Published on November 10, 2012
On behalf of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, thank you for allowing me to interview you. I know the global community will appreciate learning about you, how you felt portraying Bernie Banton, what you personally learned, and what you think needs to be done to end asbestos mining, manufacturing, and production. I am personally grateful that you have shared your insight and feelings about the , which is inspired by Matt Peacock’s book, “Killer Company.“
Your acting is superb and the script is excellent. We are anxiously waiting for the first episode of Devil’s Dust to air on November 11 in Australia. For those who are unfamiliar with the history of asbestos and the present health crisis, watching Devil’s Dust will undoubtedly be a chilling experience. Even as a mesothelioma widow and Co-Founder of ADAO, I sat in horror, outrage, and disgust watching the dramatization of the true-life corporate scandal of James Hardie Industries.
There is international consensus that asbestos is a known carcinogen and there is no safe level of exposure; yet we know that asbestos exposure continues. The World Health Organization estimates that “more than 107 000 people die each year from asbestos-related lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis resulting from occupational exposure.”[i]
For the many “Bernie Bantons” around the world, your powerful insights will refuel our fight. As you said, “I take my hat off to all of these people. And my heart goes out to everyone touched by asbestos related disease, and I feel privileged to have played a tiny part in bringing the story to a wider audience. It is a rare thing when I am this proud and passionate about a project such as Devil’s Dust. A project that can and will make a difference, no matter how small.”
Thank you, Anthony. ADAO wishes ABC great success with the Devil’s Dust miniseries airing on November 11 and 12 in Australia.
You, Matt, and of course ABC, have renewed our spirit to continue the global fight to ban asbestos.
With sincere thanks,
ADAO Interview with Anthony Hayes
Linda: Before this movie, how familiar were you with Australia’s history of asbestos use?
Anthony Hayes: I was aware of the fight for compensation for the victims of asbestos related disease. I was aware that James Hardie was embroiled in wrongdoing. And I knew of Bernie Banton. I was aware that asbestos caused cancer and that people were not getting due compensation.
But I was completely astonished to read that Hardie had research which informed them that asbestos could kill people and knowingly mined it and manufactured it. I was unaware that by the year 2030, there would be more asbestos related deaths in Australia then Australians who died from World War I. As I read the script, I found it hard to fathom the extent of the mess and the greed, senseless death and pain caused by this product and the production of it.
Linda: Describe your experience playing Bernie Banton, an asbestos victim who worked tirelessly to expose the wrongdoing of James Hardie Industries, a large corporation.
Anthony Hayes: Bernie was the perfect spokesman. He was able to use humor and short sharp grabs which were easily digestible and printable, and fought until his dying breath to continue his passion in exposing the destruction caused by asbestos. Bernie was no angel; he revelled in his power, he relished the challenge and he simply would not lay down and quietly slip away. Asbestos needed a poster boy, they needed someone who spoke directly to the people and for the people, they needed someone with great wit, someone lively, someone willing, someone without fear, someone with a lot of stamina.
In Bernie Banton, James Hardie met their match. Spin for spin, jab for jab, uppercut for uppercut, they went toe to toe in a battle that played out in front of a growing audience. Bernie was a great man – stubborn, fiery, committed. He set legal precedents for everyone who came after. I have a huge amount of respect for a man who stands up and tells it how it is, who doesn’t hide and complain in the shadows. I have a huge respect for a man who fights for what is just and right. I have a huge respect for a man who fought not only for himself, but for all those who suffer and continue to suffer from this horrible disease. I would have loved to have met Bernie. I liked his fire, his spit and spark.
Linda: How difficult was it to enter the role of Bernie?
Anthony Hayes: The most difficult thing about playing Bernie was to get his voice right. His mannerisms, his speech patterns. He has a very unique way of speaking. Short sharp grabs. A lot of the time because he had so much trouble breathing. His voice was high, reedy and nasally. Once I got that right and then the body language, the make up was applied and from there I found it very easy to tap into his fight and passion. I found it very easy to believe what he believed and feel what I can only imagine he felt. Betrayal, frustration, anger, pain.
The most difficult thing to get right was the condition itself. The levels of asbestosis through to mesothelioma. The stages. It was easy enough to read in a medical journal what these things were, what they were medically and how they progressed. But it was another thing to find out how it restricted you physically, how it affected your voice, your movements, your moods.
I spent some time with 7 widows of men who lost their lives to asbestos related disease, and they talked to me about what it was like to nurse a once able-bodied man to his death. They talked me through the disintegration of the body, the lowering lung capacity, what that meant in a physical sense, and finally the emotional aspects of living with these diseases. The effect on the soul, on the mind, on the emotional condition of these men.
One thing to mention is that these were men who worked with their hands, they worked physically, they were old school, from an era where a man was a man and he brought home the bacon, he provided for his family, he was the pillar of strength. These were men from two generations ago, and were stripped of their basic manhood. Stripped of their fundamental ability to perform simple tasks, stripped of their ability to play with their kids, kick a ball with them. Stripped not only of the length of their life, but of the quality of it.
Once I had these things, I felt ready. I was ready for a fight.
Linda: What do you want your audience to take away from Bernie’s story?
Anthony Hayes: That one voice can go a long way. And that it is possible to take on an empire and shake them up. That it is possible to hold corporations accountable to their workers, not just their shareholders.
Linda: After playing Bernie Banton, what are your thoughts about the continued use of asbestos in the U.S., China, India, and throughout the world?
Anthony Hayes: Asbestos mining, manufacturing, and production needs to be stopped. The world over. Now. It kills people. We know this. The research is out there. It’s not a fantasy. It’s science. It’s fact. And to knowingly produce a product which kills people and tears families apart and causes so much loss and pain – simply for financial gain – it is abominable. And how this practice is continued after all this knowledge is a disgrace and world policy makers need to grow a spine and completely ban the product.
Linda: There are many activists who are modern-day Bernie Bantons and organizations that continue to fight to expose the danger of asbestos use. What message would you give to these activists and grassroots organizations?
Anthony Hayes: Keep fighting for what you believe in. It’s a long road, fraught with hardship and setbacks, disappointments and emotional pain. Although it doesn’t feel like it, the message is getting out there. Progress has been made. Lots of it. And without these ordinary heroes, these people who care deeply about other people, no one would be held accountable ever. The fight will eventually be won. It just takes an army or ordinary people like Bernie, who fight doggedly for the basic rights and protection of the work force, the world over.
I take my hat off to all of these people. And my heart goes out to everyone touched by asbestos related disease, and I feel privileged to have played a tiny part in bringing the story to a wider audience. It is a rare thing when I am this proud and passionate about a project such as Devil’s Dust. A project that can and will make a difference, no matter how small.
“Together, change is possible.” ~ Linda