Early “buzz” for a yet-to-be-shot Australian crime drama supposedly starring Chopper Read is either a case of a monumental PR screw-up or an innovative attempt to generate word of mouth. Either way, it’s bizarre.

On Monday morning a press release landed declaring that celebrity former criminal Mark “Chopper” Read would “announce filming of his final appearance on film or TV tomorrow”. Attached was a Word document describing a PR event for the movie, The Hurtin’ Kind Part One: The Albanian, “a gangster film based upon actual events and featuring real-life characters playing themselves”.

The film’s producer, 34-year-old former body guard Al Rama, and fruiterer-cum-investor Velli Vellishi, would be available late morning for photographs and interviews at Melbourne’s Footscray Market along with the star attraction: the colourful and famously ear-less 57-year-old who has spent more than 23 years of his life in the slammer. Yet as The Age reported, Chopper, who has terminal cancer, never showed.

Rama addressed the crowd, telling them: “Chopper Read is very unwell. He collapsed today and won’t be able to make it.”

When I asked him what happened, Chopper, author of several books and the subject of director Andrew Dominik’s acclaimed 2000 biopic, furiously denounced the production and the non-event tied to it. “Nothing happened yesterday,” he thundered down the phone line. “It was a publicity stunt. I didn’t collapse. I have liver cancer. I just had 20 f-cking tumours taken off me six weeks ago.

“I’m not appearing in this fucking movie. All he’s [Rama] doing is raising money. He says he’s not going to stop until he’s raised $30 million. Jesus f-cking Christ! He’s got delusions of grandeur, hasn’t he? I said what part of liver cancer don’t you understand? I said I’m not going to thank any more [sic] the people who give you f-cking money. So I didn’t go. And then he plays this f-cking publicity stunt with some poor old Italian man, Valluchi, whatever his name is …”

Rama concedes he never actually saw Chopper collapse — he was relaying information provided to him by a driver sent to pick him up — but maintains they had an agreement.

“We had a hand shake and a hug on Sunday night,” the first-time producer told me. “He [Chopper] agreed to front the press, do probably a couple of hours and then possibly another day or two. At the 11th hour, it was news to me that he couldn’t make it.

“I apologise for saying what I did without actually seeing it. But that’s what was relayed to me and that’s what I relayed to the media … I hope that he will come back on the film.”

It is safe to assume Chopper will not be coming back. “I said to him you’ve been using my name on this f-cking movie! I stupidly said he could do it. I didn’t expect him to be doing it years later,” he hollered, before launching into a spray about how he’s never been paid more than $2000 for any film appearance.

“They hire me for films and they don’t f-cking pay me. I stand here like a f-cking idiot. It’s a bit f-cking harsh, if you ask me.

They say they’ll pay you out of the profits. I haven’t been paid a penny for the Chopper movie! Not one f-cking penny! They said if they made some money out of the movie they would slip me some money. They didn’t. They can’t tell me why.”

Peter Fray

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Editor-in-chief of Crikey