These Final Hours is the latest Australian films to hit our screens. I caught up with star Nathan Phillips to chat a little about it…
Matt: You started out in Neighbours and have been in the business for 15 years now. Has it gotten any easier to get your foot in the door and land auditions for roles you really want?
Nathan: I’d like to say yes but also no. Just like life, my career is constantly evolving. With acting itself as a craft, you’re continually learning on the job and working with new people.
Matt: Can you tell me how this particular role came across your radar?
Nathan: I was fortunate enough to be sent the script. I was living in northern California on a farm and had been removed from the industry for a few months. I choose to do that and I think it’s really healthy to take a break. So yeah, I read the script and saw it was a coming-of-age tale for a young man moving from his 20s to his 30s and realising that there’s more to life than getting “off your head” every weekend. He wants more substance in his life.
You don’t really know too much about his backstory. All you know is that there’s only 12 hours left and so you get this microscopic view of a self-obsessed man on the road to redemption through the catalyst of Angourie Rice’s character, Rose. They’re an odd couple.
Matt: Every director has to start somewhere and in the case of Zak Hilditch, this is his first feature film. Does it feel any different on set working with someone who is making a film for the first time?
Nathan: He’d made a short film previously called Transmission which starred Angourie Rice. That was a proof of concept for him. I could see that he had a great piece of the puzzle already done – and that was finding a young actress that could bring energy to the film. Also, while I knew he was a first time feature director, I also knew that he’d written the script and that he was very close to these characters.
Matt: You’ve mentioned Angourie Rice and I believe she was only about 12 years old when the movie was shot. How is that for you working with someone so young on such an emotionally intense film?
Nathan: Yeah, it was funny. It brought out my natural paternal instincts of wanting to cover her eyes during the party scenes because there’s a lot of nudity and crass language. While it is the end of the world, not everyone is sitting around singing Kumbaya My Lord. A lot of people are getting loaded and trying to escape from the problem with drugs, alcohol and whatever.
When we talk about this film, everyone has an idea of how they will spend their final hours. Everyone is intrigued by the concept. It deals with mortality. It deals with an existential, philosophical subject matter. To have a young girl thrown into this and being asked that question – “how do you spend your final hours?” – I think it’s a very brave concept.
Matt: Did you get involved in the script? Were you able to provide some input into how your character would act and what he might say?
Nathan: Yeah. The blueprint was there and we adhered to that. However, the backstory and life of these characters before they come on screen was our responsibility. The authenticity of the relationship between myself and my mother, played by Lynette Curran, were so important to nail and we only had a week of rehearsals.
Matt: I noticed last night that you sat in on the preview screening and watched the whole film. Can you sit back, enjoy the film and admire your performances… or are you looking at yourself far more critically?
Nathan: It’s hard to not be critical of your own performance… but as a filmmaker myself, I’m more intrigued by what Nick Meyers did as the editor. I’m interesting to see how he put these stories together into a seamless narrative. So yeah, I’m dissecting it while also trying to let go and get caught up in the world of it.
Matt: It’s a very physical role. You’re doing a lot of running and fighting and stressing. Was there a lot of physical training that you had to put yourself through prior to the shoot?
Nathan: Yep. It comes back to the importance of authenticity. I didn’t want to get all 300 and have the washboard abs but it was still really important for my character to have a physical appearance so that you can believe that he’d handle himself in a fight and that he’d be able to carry a 12-year-old girl in extreme heat. I was preparing while I was living on the farm and so it was easy for me to build up my strength.
Matt: It looks like you’re a sweaty mess throughout the whole film. Is that you actually being a sweaty mess or do we owe some thanks to a talented make up crew?
Nathan: (laughs) No, I was a sweaty mess. The film is suggesting that it’s getting hotter as we get closer to the catastrophic event. Lucky it wasn’t shot in the heat of a Western Australian summer. It was just on the border as we filmed in October and November.
Matt: We’re introduced to your character here straight up with a pretty steamy sex scene. It’s a question that’s often asked of actors but how easy is that to do?
Nathan: It’s never easy. There’s a great quote from Michael Caine that I like to use in these circumstances and I just worked with Diane Kruger and I got to use the line on her as well – “if something happens I apologise and if something doesn’t happen I apologise.” It’s a small room with about 10 people holding boom sticks and cameras and so it’s always a weird experience… but it’s not the hardest part of the job.
Matt: Australian budgets typically aren’t very high and so despite this being an apocalyptic film, there isn’t quite room for huge special effects, or massive car crashes, or scenes with hundreds of people running down a CBD street. This film is set in the quieter suburbs and focuses solely on your character. Do you think that limits the film in any way?
Nathan: No, I think the film can stand alone without all the things that you’ve mentioned. It allows for many more creative choices to be made when you don’t have a budget and don’t have an “excess”. You have to rely on acting, characters and story. You’re not relying on special effects and a quick edit. There’s a charm to that and it’s important to remember that this isn’t a Hollywood movie. It’s an Australian movie.
Matt: And to finish up, are you able to tell us what you’ll be working on next?
Nathan: Yep, I’ll be working on The Bridge, a television series with Diane Kruger. It’s a wonderfully written show with a great subject matter and I get to play a very cool, mysterious lover of Diane Kruger. It’s all being filmed in Los Angeles at the moment and I’m really excited to be on the FX network and on that show.