As Australia commemorates the Anzac Centenary, marking 100 years since our nation’s involvement in the First World War, Mark Lee reflects on the past 34 years since he starred in iconic Australian film Gallipoli.
Lee was just 23 when he was cast alongside rising star Mel Gibson as Archy Hamilton, a young man who loses his innocence after enlisting in the First World War.
Sadly, the pair don’t exactly keep in touch.
“I haven’t spoken to him for a few years,” Lee told The New Daily of his famous co-star.
“He helped me out when I directed a film last year – but we’re in different worlds now.”
Lee, whose character’s tragic final moments in the film broke hearts around the world, has had a markedly different career trajectory to Gibson.
His time has since been spent in local films, behind the camera as a director and documentary filmmaker and on the stage in several theatre productions.
Meanwhile, Gibson’s turns in Lethal Weapon, Mad Max and Braveheart made him a Hollywood star, while he has courted controversy in his private life after making anti-Semitic comments and being caught drink-driving.
Although the pair have gone their separate ways, Lee remembers having “an absolute ball” while making the film.
“I was very inexperienced and ignorance was bliss,” Lee recalls, adding that he was regularly recognised on the street after the movie’s debut.
The film, which ran in cinemas for nine months, was an instant classic, propelling the two young men at its heart to instant fame.
Since its 1981 release, several other film and television incarnations have attempted to retell the Gallipoli story less successfully.
Most recently, Russell Crowe’s anti-climactic directorial debut The Water Diviner attempted to offer a Turkish perspective on the war.
After his experience, Lee watches other big screen and television representations of the Gallipoli landing with great interest.
“I’m always interested in what the time will throw up as far as the way they relate to a conflict that means something to so many people,” Lee says of shows like ABC’s Anzac Girls or the Nine Network’s Gallipoli.
“It’s a really tricky thing, you have to be careful it doesn’t become a documentary or cliche.”
Off the back of other uncomfortable mishaps like Woolworth’s ill-advised ‘Fresh in our memories’ campaign, Lee says he is also concerned about a lack of education about what Anzac Day really means.
“One of the things that has always concerned me is celebrating something that you don’t understand the history of because it feeds nationalism without understanding,” Lee says.
“There has been a tendency towards … wrapping ourselves in Australian flag and getting incredibly drunk and not understanding why you’re there.
“Sometimes it can be a little tacky.”
As for Lee’s plans to celebrate the important day, the actor says he will do something “very private”.
“It’s something I do quietly,” Lee says, adding that he has never actually ventured to Anzac Cove to commemorate the event.
“I’ve planned to go so many times, but never have.”
Gallipoli will also return to selected cinemas over Anzac Day weekend – Saturday 25 and Sunday 26 April.