Holding The Man was selected to close the 2015 Sydney Film Festival and is now being released across the country. During his quick trip to Brisbane, I was fortunate enough to sit down with star Ryan Corr to chat about the film…
Matt: Holding The Man is an iconic Australian novel. When did you first come across it?
Ryan: I first came across the story in Sydney. I’d moved there to attend drama school when I was 17 and the play was being performed at the Griffin Theatre. Talk of the play, the story, and the derivatives of the book were being discussed everywhere within the drama school. Jumping ahead 7 years, I heard that Tommy Murphy, who had written the play, had also written a screenplay and Neil Armfield was attached as a director. I knew then it was a story I really wanted to be a part of.
Matt: A key part of any romantic drama is to have a connection between the two leading characters. How did the casting process here work? Were you and Craig Scott auditioned independently or were you brought together before any offers were made?
Ryan: It was such a strange process. Neil is famous for his strenuous and large audition process. There were 13 stages in all. The way he directs, he tries to find people that have the essence of these characters within them and he then facilitates an environment that enables them to jam with each other.
Chemistry for this film was paramount. The first time Craig and I met was in a dinky little office in London’s West End. I was in Manchester at the time, he was coming from Los Angeles, and two other actors were coming in from Amsterdam and Australia. We’d all done the scenes with different partners and different groupings multiple times each.
In all the times that I’d auditioned and through all the boys that I’d met, no one else felt as available as Craig. He was looking to go “let’s just see what we do, let’s see what our dynamic is.” We found new things within the scenes that we hadn’t explored before. We went downstairs afterwards and just quietly, within audition etiquette, we each said “I hope you get it.” From that point on, we were each other’s rock throughout the whole shoot. What you’re seeing on screen is a relationship forged between two actors that is hopefully representative of the relationship between the real Tim and John.
Matt: There’s the text of the novel upon which the film is based. Is that solely what you drew from in creating the character of Timothy Conigrave or was there other research you could do such as speaking with his friends and family?
Ryan: The novel was the bible. If I ever wanted to know what was in Tim’s head, I could refer to the novel as it was Tim’s perspective writing about John. The research and material available extended far beyond that. We got to meet the Conigrave family and work with them for a number of weeks. They’d offer up family albums and come in for meetings with us for two hours where we’d just talk and get to know each other. They’d tell us stories about the boys at different ages.
As well as the family, we spoke to friends, ex-lovers, and other people who knew these boys intimately. We then had to collate all these ideas about who these people were. If someone was asked to describe me, my mum would say something very different to my best friend who would say something different to my ex.
Matt: Did all of that information help shape and change the screenplay?
Ryan: Absolutely. We had two weeks of rehearsal for this film which is rare in any Australian film. We workshopped the scenes like it was theatre and Tommy would edit the script on the fly.
Matt: As an actor, it seemed to be a challenging role in the sense that there are parts when you’re playing a high school teenager but other parts where you’re playing person who feels like he’s had a whole life of experience. How do you do that as an actor and get inside the head of Timothy at those various points in his life?
Ryan: Yeah, we had to have different entry points. For me, playing the younger character, I fit into a school uniform very differently from when I was 17 but it’s more about how your thoughts change and how your view of the world changes. I thought I had it all together and knew exactly what I was doing at 17 but the reality is that now, looking back, I realise I was a kid. It’s about getting back into that mentality and realising who Tim eventually was and where that may have stemmed from and trying to replicate elements of that within a 17-year-old’s headspace.
There was a bit of talk at the start about having younger boys play the roles. There was a big discussion and they didn’t know what they wanted to do for a long time. It was finally decided that in order to care about and connect with these characters, it would be quite jarring to switch actors half way through. You need to be invested in them, their love, and their chemistry all the way through.
Matt: It’s interesting the way the film is split up and events aren’t necessarily shown in a chronological order. Do you know what was behind the decision of writer Tommy Murphy and director Neil Armfield in that regard?
Ryan: It was a decision of both Neil and Tommy. Speaking to them both, the editing process almost became a new way of writing. They originally had a 3 hour cut with all the scenes from the filming script. That was obviously too long and there’s only so many scenes you can fit in. It’s not a film about how they went from 17 to 30 but rather it’s a window into a life. You inevitably know that it’s going to have a tragic ending so it’s not about keeping that from the audience to reveal at the end. It’s about showing moments in a life.
Matt: What was it like working alongside acclaimed actors such as Anthony LaPaglia, Guy Pearce, Geoffrey Rush and Kerry Fox?
Ryan: Incredible. I remember watching Memento with Guy Pearce and Shine with Geoffrey Rush. I was taken aback by how welcoming and supportive they were through the process. We put them on a pedestal and idolise them but these guys were saying “this is your set” and were offering their help.
It was great to watch their process and see there are similarities in the way that we all work. For example, Guy was really attached to how Richard would look. That seemed to be his entry point. He spent a lot of time getting his wig and his costume right. Both he and Kerry Fox interviewed Tim’s mother to help develop their characters.
Anthony LaPaglia knew Craig beforehand and actually housed him in America for a while. He’s come out of the woodwork and has taken me under his wing. He’s become a mentor in my life and is helping me navigate my way through the industry and the work itself. I feel really blessed to have met these people.
Matt: The film had its world premiere at the Sydney Film Festival back in June. What was it like seeing it with a packed audience for the first time? What sort of reactions have you received?
Ryan: So warm and so legitimate. It’s an emotional ride and so when people come and talk to us after the movie, they’ve been moved. That makes this project standalone from others I have done and may ever do. The book and story mean a lot to many people. It changes your thoughts about what will make this film a success. It’s not necessarily all about box-office figures but rather, whether we have done justice to the memory of these boys as far as their family and friends are concerned.
We also have a huge responsibility towards a group of men and women who went through the 1980s and 90s and experienced the myriad of young men who perished. While we’ve had huge developments in HIV and AIDS in this country, the film hopefully acts as gentle reminder of the past. It wasn’t all that long ago.
Matt: What have you got coming up next? When are we going to see you next on screen?
Ryan: I’ve got a few films coming up that we’re yet to shoot that are vastly different from Holding The Man. Part of this project was realising that scripts like this and opportunities to play real life characters come across very rarely. It’s then a question of what do you do next? For me, it’s any script that keeps me excited or that allows me to play a type of character I haven’t done before.
In the next film that I’m shooting, I’m playing a sadist, a rapist and a horrible member of society in a film that uses this platform to talk about violence in society. I’m following that up with a play at the Sydney Theatre Company directed by Richard Cottrell which is called Arcadia and is a Tom Stoppard classic. I’m keeping it as varied as I can.