Best-selling novel The Messenger debuts as ABC series

Young actor William McKenna takes on his next big role in Markus Zusak's <I>The Messenger</I>.

Young actor William McKenna takes on his next big role in Markus Zusak's The Messenger.

Australian author Markus Zusak has waited more than 20 years to see his award-winning novel The Messenger turned into a TV series.

His 2002 international best-selling tale about an accidental hero has been performed three times in theatres around the country, and now the ABC is set to premiere the story in an eight-part, mini-series drama.

“It’s got a big and beautiful heart. I can’t wait for people to see it,” says the Sydney-based author and father of two.

‘It’s something we can see in ourselves’

Zusak is the author of six novels, and is best known for his 2005 novel, The Book Thief, which has been translated into 40 languages.

Although The Messenger hasn’t made it to the big screen, Zusak is still excited to see how it will play out.

“I’m so excited … and I think it’s something we can see ourselves in – our friendships and families, our laughter and flaws, and our willingness to see each other through, especially in the hard times,” he said this week.

The Messenger tells the story of underage taxi driver Ed Kennedy (played by William McKenna), who becomes an accidental hero when he receives mysterious messages scribbled on playing cards that set him on a strange journey.

He’s actually no good at playing cards, he’s hopelessly in love with his best friend Audrey, and “utterly devoted to his coffee-drinking dog, the Doorman”, according to a review.

“His life is one of peaceful routine and incompetence until he inadvertently stops a bank robbery and that’s when the first ace arrives in the mail.

“That’s when Ed becomes the messenger,” the review states.

“Chosen to care, he makes his way through town helping and hurting (when necessary) until only one question remains: Who’s behind Ed’s mission?”

William McKenna

McKenna is best known for his role as Scorpius Malfoy in the original Australian cast of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child from 2018 to 2020.

According to a 2019 review in The Sydney Morning Herald, “he’s got the talent of a Hugh [Jackman] or a Cate [Blanchett]”.

Previously he starred in adventure horror drama series Nowhere Boys from 2016 to 2018 during his later years at Eltham College in Melbourne’s outer north-eastern suburbs.

McKenna comes from a long line of stage performers including his grandmother, opera singer Gheda Fitzmaurice.

His father, Chris, also an actor who runs a touring theatre company, heaps praise on the young star.

“We’re more proud of the boy he’s become than anything else,” he says.

“He’s always been very sensitive and aware of other people’s feelings – and you can see that on stage.”

It has been predicted that McKenna will “join the ranks of these no-surname-necessary Australians in Hollywood”.

Markus Zusak signs his books The Book Thief and Bridge of Clay at the 2019 Taipei International Book Exhibition. Photo: AAP

The Book Thief

In 2013, the rights to the war drama The Book Thief were secured and turned into a feature film directed by Brian Percival and starring Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson and Sophie Nélisse.

Set in Nazi Germany during World War II, it tells the heartbreaking and uplifting story of a young girl, Liesel, who goes to live with a foster family after her brother dies.

“By her brother’s graveside, Liesel’s life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Gravedigger’s Handbook, left behind there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery.

“So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordian-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor’s wife’s library, wherever there are books to be found.

“When Liesel’s foster family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel’s world is both opened up, and closed down,” writes a review.

It was described as “one of the most enduring stories of our time”.

The Messenger will premiere on May 14 at 8.20pm on ABC 

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