I recently had the chance to speak with actor Ryan Kwanten (True Blood) and director Patrick Hughes about their film True Blood – released in Australian cinemas on November 25. It’s definitely worth a look and here’s what they had to say…
For an audio version, you can download an abbreviated version of the interview in a special 8-minute podcast. Just click here to go to my separate podcast page. You can also check out my full review of the film by clicking here.
Matt: You’re here in Brisbane for the International Film Festival. What’s the marketing plan for the film? Are you heading around Australia over the next few days?
Patrick: Yeah. We’re in the midst of the junket at the moment. Ryan and I both just got back from LA where we opened there last week.
Ryan: I was in New York doing a week of press. It was interesting for the film to be released first in America before coming to Australia for what is essentially an Australian film.
Matt: Pretty tired now?
Patrick: I think you sort of run on adrenalin. We’ve been doing festivals since our world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival in February this year. Every month I seem to cross paths with Ryan at one of these festivals and I’m trying to get rid of him. (laughs)
Matt: We’ve spoken a lot this year on 612ABC about social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. Do you guys use that to promote the film?
Patrick: Absolutely. There’s a Facebook page set up for the film. One of the first things I did before we even started shooting was to take out the domain name. I think it’s a really good way to promote films. You can even play Red Hill Main Street Shoot-Out, an online game. Ryan’s holding the top score on the game at the moment but we’ll see how the audience goes.
Ryan: I tracked Jimmy down in 30 seconds!
Matt: It’s always tough for any first time filmmaker to get a start. Was it a tough film to get off the ground?
Patrick: Yeah. To tell you the truth, it really came from a place of frustration. I’d tried numerous times to get a film off the ground and I got to a point where I realised that no one’s going to let me make a film until I go out myself and make a film.
I wrote a list of all my famous filmmakers and every one of them mortgaged their house and sold body parts to get their first films made – George Miller, the Coen Brothers, Christopher Nolan and Robert Rodriguez. Those guys had the attitude “let’s just go out there and make it” so that’s exactly how we made Red Hill. It happened very quickly. From sitting down and writing a script to its premiere at Berlin was just 11 months.
It was an incredible “stamp of approval” that we received at our world premiere because we sold it to pretty much every territory in the world within 48 hours.
Matt: So how’d you get Ryan involved?
Patrick: Just from the script. The only thing you have as a first time filmmaker is your script.
Ryan: And your word.
Patrick: And your passion. You’ve got to try to sell your vision over the phone which is sometimes difficult. It’s easier to be in the same room with them. But I got the script in front of Ryan and he was my first choice. I was looking for an actor which a physical presence but also an innocence and vulnerability. Ryan is one of those actors who is capable of doing both.
It felt like the role of Shane Cooper needed that. We got the script in front of Ryan and the next day he called and we hit it off over the phone. That was it. A done deal.
Matt: Ryan, how do you find the time to squeeze this in? I know you’re in True Blood which is incredibly popular and must take up a lot of your time. How much time do you get to devote to other interests and films like this?
Ryan: Half a year. I shoot True Blood for six months of the year. The other six months is dedicated to projects like this that I absolutely believe in. I’ve spent four years of my tenure in the States doing the jobs and getting my foot in the door to get myself financially set up to be in a position where I am now. To be able to make films like Red Hill that I’m not doing for the money. I’m doing it for the fact that they inspire me and I get to work with amazing filmmakers like Patrick.
Matt: So how do you handle the accent? You’ve been doing True Blood for many years with an American accent. Is it easy to transition back?
Ryan: It’s part and parcel of what we do. It’s what I get paid for. Having said that, there was an adjustment period. I’m so used to hearing the word “action” and putting on a version of the American accent.
Patrick: And literally, from you being in front of the camera doing the second season of True Blood to you being in front of the camera in Omeo, Victoria for Red Hill was something like 48 hours.
Ryan: And that was pure travel time. I met Patrick, shook his hand and he said “now, go in and shoot the most emotional scene in the film – you’ve got two takes to nail it.”
Patrick: In minus 7 degree temperatures under a rain machine with lightning strikes!
Ryan: Welcome to Omeo (laughs).
Matt: Talking about the film and its setting. It’s shot mostly at night. Is that easier as a filmmaker because you can control the lighting or does it make it much more difficult?
Patrick: No (laughs). This film was everything you should never do if you have a challenging budget. We had an incredible crew, a really dedicated crew. We had all the bells and whistles up there but we didn’t have a load of time – which is the biggest asset on a film shoot. We had 4 weeks to shoot the movie and it felt like every second set up we were doing was a difficult – a car chase, a shoot out, horses, rain machines, prosthetics, setting fire to hours, to barns… I’d stop half way through a shot and say “why the hell are we doing shooting this. What nutbag wrote this?”
Ryan: It was a budget that felt like $20m. When you’re capturing breath, James Cameron paid $20,000 per breath in Titanic.
Patrick: We got it for free!
Ryan: We had at least $5m worth of breath in there.
Matt: I noticed that. I was wondering if it was special effects or it actually was that cold?
Patrick: It literally was minus 7. Like you said, half the film is shot at night and it’s all shot in one day. The first time we used the rain machine it was so cold that it turned to black ice. The next day we had to put witches hats on the main street to stop cars crashing through shop windows.
Matt: Ryan, for you it’s a very physical role. You’re walking down streams, trekking across the countryside. You’re bloody, you’re bruised. Was it really like that or were the make up artists doing a great job?
Ryan: It really was. I did do a couple of trips to the hospital too. Patrick mortgaged his house, I shed a bit of blood and our crew worked in sub zero temperatures. It was four weeks of pure, unadulterated adrenalin.
Matt: Is there much in the way of special effects in the film? Or are all the action scenes just well choreographed?
Patrick: Ultimately, you’re trying to capture as much as you can physically on the camera. You look at a town like Omeo – it used to be a real boom town. Back in the 1890s the population was 40,000 and now there are just 120 there.
It felt like we were shooting in the backlot of a studio. The whole town came out to help us and we basically had the whole town to ourselves. We literally had shootouts on Main Street with 250 rounds going off on a Saturday night.
Ryan: And if you wanted something done, you paid them in beer.
Patrick: When you go to these small country towns, they really say what they mean. They’re men of their word. We’d say “oh, it’d be lovely if we could have a truck driving through the frame carrying some cattle to add a bit of scale” and a guy at the local pub would put his hand up and say “I’ll do it, what time do you want me there?”. We’d ask how much he’d want and he’d say “a slab of Crownies and that’d be fine. That became the currency down there in Omeo.
Matt: Ryan, let’s talk about your character, Shane Cooper. One of my favourite scenes in the film is where he meets his boss, played by Steve Bisley, for the first time. The interaction between you too… it’s as if he’s trying to dominate you. Did you have a lot of fun shooting those scenes?
Ryan: Steve and I worked pretty hard establishing the arc for the two characters. We didn’t want to come in at the same point and end at that same point. There had to be a genesis of those two. Shane had to be the young man who turns into a cowboy.
We had a tonne of fun. You couldn’t get two characters who are more polar opposites. You’ve got the totalitarian, regimented type. And you’ve got this “by the book” city cop coming in who is thrown into this world where all hell as broken loose.
Patrick: We like to say it’s Die Hard in the high country – that’s our little pitch (laughs).
Matt: One of the themes running through the film is that your character when it comes to shooting the gun, he can’t do it. Have you shot a gun yourself prior to shooting the movie?
Ryan: Yeah, I’ve had a little gun training but not an extensive amount. A really intriguing thing for me was to play the so called hero of this film and yet he was fallible. He wasn’t a John Wayne or a Clint Eastwood where it doesn’t matter what he comes up against. You thought he was going to be ok even if he got shot 1,600 times. He’d still walk into the sunset. With Cooper, you just weren’t sure. He had to find that courage himself and the ability to get back up.
Matt: One question that I know a lot of people are going to be asking is about the panther. Is that there to symbolise something?
Patrick: It’s a huge mythology that’s been going for over 100 years in Victoria. It’s this sort of urban legend. I felt like it was an interesting parallel to draw – that one day death stalks into this town. It’s a representation of your past coming back to haunt you.
The essence of this film is that it’s about a town that is dying. It’s an old boom that’s hanging on to its former glory days. What I was drawn to in the western genre is that sense of a “moral code”. All my favourite westerns are about these thriving boom towns. I was interested to know what happens to that boom town 100 years later when all the industries that built it have run out and all the people have left.
For me, that was really interesting. You have these stoic characters like Old Bill who are hanging onto the past. And then you place a young, new constable into that situation and you create a “changing of the guard”.
Matt: I’ll finish up by asking what’s next for you guys? What projects have you got on the go?
Patrick: This film has opened up every door imaginable for me. After selling around the world and having Sony pick it up here and in the States, it has enabled me to get some amazing representation over there. I’ve moved over to L.A. and I’m now based there. There are a lot of things on the go and it’s an exciting time.
Ryan: He’s got people like Quentin Tarantino who turned up to the screening and told him how much he loved it. He’s got the world at his feet.
That’s what I knew that he was capable of when we had a conversation for the first time. I really think that he’s Australia’s answer to a Robert Rodriguez. That’s why the studio execs are so hungry to get a piece of him. He can do it all and he can do it a lot cheaper than most other Hollywood types.
Patrick: I won’t be more mortgaging my house to make the next one (laughs).
Matt: So what have you got coming up Ryan?
Ryan: I’ve got series 4 of True Blood and then three films. One’s playing Charles Manson and another is playing a South African guy with Bruce Beresford directing.
Matt: Wow. It looks like we’ll be hearing a lot about both of you over the next few years. Thanks guys!