After Chopper and Underbelly, Last King of the Cross revisits crime’s wild side

Claude Jabbour talks about his interpretation of playing Sam Ibrahim in dramatised series <i>Last King of the Cross</i>.

Claude Jabbour talks about his interpretation of playing Sam Ibrahim in dramatised series Last King of the Cross. Photo: Paramount+

Almost everyone has heard of Sydney’s famous King’s Cross nightclub strip.

Notorious for once being the centre of Sydney’s organised crime and the focus of a royal commission – the streets are cleaner these days – but the reputation lives on and the fascination with its seamier side continues.

The latest offering to star this city strip is locally made original production, Last King of the Cross from Paramount+.

Australia excels at telling the stories of its colourful identities.

Chopper, the 2000 feature film about the late criminal identity, long-term Pentridge Prison resident and children’s author Mark ‘Chopper’ Read, helped make by Australian actor Eric Bana a Hollywood star.

Then in 2008, the hugely successful Underbelly series started its long run, showcasing the 10-year gangland war and the host of colourful, dangerous gangsters that ruled Melbourne’s streets throughout the 1990s.

It produced a total of seven series, encountering some legal nightmares along the way, and received critical acclaim as well as criticism for glamourising violence.

Fast-forward to 2023, and it’s all about “Australia’s most infamous nightclub mogul” John Ibrahim – played by Lincoln Younes – and his older brother, underworld boss and bikie, Sam – played by fellow Australian actor Claude Jabbour.

‘Lifeblood of the drugs industry’

John Ibrahim had already been dramatised in the third Underbelly series, The Golden Mile, with his character played by Firass Dirani.

This series goes the extra mile.

“Inspired” by true events, and the 2017 memoir of former King’s Cross nightclub owner John, Last King of the Cross revolves around the Lebanese-born Ibrahim brothers and their rise to power from the poverty-stricken and war-torn Tripoli to the streets of King’s Cross.

It’s about their journey as brothers.

A legal warning accompanies this series, saying it is a “dramatisation inspired by the best-selling autobiography by John Ibrahim. Several of the characters and events represented throughout the series are fictitious”.

According to Wikipedia, police allege John Ibrahim – described as a former kebab shop owner – is a “major organised-crime figure” and was labelled as the “lifeblood of the drugs industry of Kings Cross” during the 1995 Wood Royal Commission.

However, Mr Ibrahim strongly denies this, and has not been convicted of any related crime.

The Sydney Morning Herald describes Mr Ibrahim as living the best part of his life crime adjacent.

Brother Sam was transferred to Western Australian in 2020, awaiting deportation after serving almost six years in prison, reported at the time.

In an interview with The New Daily ahead of its February 17 premiere, Jabbour said scoring the lead role of the street-smart enforcer Sam in Last King of the Cross was a dream come true.

“I got to explore a character that was extremely nuanced, that was written in a complex way and has many faces, looking right into a character, which I dreamed about as a kid wanting to be an actor.

“It was one of those [roles] that had everything,” says the Lebanese-Australian Jabbour, who most recently starred alongside Cate Blanchett and Dominic West in Stateless.

The Cross gets cloned

Jabbour, who was named one of the Casting Guild of Australia’s rising stars in 2021, says John Ibrahim was on set during filming last year.

The SMH reported he was “closely involved” in the “dramatisation”.

“He was particular about the casting of Younes. He advised on set design and was photographed visiting the detailed set, where Kings Cross was recreated in the car park of Raging Waters theme park in western Sydney,” it wrote.

There was a shopfront recreation featuring Porky’s strip club, the Love Machine brothel, the daytime meeting point at Pinocchio’s restaurant, the domed fountain and the music venue Club 77.

In an interview with Stellar magazine on January 28, Ibrahim said Younes and Jabbour portrayed the brothers “extremely well”.

“Both Claude and Lincoln portrayed Sam and myself extremely well; sometimes it was difficult to watch scenes play out as though it was happening all over again,” Mr Ibrahim confesses.

Last king of the cross

Younes and Jabbour in Last King of the Cross. Photo: Paramount+

Jabbour, 34, also talks about Mr Ibrahim’s time on the set, saying “he was there and available for advice”.

“Realistically, we were given the trust and freedom to create the characters based on our own intuition. I did general research on the era and that time.

“I was always assured by the producers and the team that what I was creating was authentically depicting that era.

Emphasis on authenticity

“I enjoyed having the freedom to create my version of the character without worrying about specifics and needing to get information from people from that world.

“As a team, we were working towards authenticity.

“John was no different … what I discovered was that Lincoln and I would do a scene, and organically after the scene we might get some feedback that it brought back memories.

“That is kind of the way it played out.

“We found ourselves tapping into things as we were going that were called memories for a lot of people from that era, including John,” he says.

Last King of the Cross

Jabbour and Younes in a scene with some unidentified outlaw bikies. Photo: Paramount+

Younes, 31, who got to know Mr Ibrahim including at his home, says the series – with a reported $50 million budget – “is not a biopic”.

“I’m not playing him … there was an essence from his memoir that was the inspiration for the show,” he tells the SMH.

The first episode, set in 1987, portrays how the brothers escaped a civil war to land in Australia and survive on welfare.

Fact and fiction

Sam Ibrahim was already making a name for himself as an enforcer at the Cross, and John, as a 16-year-old, wanted in on the high-stakes life.

It’s here we meet a range of fictitious characters with similarly nuanced storylines involving the big wigs and corrupt cops. We witness the cocaine wars, the heroin addictions, murders and paybacks.

It was confronting,” says Jabbour.

“To discover the history – and it is a part of our story, our history – it makes sense to explore and understand the forces at play who created this bed of crime and the extremely diverse range of people who were drawn to that space,” says Jabbour, who went on to play a complete opposite role in an MTC theatre production of Cyrano straight after filming wrapped.

So what’s next?

“If the role has reach, and has as many facets as Sam’s did, them I’m always interested.”

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