his latest play, Odd Man Out, at the Ensemble Theatre in Kirribilli. That is the least of the demands on him. Bookings, he notes proudly, are “through the roof”.

No, the real pressure is coming from Hollywood.


david williamson sydney portrait
David Williamson: Believes the next four years under President Donald Trump could be a golden age for playwrights. Photo: Wolter Peeters

Williamson reveals he is working on what could be his highest profile project yet: the screenplay for a mini-series adaptation of Rupert, his theatrical biography of media titan Rupert Murdoch, for American cable television.

In 2014, the Melbourne Theatre Company took its production of Rupert to Washington, DC. Reviews were mixed but it caught the eye of producers who optioned the play for a mini-series.

Williamson assumed he would be writing the screenplay. “Of course, I thought they’d get me to do it,” he says. “I’ve done three before and they all worked. But I didn’t hear anything for ages. So I phoned the producer and asked what’s happening? He said, ‘David, it’s like this, you’re not hot. Hollywood is all under 30’.”

The producers tapped a young writer with credits on the HBO satirical series Veep but it didn’t work out.

“They came back to me and said, ‘we hated what he did’,” Williamson says. “They asked if I could write a 30-page synopsis of my own.”

He initially balked at the idea. “It was an audition so I said ‘no’. But my agent said, ‘Do it, American TV is the best drama in the world right now’. So I wrote a synopsis and it was just what they wanted. They were so pleased they said, ‘have you got anything else?’ ”

Williamson did – a play that might make a good movie. He won’t say what it is other than it is about “seminal moments in human history that almost didn’t happen”.

Hollywood liked that idea too.

“They got back in a couple of days saying, ‘we love it and we want to make the movie’. Now I have two conference calls a week from four producers in Los Angeles offering me script advice.

“We have that script at the stage where it’s about to go out to potential directors. It’s been good for me to go through a really exhaustive script analysis the likes of which never happens in Australia. I think something really good has emerged.”

Williamson believes the next four years under President Donald Trump could be a golden age for playwrights.

“I think a lot of people will gravitate to writing about the rise of the American right,” he says. “I can imagine someone writing an Arturo Ui for Trump just as Brecht did for Hitler.”

But Williamson won’t be writing about the new American president.

“I’ve read a million words on Trump and I’m as politically interested and as apprehensive as anyone,” he says. “But I just don’t know how to handle those big political issues.

“My abiding interest these days is in social psychology, in group dynamics, in the way people try to consciously or subconsciously raise their self esteem or look for love and social acceptance.”

Williamson’s new play focuses on a computer security genius with Asperger’s. It revolves around Alice (played by Lisa Gormley), a woman coming to grips with the possibility that her new husband Ryan (Justin Stewart Cotta) might be on the spectrum.

“I read a hell of a lot on marriages between Aspberger’s men and neurotypical women,” Williamson says. “The struggle to cope can be quite severe.”

The play is a comedy-drama that is serious at heart.

“What I do really is the work of a social psychologist on stage,” Williamson says. “I’m more a psychologist than I am a playwright.”

Odd Man Out has also been sent to Hollywood to see if there’s interest in it as well.

“I thought my LA days were well and truly over,” Williamson smiles. “I might not be hot in Hollywood but at least I’m still lukewarm.”

Odd Man Out opens at Ensemble Theatre on January 24


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