Matt's Blog

Interview - Writer-Director Jocelyn Moorhouse On 'The Dressmaker'

Jocelyn Moorhouse

It’s been a record year at the box-office for Australian cinema and the next film trying to add to that total is The Dressmaker.  I spoke with writer-director Jocelyn Moorhouse about the film…

Matt:  You won an AFI award in 1991 for directing Proof and you followed that up with How To Make An American Quilt in 1995 and A Thousand Acres in 1997.  That was your last directorial credit though.  What have you been up to for the past 18 years?

Jocelyn:  My life has been extremely busy and complicated.  I have four children and two of them have autism.  That means that your life changes insanely.  You’re not just their loving parent but you sort of become their therapist as well.

Matt:  Some moments in this film are incredibly light while others are incredibly dark.  It’s such a wild ride.  How easy is it to balance up those varied tones when pulling this film together?

Jocelyn:  I like to think of it as an emotional rollercoaster.  I loved that in the book, you never knew where the author was taking you.  One minute you’re laughing your head off and the next minute you find that you’ve been deeply moved.  I wanted to do the same thing with the movie.  It wanted it to be entertaining, involving and constantly surprising.  It was a tricky balancing act when putting it all together.  Editor Jill Bilcock is one of Australian’s best and she helped make sure that things didn’t get too sad or insane at times. 

Matt:  Without giving anything away, I love the final scene in this movie.  I know it’s important to get everything right in a movie but does extra thought go into that final scene?  To end the film on just the right note?

Jocelyn:  Absolutely.  You have to have to have a big, fantastic finish and that was my goal.  I wanted the audience to be blown away and to then carry the film in their hearts as they left the cinema.  I’m glad you liked it.

Matt:  Kate Winslet is a huge name of any director to be able to attach to their film.  How did you get her on board?

Jocelyn:  I set her quite a few “love letters” with the script attached.  I told her how much I was a fan since he burst onto the scene at 17 years of age with Heavenly Creatures.  I remember seeing that film and going “where did this amazing young girl come from?”  It was then a waiting game.  She gets sent so many scripts a year and she only does 1-2 movies.  I knew it was a long shot but our patience was eventually rewarded.  She finally read the script and said how much she loved Tilly. 

Matt:  I’m a golf tragic so I have to ask – can Kate Winslet actually hit a golf ball?

Jocelyn:  Kate practiced very hard to do the few swings that she did in the movie.  She’s brilliant at other things but I wouldn’t say that golf is her strong suit.

Matt:  She’s been one of my favourite actresses for a long time but Judy Davis is fantastic in this.  She’s such a horrible character at times but she’s also incredibly endearing.  Did she have a lot of fun creating Molly Dunnage?

Jocelyn:  Judy had a blast.  She really loved this character.  She was so excited to play such a cantankerous but hilarious person.  She loves doing comedy so she was happy to sink her teeth into it.

Matt:  What was Hugo Weaving’s first reaction when you showed him the script and his character?

Jocelyn:  Hugo is an old friend of mine so when I approached him, he was doing Macbeth at the Sydney Theatre Company.  He was extremely broody and hairy and masculine.  I then hand him this script and he said this is the exact opposite of what I’m doing right now.  I don’t want to give too much away but he was quite happy to flirt with his feminine side.

Matt:  The film has a huge ensemble cast of recognisable names.  Along with the major stars, there are people like Caroline Goodall, Shane Jacobson, Kerry Fox, Barry Otto, Rebecca Gibney, and Shane Bourne.  Were they all chasing you?  Or were you chasing them?

Jocelyn:  Once word got around that I was making with the film with Kate and Judy, that helped to get a lot of really amazing actors on board.  They all wanted to work with my two girls and they all thought it was a fantastic story.  I was really lucky to have the cream of Australian talent in this film.

Matt:  The film screened at the Toronto Film Festival back in September.  What was it like being there and what sort of reactions did you receive from American audiences?

Jocelyn:  It’s an enormous festival actually.  So many people attend and it was terrifying.  There was a giant red carpet and it screened in the Roy Thompson Hall which holds about 2,400 people.  It was an intimidating screening.  When the movie finished, they all stood up and cheered and gave us a standing ovation.  I nearly cried.  It was pretty emotional.

Matt:  Has there been any interest in releasing the film in America and elsewhere overseas?

Jocelyn:  Definitely.  We’ve already sold it to 21 countries and we’re very close to an American sale.  It’s terribly exciting.

Matt:  We seem to go through peaks and troughs when it comes to Australian cinema.  Adjusted for inflation, this has been our highest grossing year for Aussie films since 2001.  Do you have a view on the sorts of films we should be making?

Jocelyn:  Filmmakers need to be adventurous and try some new stuff.  A lot of original films have come out this year that also have strong stories.  Audiences are reacting to that.  They’re going along and having a good time and enjoying these Australian films.  Word of mouth is getting out too which is an important thing.

Matt:  I’m interested to see what the word of mouth is going to be like with The Dressmaker because there are plenty of surprises in this too.

Jocelyn:  There are a lot of surprises.  I’ve been telling people not to give too much away to their friends.  Let them go and enjoy the ride.

Matt:  I’ll finish up by asking if you have anything in the works at the moment?  Tell me it won’t be another 18 year before you make another movie.

Jocelyn:  My kids are in a good situation now and they’re going to let mum keep making movies.  I’m writing a love story at the moment.  I enjoyed writing the stuff between Kate Winslet and Liam Hemsworth in this movie and I’m hungry to do more.