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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.

 

Interview - Cricketer Brett Lee Makes Acting Debut In 'UnIndian'

Brett Lee

I’ve had the chance to speak with many great actors and filmmakers but one person I wasn’t expecting to cross paths with was Brett Lee.  He hasn’t won an Oscar… be has taken 310 test wickets for Australia.  Now that his cricket days are behind him, he’s branched out into acting and has the lead role in an Australia film, UnIndian, which is about to be released in cinemas.

Matt:  We all know you as Brett Lee the cricketer.  Are you actually a big movie buff?  Do you watch a lot of films?

Brett:  I do watch a lot of movies.  We spent a lengthy periods of time on the road when playing cricket so it gave me the chance to watch them.  I’ve got a weird taste in that I love old Adam Sandler and Jim Carrey movies but then again I also like a Leonardo DiCaprio drama. 

Matt:  Was there ever point where you actually thought you might star in an Aussie movie?

Brett:  Absolutely not.  If you asked me that a decade ago, I would have laughed.  A lot of offers have come through in the last few years to make Bollywood movies but I wasn’t ready as I was still playing cricket.  This film was first presented to me in early 2014.  It’s an Australian film with a love for India and some beautiful messages.  It had 119 scenes which had me worried but we sat down, spoke about it, and went and did it.

Matt:  Your casting in the film is no coincidence given it will have appeal in India where you are a renowned cricket.  I’d love to know though – were you always the guy or were there other cricketing buddies they approached about being in the film?

Brett:  I’m not sure.  If you peel back the layers, a conduit between Australia and India is sport. Every time I’ve been lucky to go to India, people recognise me as an Australian cricketer.  I’m hoping that when the film does get released in India, audiences will go along and appreciate it.  We had an absolute ball making it.

Matt:  What sort of reactions did you get from friends and family when you said you were taking on the role?

Brett:  They were like “sorry, what?”  My parents have always backed me 100%.  I was never pushed into cricket but they helped me as much as they could along the journey.  This is no different.  Once I told them about this movie, they were extremely encouraging.  I love new challenges in life.  Cricket is not my only passion.  I love music and movies and going fishing.  This was an opportunity I didn’t want to let to go.  I’ve known the director, Anupam Sharma, for a decade.  I trust him and he’s a terrific friend.  The best compliment I’ve received from my family is that they say after the first few minutes, they see Will the character as opposed to Brett Lee the actor.   

Matt:  There are students who spend years at NIDA trying to perfect the acting craft.  Many of us think we could be great actors but how easy was it doing it for the first time?

Brett:  It wasn’t easy.  I’ve had the utmost respect for actors.  I’ve done simple commercials where you get a piece of paper and have to regurgitate lines.  This is different though.  I thought it would be hard to memorise the lines and that the acting would be easy part.  When I got to the end of the process though, I realised it was the opposite.

Matt:  You’re a professional athlete and so you’re used to seeing yourself on TV… but what was it like watching this film for the first time and seeing yourself try to be an actor?

Brett:  Weird, exciting and nerve racking.  My hands still get clammy just thinking about it.  I never got nervous while bowling but sometimes I did when batting.  At the premiere, we had two packed cinemas and I was there with my family.  I did a quick intro, sat in my seat and said to my wife – “this is real, this is actually happening.”

Matt:  An interesting touch in the movie is that we do get to see some photos of you as a youngster.  I’ve always wondered how filmmakers go about that?  Did Anupam Sharma ask you to bring in some old photo albums?

Brett:  I’d wondered the same thing.  When they show a really young photo of an actor, is it a look-a-like or is actually them?  All of those photos were mine.  There’s one of me at my old high school holding a basketball.

Matt:  There are some kissing and love making scenes which is a big step for someone making their feature film debut.  Piece of cake or quite challenging?

Brett:  To use a cricket metaphor, it’s not facing a 120 km/hr straight up delivery.  The ball is travelling at 160 km/hr and it’s swinging both ways.  It’s full on, it’s jumping in the deep end.  The challenge for me in sport is living on the edge and trying to bowl the quickest ball every single time.  Sport and business are very similar.  In cricket, you are made up of 11 players who constitute a team.  In this film, I’m working with Tannishtha, my co-star, as a partnership.  We work off each other.  It’s the advice I received from Kevin Jackson at NIDA.  He said you’ve got to be a good listener.  Don’t think about what your next line is, look her in the eye and listen to her.

Matt:  There are couple of moments, including the end credits, where we getting involved with an elaborate Bollywood dance number.  Do those scenes take a lot of rehearsal time?

Brett:  If we go back a step, the dance number in Parramatta for the holy festival involved me dancing normally which of course was horrible.  I had to look like I was an awkward dancer and that was easy to do.

Matt:  Are there plans to take the film to India?  Will you be touring there as part of the promotion?

Brett:  It definitely will.  The investors want to give it a red hot crack here first in Australia and see what type of reception it gets.  We will then go to India.  We’re getting a lot of questions on social media about when it will go to India and hopefully it will be soon.

Matt:  What are your plans going forward?  If this film is a success, would you think about doing more movies or is this just a one-off venture?

Brett:  I would love to do more movies.  It’s hard work, it’s long hours, it’s 3 months of your time, and it’s a big commitment.   I’d love to do it again though.  I had a great team around me.  With cricket, you don’t want to go home after one wicket.  You always want more.

Interview - M. Night Shyamalan Asks Us To 'Visit'

The Visit

While he was recently in Australia, I spoke with director M. Night Shyamalan about his new thriller, The Visit.  Here’s how it went down…

Matt:  A lot of your works fit into the thriller genre.  With audiences becoming more and more savvy, is it harder to create material that can actually surprise and shock an audience?

Night:  For me, the best plots come from great characters.  I like to let the characters dictate what’s going to happen in the plot.  When I write like that, good things happen.  When people try to write plot first and character second, there can be a hollowness to the project.  If you think about big CGI movies, the ones that actually work are the ones that have great characters.  They’re the films that we love and stay with us.  I think it’ll always be that way.

Matt:  There are directors like Woody Allen who seemingly have an endless number of stories they wish to bring to the screen.  Do you have a bunch of great ideas that you’re swishing around trying to make work?  Or is coming up with an idea much tougher than that?

Night:  It’s funny you say that because Woody Allen is a big hero of mine as are the Coen brothers.  I really admire what Clint Eastwood has done.  They keep telling great stories.  If I do a big Hollywood CGI movie, that takes 3 years or more.  That’s too long for me.  I want to tell more stories.  A movie like this only takes a year and half to do and I feel like that’s the right beat for me.  I have another story to tell and I’m excited to tell it.

Matt:  A big part of The Sixth Sense was having people keep its big twist a secret so as not to ruin it for other audiences.  Given today’s use of the internet and social media, do you worry about spoilers being released on a movie like The Visit?

Night:  No, you just have to trust audiences.  Movies are for them.  In today’s day and age, if you don’t want to know, you can definitely avoid spoilers.  I think there’s an unwritten code on the internet.

Matt:  A lot of work must go into post production to get the music, the sound and the editing just right to help build that suspense.  Do you have a clear view of how it should all look and sound?  Or do you find yourself playing around with different cuts to see what works best?

Night:  A little bit of both.  The key is to have a strong vision when you start to make the piece.  That’s how the director can best succeed.  In post-production, you have to be honest with yourself about what is and isn’t working.  You have to be analytical and figure out how to improve those things you’ve fallen short on.  The Visit was a very complex movie.  It’s a puzzle with many tones to it.  It’s funny, it’s scary, and it’s emotional.  To get that balance right, took a long time.  I kept working on it until it went click.

Matt:  Perhaps I’m a little biased but I think Aussie Ed Oxebould gives the best performance of the film.  He comes across so funny and natural.  How did he come across your radar and get through the audition process?

Night:  Both Olivia and Ed are from Australia and they just earned.  Thousands of people auditioned and I just picked these two kids to play the leads.  It doesn’t surprise me because I think Australia has an enormous talent base here.  Where they’re coming from artistically works for me.  I’ve had a lot of Australians in my movies like Toni Collette and Mel Gibson. 

Matt:  It is more challenging working with younger actors?  Does it take a few more takes or a little more rehearsal time?

Night:  Yeah, it does take more time but there’s such beauty when they nail their performance.  I try to teach them as much craft as they can.  I don’t want to try to capitalise on their charm or cuteness.  I want them to bring discipline and craft to the art form of acting and that’s something they can take with them for the rest of their career.  I have great respect for the form of filmmaking and I try to convey that to the kids.

Matt:  You’ve popped up with small cameos in many of your films but not here in The Visit?  Just couldn’t quite find a part for yourself?

Night:  (laughs)  No.  I was originally going to play the boyfriend of the mum but in the original screenplay, the boyfriend came back at the end of the movie and I didn’t want audiences to freak out and go “there he is!”  I didn’t want that to be the last reaction.

Matt:  Ever thought about doing something completely different like a romantic comedy or a period piece drama or something?

Night:  It’s funny you say that because I think my movies are mixtures of genres.  I did do a comedy with The Visit.  I also think I did a period piece with The Village.  I try to mix genres and come up with something new.

Matt:  What are you working on at the moment?  Anything you can share with us?

Night:  Yeah, I’ve just finished writing the next thriller.  I’m going to do it small like The Visit and shoot it over the fall.

 

Interview - Hugh Jackman On Pirating 'Pan'

Hugh Jackman

Pan is the big family film offering over the September school holidays here in Australia.  It was a pleasure to be able to speak with star Hugh Jackman about the film. You can listen to the full interview by clicking here.

Matt:  You’re a big name in Hollywood now.  You’ve won a Tony, an Emmy and you’ve been Oscar nominated.  Do directors like Joe Wright come chasing you for roles like this or do you still have to go chasing them?

Hugh:  On this one, he did come and meet me.  Joe is cool and calm and it never feels like a chase.  I was a huge fan of Joe’s and when we first grabbed lunch, I said I looked forward to reading the script and I asked him to tell me a little bit about the vision and how he saw the character.  He then pulled out his iPad and he had a picture of me as Blackbeard with white make-up, the wig of Marie Antoinette, the costume of Louis XIV, and then these rapper’s jewels around my necks and on my fingers.  I said straight away – “I’m in.”  He’s a crazy, wild, eccentric filmmaker and I love that Warner Bros gave him this massive movie to do.

Matt:  The special effects are amazing but one of the things that struck me about the film are the colours in the movie.  I don’t think I’ve seen another film this year that’s this colourful and it’ll be great for younger audiences.  Did you get an early sense of that from Joe?

Hugh:  Absolutely.  Joe is a theatrical beast by nature and we share that in common.  He didn’t like green screen and so he built one of the largest, most incredible sets that I’ve been on in my life.  They don’t often do it like that these days.  You could almost get lost in the Neverland set.  It was vibrant, bright and colourful.  I think Joe’s idea is that Neverland is the product of a child’s imagination so he wanted it to feel colourful and magical and extraordinary.  He wanted all the adults to be both frightening and ridiculous.

Matt:  I love seeing child actors discovered as there’s such a freshness and innocence about them.  Even better here is that we have a young Aussie in the leading role.  What can you tell me about Levi Miller?  What was he like on set?

Hugh:  I’m really glad you said that because I think this is the beginning of big things for Levi.  I remember standing next to a cameraman when he was doing a take.  After they called out “cut”, I turned to the cameraman and said “how good was that?”  He looked at me and jokingly said “don’t say anything… he has absolutely no idea how good he is… just shut up and we’ll keep going.”  It’s funny that people like me and the rest of the acting world spend years training and studying but he made it look so easy.  It was inspiring to watch.

Matt:  I was reading that Levi was actually calling you Mr Jackman during the opening week of rehearsals.  Was that the case?

Hugh:  Yeah, he was very sweet and polite.  His parents are the furthest thing from stage parents that you could imagine.  He put down a tape and had couple of things and all of a sudden he’s on this huge movie.  I remember him putting his hand out to shake mine and I was like “c’mon mate, we’re acting together.”

Matt:  There are a lot of younger actors in this film.  Are you able to help out and provide a lot of guidance when working with such a young cast?

Hugh:  I’ve got to be honest, when you’re with kids, it reminds you how complicated adults can make things.  We do all our research and we have our techniques and then we watch a young kid who has boundless energy because they love what they’re doing.  You actually learn from them.  I don’t think he really understands what acting is.  He’s just there in front of a camera doing what is asked of him.

I saw him making the classic mistake of going to the craft services table that was filled with candy and I was like “you’ll be crashing in the mid-afternoon if you eat that.”  It was little things like that which I could help with. 

Matt:  We’re generally accustomed to you playing heroes and good guys.  We saw a different side of you in Chappie and now again here.  Is it fun to slip into a role like this and do the complete opposite?

Hugh:  It took me all this time to realise that it’s the hero who gets beaten up throughout the entire movie.  He wins the final fight… but only just.  The villain on the other hand wins every fight except the last one.  You get the best dialogue and you’re in 40% of the film.  I loved it.  Joe Wright is a phenomenal filmmaker and even on this big expensive tent pole movies, he still finds ways to be creative, different and original.

Matt:  I always think the secret of a great action or fantasy film is a great villain.  One of the cool things about your character here is that he’s forever changing personalities.  One second he’s friendly, the next he’s angry.  How much of a say do you get in creating this version of Blackbeard that we see on screen?

Hugh:  Joe and I talked about it a lot.  He said to me – “imagine you are the figment of the imagination of a child.”  Neverland is a fantasy world and you’re the scariest thing in it.  What would be scary to a child?  For me, it’s always the adult who could be charming and nice for one second and could then take your head off with the next second.  You had to walk on egg shells because you had absolutely no idea which way this person was going to turn.  That’s what we tried to do.  During some takes, I would change it up a bit to keep these kids guessing.  

Matt:  Is there a long rehearsal process for a film like this?

Hugh:  Not so much here.  There’ll be a 3 week rehearsal period that is more about make-up tests and wig tests.  You do a table read and you do some bonding/drinking.  Joe has a background in puppetry and theatre and so we did a lot of improvisation during rehearsals.  They were the funniest times and they helped us create these characters.  For people like Levi, it helped him get comfortable with the tone of the film also.

Matt:  The film isn’t a musical but there are some unexpected musical numbers.  An interesting touch you’d have to say?

Hugh:  I don’t think the studio were expecting them either.  Joe came in one morning and started handing our Nirvana song lyrics and I was like “well this is interesting, is this kind of a warm up?”  Joe was like “nah, I think this could be a cool introduction for Blackbeard.”  I remember looking over to the studio executives when they came in to check things out and all of their faces were like “what? I don’t remember reading this in the script.”  It ended up being fantastic and that’s what great about Joe.  He’s not afraid to do something radical.

Matt:  We’ve seen other version of Peter Pan made before – both live action and animation.  Is there a worry that audiences might be thinking this is more of the same?  What’s the “sell” here to make them think this is something different?

Hugh:  To use common Hollywood vernacular, this is a prequel.  It’s an origin story of Peter Pan.  The story most are familiar with is when he comes back from Neverland to find Wendy and to bring them back with him.  Here, Peter is a young orphan being taken up to Neverland and it’s about how he becomes Peter Pan.  By the way, I highly recommend every adult reading J.M. Barrie’s book.  It’s a beautiful book that I hadn’t read before.  There’s a reference in there to Blackbeard being the bosun for Captain Hook.  That little snippet gave screenwriter Jason Fuchs the idea to create this character.  If you liked the musical Wicked and how that references The Wizard Of Oz, I think you’ll like what this film does to the Peter Pan.

Matt:  What have you got coming up?  I believe we’re going to be seeing you in Brisbane soon for some stage shows?

Hugh:  I’m so thrilled about it.  I’ll be in Brisbane on the 5th and 6th of December.  I can’t wait.  It’s been years since I did the show on Broadway and we’re expanding it now to have a huge cast, an orchestra, singers, dancers and choirs.  We’re going to have a great party.

Matt:  Are you working on anything film-wise at the moment?

Hugh:  I just did a movie called Eddie the Eagle about the infamous ski jumper.  Only the Brits could make a movie like this.  He’s a great character and it’s an inspirational sports story but it’s mainly funny.  I’ve got a little bit left to do on that and then at some point, I’ve got another Wolverine movie to make.