SITTING quietly in the stands of the Sydney Cricket Ground, Lachy Hulme's Kerry Packer cuts a solitary figure. The day is done, the gladiators have left the stadium and Packer, the media titan who redrew the rules of cricket in the 1970s, is quietly surveying his empire.
The moment, a fragment of the bigger story, serves as a beautiful metaphor for the life of Kerry Francis Bullmore Packer: all-powerful but at times very much alone. Hulme, whose bulked-up frame contributes to a dazzling, almost transformational performance, understands that loneliness well.
''This is the story of a lonely rich guy with few friends who starts a secret club with a secret password,'' Hulme says. ''The club is called World Series Cricket and the friendships he makes out of that are the friends he will have for the rest of his life.''
Howzat! Kerry Packer's War, Hulme says, is really the story of those friendships, forged when Packer decided to create an elite cricket competition against the British ''establishment'' that controlled the sport. ''When word got out that Packer was signing up cricketers, he fought tooth and nail to protect those men,'' Hulme says.
''He put his entire empire on the line, his reputation on the line, and he vowed not to let them down.''
Howzat! owes its genesis, to some extent, to the ABC's critically acclaimed Paper Giants: The Story of Cleo, which dramatised the launch of that women's magazine and the role Packer, then played by Rob Carlton, had in it.
In the wake of that show's success, there was a tug of war between the ABC and Nine, though producer John Edwards concedes Nine's ownership of World Series Cricket footage would have made Howzat! difficult to produce anywhere else.
''[Nine chief executive] David Gyngell was very possessive of this story, not just from a corporate perspective but personally, too,'' Edwards says. ''It happened around him, it became his own personal thing, and he said, 'We're having it.'''
Packaged with historical footage and '70s pop music, it is one of the most anticpated dramas of the year. Hulme, who most recently starred in Nine's Beaconsfield telemovie, pulls no punches. ''[It is] a f---ing great script. I don't often go crazy about a screenplay but the two parts Christopher Lee put together are, for an actor, like a wet dream. There's so much golden dialogue, so much colour and movement.''
And a lot of cricket. In addition to Hulme and Abe Forsythe, who plays Packer's close friend John Cornell, the mini-series stars a slew of actors playing famous cricketers, including Matthew Le Nevez (Dennis Lillee), Brendan Cowell (Rodney Marsh), Alexander England (Tony Greig), Damon Gameau (Greg Chappell) and Clayton Watson (Ian Chappell).
Le Nevez and Cowell both approached Edwards asking to play their childhood heroes. Edwards was surprised, as the cricketer parts are small in the story overall, but was thrilled at their enthusiasm. ''They knew the body language [and] it's terribly important to them,'' he says. ''All of the cricketers except two are or were cricket players. That makes a big difference.''
Their participation also inadvertently opened up the world of World Series Cricket to Hulme, who had won the prized role of Kerry Packer. (Carlton had been in contention but Nine had pushed for Hulme. Carlton will reclaim the role for the ABC's Paper Giants: The Magazine Wars.)
Hulme had read Paul Barry's The Rise and Rise of Kerry Packer but was struggling with the fact that most people's perspective of Packer was coloured by their fear of him.
''Then an interesting thing happened,'' Hulme says. ''As my fellow actors were researching their roles and talking to their real-life counterparts, they started telling me stories about Kerry, and that's how I started finding my performance.''
Packer's role in World Series Cricket is well known; less known is the part Cornell and Paul Hogan played. Cornell, particularly, was instrumental. Hulme was surprised to learn who Packer's close friends were and says it reveals a side of the businessman few people understood. ''Forget about him as a businessman, a tyrant or an entrepreneur, or the man who invented World Series Cricket, and start thinking of him as a an eccentric,'' he says.
Pointing to Cornell, broadcaster Phillip Adams, commentator Richie Benaud, the players and television director David Hill, Hulme says Packer ''surrounded himself with anti-establishment free thinkers, because he was one. He would argue the toss over the smallest details but he loved the battle and the engagement.''
In producing the project for Nine, Southern Star had to contend with Packer's significance to the network. He was the son of Nine's founder, Sir Frank Packer, and by far the most influential person in the network's modern history.
The process could have been tumultuous, Edwards says, but it was not. ''We have a curious relationship [with Nine] that has so far been extremely functional and happy,'' he says.
''They have fundamentally supported our choices. They've been over it but much less intrusive than one might expect.''
Le Nevez sums it up best: ''Channel Nine sees cricket as their baby, and this era especially, not only because it defined the sport but because it also defined the network. Kerry Packer is also a man like no other. For them, to want to tell this story is very special.''
Howzat! Kerry Packer's War
Nine, Sunday, 8.30pm