Some roles are simply meant to be, says actor Matt Le Nevez.
In November, 2016, the 40-year-old former star of Offspring found himself in the African city of Kahama, near the Congolese border in Tanzania, working on a project assisting a town transitioning from an economy powered by gold mining to one of sustainable farming.
Matt Le Nevez and Asher Keddie.Credit:actsally.pryor
Just weeks earlier, in his son's bedroom in Los Angeles, he had sent off an audition tape for a role in the Amazon drama The Widow, about a woman who is drawn into a cat-and-mouse-style thriller when she glimpses her what seems to be her husband, who she believes had died two years earlier in a plane crash in Africa, during a live news broadcast.
"I flew six flights to get to this particular gold mine, all the way up near Kahama, near the Congo border," Le Nevez says. "I landed and I got a phone call from my agent saying, mate, you need to call me I've got some good news. So I got the role [in The Widow] while I was only a hundred kilometres from the Congo border myself, which is kind of crazy."
Matt Le Nevez in The Widow.Credit:Coco Van Oppens
The series stars Kate Beckinsale as Georgia Wells, "the widow", and Le Nevez as her perhaps not-so-late husband, Will Mason. As the eight-part drama unfolds, Will is seen in flashback, to seemingly happier times in the couple's past, though it seems inevitable that he will make a dramatic return to the present.
Landing in Kinhasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Georgia teams up with African journalist Emmanuel Kazadi (Jacky Ido), who lost his wife in the plane crash that was assumed to have killed Will. She also reconnects with Judith Gray (Alex Kingston), an aid worker who was close friends with Will and who, like many characters in the narrative, leaves you with the lingering feeling she is not what she seems.
The series comes to television with a very high pedigree: it was written by Harry and Jack Williams, the sibling partnership responsible for two critically acclaimed television thrillers, The Missing and Liar, and it is directed by Sam Donovan (Skins, Humans) and Olly Blackburn (Victoria).
The Williams brothers have an unusually tight writing relationship, and specialise in edge-of-your-seat thrillers.
The narrative of The Widow is told in the present day and in flashback to what seem like happier times for the couple. Credit:Coco Van Oppens
"I think they like the mystery that surrounds that," Le Nevez says of working with the pair. "I know some of the other actors and producers were not sure what part of plotting Harry is great at, or Jack is great at, and what part of dialogue and understanding of emotional truth either is great at, and vice-versa.
"I think they like that it's a little bit cloudy and they like that they lean on each other in certain ways," Le Nevez adds. "It's not secretive, but they do have a very specific way of working which I think they like to keep to themselves. They obviously work together all the time and there is such power within that."
Matt Le Nevez in The Widow.Credit:Coco Van Oppens
Unusually for such a series, once Le Nevez was cast and rehearsals began, the part was substantially tailored to suit him. "He was from my hometown, he was from Australia and they really liked the idea that Will was a foreigner in London," he says. "To be working with your own accent is a bit of a blessing."
For Le Nevez, the role is a confirmation of his emergence as a working actor in Hollywood, a long path from the moment he stepped prominently into the frame in The Postcard Bandit, Marking Time, which earned him an AFI award nomination, and The Society Murders, which crowned him with the Logie award for outstanding actor in a drama series.
Matt Le Nevez.
In 2011, he joined the series Offspring, playing Patrick Reid, an anaesthetist who was the love interest for the show's main character, Dr Nina Proudman (Asher Keddie). Patrick's death, in a car accident during the show's fourth season, was one of the show's most dramatic moments, and one still controversially debated by its fans.
Since then, Le Nevez has divided his time between Australia and Los Angeles, filming roles in The Kettering Incident (2014) and Brock (2016) in Australia, as well as working on another drama series Absentia, produced by Sony Television, in which he plays former Navy SEAL Cal Isaac.
The Widow was filmed over five months, on location in South Africa, in both Cape Town and Durban, the latter of which substituted for the bustling Congolese metropolis of Kinhasa, as well as locations in Wales and Rotterdam, where a second story thread, about another survivor of the plane crash which killed Will is set, and in film studios in London.
In real terms, the modern world of film and television insurance does not easily place actors in jeopardy. There was, however, a chaotic energy which comes from filming in certain locations in Africa which the production taps deeply into.
"Africa is a really special place," Le Nevez says. "It kind of knocks you off kilter when you land there, straight away, and it's hard to really understand. But there's such a spirituality to it and a soul that is just in the earth, in the children and the people, and in their voice and in their singing.
"It's so captivating and so contagious that it gets in your blood, and people talk about that all the time, like once you go there you can't stop thinking about it."
In a similar vein to Australia being used as a production location for US productions, Le Nevez says the series capitalised on the large scale and particular skill set of the South African crew. "You can do big sequences and there are incredibly accomplished, hard working crews, similar to Australia," he says.
One sequence which features in the first episode is a riot in Kinhasa, which was actually filmed in downtown Durban.
"We must have had 400 extras and there were explosions; for a television series, that doesn't happen very often," Le Nevez says. "The amount of sweat equity that the extras and the crew give you, it's hard to fathom."
The narrative of The Widow is told in the present day and in flashback to what seem like happier times for the couple. Those scenes, in particular, meant that Le Nevez and Beckinsale had to hit the ground running.
"Through the flashbacks we see how happy they've been but we also see how sad they've been and how they've had to deal with loss and tragedy in their lives," Le Nevez says. "So it was a matter of trying to develop as strong a relationship as I could with Kate as quickly as possible. And understanding that you might not necessarily have as much time as you want on certain things."
Without giving away too much in terms of plot, Le Nevez does say that coming straight off the filming of the second season of Absentia, in which he plays a navy SEAL, was helpful.
"It was really about coming to grips with the idea of being someone that always lands on their feet, someone that's charming enough to walk into a room, find the most important person there and charm them," Le Nevez says.
"Will certainly is that," he adds. "He's a man of all seasons, he's a man that can manipulate a room to his end.
Which brings us to the inevitable question here: is Will a good guy or a bad guy?
In modern scripted drama such a question is perhaps reductive. "The most fascinating thing is when you get given a character that might do some of the most deplorable things at the worst time, there's got to be a reason why, right?" Le Nevez says. "Finding that reason is part of my journey."
Add the writing of Harry and Jack Williams to the mix, ventures Le Nevez, and you've got even less chance of finding an answer.
"The great thing about Harry and Jack, and then working with Sam and Ollie, the two directors, is that they're really smart at lulling you into thinking he could be one or the other," Le Nevez says. "Even with the other characters, there is some ambiguity.
"That's why they're great," Le Nevez says. "If you look at Liar or The Missing, it keeps tip-toeing along that line and for me, I was surprised. All I can say is, reading it, you get further and further in and you're like, holy shit. Then you're surprised again and you're surprised again."
WHAT The Widow
WHEN Amazon Prime Video
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