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Ashley Zukerman talks new Easybeats drama

Friday on My Mind writer Christopher Lee and actor Ashley Zukerman on how five migrant kids became the ‘sound’ of Australia in the 60s – and why that’s still relevant today.

Rush and The Code star Ashley Zukerman thinks there’s a potent takeaway from the story of iconic Australian 60s band The Easybeats.

“This is a story of five kids – three from Britain, two from Holland – who met in what was then known as Villawood Migrant Hostel. That's an infamous place to people of my generation,” he says.

“These five migrants became the ‘sound’ of Australia and I think that's a pretty incredible story…

“We are made up of a lot of different cultures and we should look at what those cultures give us – and that is strength. And that is Australia. We'd be well served to think about that right now.”

The Easybeats, whose journey is chronicled in the ABC/Playmaker Media mini-series Friday on My Mind, were one of the first Australian rock bands to crack the charts internationally. The music industry recently paid tribute to The Easybeats’ youngest band member, guitarist George Young, who passed away in October 2017. Young co-wrote hits such as Friday on My Mind and went on to produce for AC/DC, with Jimmy Barnes saying it was “a huge loss for music”.

Screenwriter Christopher Lee says what The Easybeats did in taking Australian music to the world is akin to what Arthur Boyd did for art, Patrick White did for Australian literature and Peter Sculthorpe did for classical music.

“These guys are just as important,” Lee says.

“Because only after these guys do you get AC/DC and INXS and the others. They came in on the shoulders of these people.”

Helping them achieve this level of success was music industry pioneer Ted Albert, who signed The Easybeats and is played in Friday on My Mind by Zukerman.

When Screen News spoke to Zukerman from the set at Enmore Theatre in Sydney, you could hear the muffled guitar riffs of Friday on My Mind from the stage directly above the interview room. Once the cast started performing the whole song, the impersonations were so spot-on it could have been mistaken for a recording.

Zukerman paused mid-answer to shake his head in a kind of disbelief. “They're so great,” he said, pointing upstairs as a thumping reverberated through the ceiling. “That's actually Christian (Byers, who plays frontman Stevie Wright) stamping.”

“It's remarkable. And it's a testament to the wealth of talent we have in Australia that these are pretty much five unknown actors, who can play the instruments and are so perfect for the characters.”

Zukerman himself was that unknown actor when he started out on cop series Rush in 2008 – a show which was coincidentally co-created and script produced by Lee.

Lee says he was thrilled to find out Friday on My Mind would mark a Rush reunion of sorts.

“When I heard he (Ashley) had got the role I jumped up and turned around in circles and cheered,” Lee says.

“What I like is on Rush he was the young guy. He was a neophyte. He was pretty damn good, but he was the junior guy. And we made the first season of Rush in 2008, nearly 10 years ago. Since then he's had a stellar career. So the fact that he's come back to do this is wonderful.”

Lee says it’s been a wonder to step onto the set and see what the actors, director Matthew Saville and the crew have done with his script.

“When you're originating it, you're writing it on the page and you've got the movie (or show) in your head,” he says.

“And then when you see it realized by actors and directors and DoPs it's always amazing. It's always different of course. But in a lot of ways it's better because it's richer and louder and you can see it happening. The writers are creatives, but then you're handing over your baby to directors who know what they're doing, actors who interpret it themselves, and then you when you get to the edit, magic can happen.

“So this bit of the process I really love. I'm very rarely disappointed.”

And for Lee, working on Friday on My Mind was like a trip back in time.

“I was there! I was this young guy. I remember where I was when I first heard ‘She's so Fine’. I was in a car with a girl,” he says.

Lee even remembers writing a piece about The Easybeats back in the 80s when he was a journalist, before his screenwriting career, which has since included The Secret Life of Us, Paper Giants: The Birth of Cleo, Howzat! Kerry Packer’s War and mini-series Gallipoli.

Over the years, when it comes to creative writing, Lee’s process has always remained the same.

“When I was a young journo and wanting to be Ernest Hemingway, I read that he used to write in the morning and then have lunch and then he'd be half pissed in the afternoon. And I thought ‘that's pretty good. I want to be Hemingway, so that's what I'll do’,” he says with a laugh.

So he always writes from 9am until 1pm. Even these days now he lives on a farm (“which I highly recommend to fiction writers”) it’s still the same. And although he’s not in front of a computer or typewriter after 1pm, the writing is still being done because it’s percolating in his mind.

“In the afternoon on a farm you've always got things to do. You've got sheep to drench, trees to plant, and I've found that in the afternoons when I'm not thinking about the work and when I'm just with nature and doing farm stuff, that's when a lot of the heavy lifting gets done in my subconscious.

“So I can I can finish a day's writing at say 1pm-1.30pm thinking ‘I have no idea what I'm going to do with this scene’ and spend the afternoon not thinking about it, then the next day ‘bang’ it's there. It helps a lot. It’s critical.”

Friday on My Mind premieres on ABC on 26 November and 3 December, and will be available on ABC iview.