A flood of Australian movies as been arriving in cinemas (just in time for AACTA Award voting) and the latest is The Royal Hotel from director Kitty Green. I recently had the chance to speak to Kitty about the interesting project…
Matt: The screenplay is accredited to you and another Aussie, Oscar Redding. How did the idea come about and what was the process between you two in putting it all on paper?
Kitty: I had originally seen a documentary called Hotel Coolgardie which is about two Scandinavian backpackers working in an outback pub. I was struck by the movie and thought it was an interesting documentary. I then got to work on adapting it into a fictional film.
Matt: Anyone who has travelled to outback Australia will know of pubs and people like we see in the film. Where did you end up shooting it?
Kitty: We shot in South Australia – a few hours north of Adelaide in a little town called Yatina which is home to 29 people. We took over that town. It was hard to get a real pub to shut down for a few weeks so we used a studio in Adelaide to build the interior of the pub and take over that space.
Matt: Was it the kind of movie where you can get the locals to help out? Did any of the 29 people in the town get involved?
Kitty: There’s definitely some Yatina residents in the movie. The owner of the pub makes a few cameos so that was exciting for him.
Matt: I love it when films have a great opening shot and here you have a cracker - thinking we’re in some kind of nightclub when that’s not really the case. How did that evolve?
Kitty: We wanted to show a good, fun Sydney vacation. The idea is that it’s the kind of trip where you spend a lot of time in dark nightclubs and you’re not experiencing the country as much as you would if you went further out. Once they leave the nightclub, you realise it’s on a moving boat in Sydney Harbour and it was a lot of fun to shoot out there. We did want to make a point that’s not the real Australia and the real Australian experience.
Matt: I am a big fan of Julia Garner and you’ve worked with her before. From your perspective as a director, what is it that makes her so damn good?
Kitty: She’s electric. You put her in front of a camera and the camera loves her. She’s got a really interesting face. She can do very little with her face and still be expressive and understand what the character is going through. She’s also lovely to work with. We get along and it’s really fun.
Matt: I’m sure she’d get a few scripts thrown her way. What was it that attracted her so much to the role?
Kitty: We’d worked together before on The Assistant which was key and the idea of working together again was exciting. Also, I don’t believe she’d been to Australia before and she was keen on the travel and adventure side of it.
Matt: Garner plays the role of Hannah and Jessica Henwick plays Liv. They’re both gifted actors and so I was curious to know if you always saw it that way or whether there was any thought to flipping their characters?
Kitty: I was attracted to the documentary, and I thought Julia could play the lead role. I got the script to her and that was great first up. It was then about casting her best friend and that was more of a challenge to find who would fit in and get along with us in making it a trio. We found Jess who was wonderful and it really worked out.
Matt: I have to ask about Ursula Yovich who really does steal every scene she’s in. I’ll describe her as the pub’s no-nonsense matriarch. How did you see that character and Ursula fitting so perfectly into the role?
Kitty: My co-writer, Oscar, had worked with Ursula on a theatrical show before and so we wrote the role for her. We thought she’d be a good partner for Hugo Weaving’s character. We needed someone who was so tired and sick of him, and wanted to cut and run. The two of them worked so beautifully together and their relationship was really solid.
Matt: I was going to ask about Hugo Weaving because he’s one of my favourite Aussie actors. Was it an easy pitch for him?
Kitty: I think I had to convince him as I needed to send a few emails. He was great and kind. He was kind of the captain of the ship who set the tone on the set and it was wonderful to have him there.
Matt: You’ve had a chance to show this film to big international crowds, like at Telluride and Toronto, who perhaps aren’t as knowledgeable about this part of Australia. What was the reception like?
Kitty: We got some good reviews in America but I don’t know if they got all the jokes. They’re pretty serious and the Australian sense of humour doesn’t always translate. It has played better here in Australia because I think out audiences naturally know who these people are and what this place is.
Matt: What’s it been like being back in Australia and showing it to festival audiences here?
Kitty: We opened a few film festivals which was fun with big audiences. It was exciting to hear the laughter and then see that transition into discomfort and people wondering if they should be laughing or not. We’ve had some good screenings.
Matt: What’s coming up? What will we see from you next?
Kitty: I’m not sure. I’ve got to sit down and figure it out. I’ve spent a lot of time finishing this one up and getting it into theatres. I’ll take a week off and then think about what’s next.