This is an extended version of the cover story that appeared in The West Australian’s Today section on March 26. At the time of speaking to Denton he has not yet interviewed Wayne Carey.
On the eve of his interview with fallen AFL star Wayne Carey for a special episode of Enough Rope, Andrew Denton said he was fully expecting it to polarise people.
Denton had been planning to keep the identity of his “controversial” first guest under wraps but was forced to make it public after Carey and girlfriend Kate Neilson spoke to New Idea.
“All sorts of people are going to be unhappy with it for all sorts of reasons but you can’t stop and think about that,” Denton said by phone from his Sydney production office.
“It is particularly tricky in this case because there is so much scuttlebutt, innuendo, allegation and rumour.
“We are not interested in trading in that so much, so sifting through that to find the appropriate things to address, is interesting.
“People are coming to this interview, as I am sure you are with very, very strong preconceptions, some of which may be valid.
“So it is a difficult environment in which to conduct an interview as it is already white hot. We try to cast light rather than heat.”
Denton, regarded by many as Australia’s pre-eminent interviewer, said he looked forward to the challenge of remaining completely impartial.
“I love the discipline of doing that,” he said.
“It never ceases to amaze me when I look at our website that when I ask a question as neutrally as possible, people interpret it as me having one attitude or another.
“I have spoken to Wayne and he asked me, ‘what’s your angle?’
“I said the truth is Wayne we don’t have an angle, this is what we do. What we do is we ask a lot of questions, what we want to find out is how yo got to where you are.
“If you don’t answer a question directly I will call you on that but in the end we are going to give you a maximum opportunity to show who you are and people will make their judgment from that.
“But we are not here to be the prosecution; that is the discipline we set ourselves. I will be working extremely hard not to go into this interview with an attitude.”
Denton, who was due to interview Carey yesterday (March 25), expected to raise the question of the $180,000 reportedly paid to Carey and Neilson by New Idea.
He was not surprised about the revelations of cocaine use raised in the story.
“We have obviously done a lot of research ourselves; we have spoken to Wayne, his family, his ex-wife Sally, probably all the key people in his life so that didn’t come as a shock to me, no”.
Another reason for the early announcement of Carey as Denton’s first guest was to hose down speculation he was to interview David Hicks.
“It would be lovely to talk to David Hicks but under his control order he can’t speak to anyone before March 31,” Denton said.
“It’s certainly not an interview we are going to be doing next week. I am not sure we will ever get that interview; my understanding is there may be money involved and when that happens we step away from the table.
“I actually think, and I would think this because I’d love to talk to him, but I genuinely do think a show like Enough Rope would be the smart thing for him to do because I think he needs to be heard at length.”
The sixth season of Enough Rope will not return until June and as with previous years, Denton has a wish list of guests.
“We do have a wish list but there are some that have been on that wish list that we know after five years of asking they are just not going to do it.
“Paul Keating is one of those, John Singleton is one of those, Bryan Brown is one of those so we move on from that wish list.
“The wish list changes every year. Rupert Murdoch is still very high on it for instance but John Howard has kind of moved down the list.
“Every year we look at it and people say ‘who are you going to have on it this year?’ and I can say quite truthfully and with not a little fear, I don’t know.”
Next week Denton dons his documentary making cap to tackle the topic of mental illness in the insightful documentary Angels and Demons. He explores what it is like to lose your mind and if it is possible to get it back again, starting at the 2007 Annual Mental Health Service Conference in Melbourne.
Denton takes part in a workshop designed to show how hard it can be to function while hearing voices and meets people with varying degrees of mental illness, including shy songwriter Heidi Everett.
When Everett opens up she gives Denton real insight into how she lives with her angels and demons and what it was like dealing with a frightening psychotic episode.
“When she described that psychotic episode and how she was standing off to one side of it seeing herself being there, that is a life experience for me, I have learned something I had no idea about,” Denton said.
“Frankly it is one of the most extraordinary conversations I have ever been in. I came home and said to Jennifer (Byrne, his wife), I don’t know how much longer my career will go but I don’t think I will ever top that one.”
Denton wanted to tackle the topic of mental illness because it was often seen as taboo, frightening and confronting.
“We all have vague idea of what to do when somebody has a heart attack but we really have no idea of how to respond when somebody has some kind of mental breakdown or mental illness,” he said.
“I have had a few people in my life, friends, people close to me that have had various mental health problems; bipolar, mental breakdown, severe depression.
“I have seen all of these things and I reckon I would speak for most Australians when I say that my guess is that most Australians have had, or have right now, someone in their life who is struggling with a mental illness which is quite debilitating.”
“Ninety-five per cent of the people in that documentary are the people next to you on the bus or your next door neighbour.
“I am not expecting a huge audience because I think for many people the very mention of the words mental illness will be ‘get me the remote, I don’t want to know’.
“But I have always thought that the truth is all of us are walking a tightrope of normality and the miracle is we don’t tip off; there is absolutely nobody who is immune from the possibility of mental health problems it depends on how your life goes and how you are wired.”
Denton has a full slate of projects including a six-part series about tapping into the wisdom of our Elders, executive producing Wil Anderson’s new series about the advertising industry, The Gruen Transfer and presenting an emotional documentary about intellectually and physically disabled performers The Merry Makers.
“It’s all part of my grand plan to bit by bit whittle down my on screen appearances until I eventually appear just once a year on a panel show,” he joked.
“It is my ambition to go behind the scenes, I am working towards that but it won’t be this year.
“I think it is very important and I have said this to the ABC, everybody needs to be mindful that Australian television is littered with examples of people who have overstayed their welcome.
“I don’t want to be one of them. I’d much rather get out with people going that’s a pity rather than people saying that’s way past time.”
Enough Rope with Andrew Denton – the Wayne Carey interview screens Monday March 31 on the ABC at 9.35pm. Angels and Demons screens April 7 on the ABC at 9.35pm.