Josh Lawson

I saw The Little Death in a packed cinema and the audience was laughing both often and loudly.  On the flip side, I’ve had two friends express their strong dislike for the film.  It’s an audience-divider and so I spoke to writer-director Josh Lawson about it…

Matt:  The intricacies of sex are something that isn’t discussed a lot in today’s movies.  Why is that?  Where did the original idea come from for this film?

Josh:  It really came about because it isn’t discussed a lot.  I felt there was a gap in the content we were making in Australia and I just find the subject really interesting.  It’s a subject that can provide all sorts of things – comedy, drama, tragedy, romance, intimacy, shock, danger, discomfort, nervousness and all of that stuff.   It’s one of the last great taboos.  It takes a lot to surprise us these days because we’ve seen so much and audiences are so savvy and so I thought that sex might be the place where you could find a few more surprises.

Matt:  Specifically it’s talking about fetishes which are something that’s definitely not spoken about a lot.  How did you settle on these particular five fetishes as part of your script?

Josh:  There’s an endless list from which you can choose but for the film, I really wanted fetishes that required planning and forethought.  That’s sort of why it’s called The Little Death.  I was curious to see how far a person might go in order to get this fleeting moment of ecstasy.  What’s the emotional cost that comes with finding a specific kind of pleasure?

Matt:  So how do you research something like that?  I’m guessing these aren’t all your own fantasies.

Josh:  I’d be exhausted if they were!  The internet makes things very easy now.  Not just for me as a researcher but also for people with fetishes.  Likeminded people can find a community whereas a long time ago, people with fetishes may have felt a lot more shame.  I read books and case studies but I also checked out online chat forums where people spoke about these fetishes and their own experiences. 

Matt:  As the writer-director of the film, you can cast yourself wherever you want so how did you settle in particular on the role of Paul?  Were there other roles you were thinking about playing?

Josh:  No.  In fact, I never wrote the film with me in mind for any role.  It came out of necessity truth be told.  Someone else was in the role and there was a last minute scheduling problem and so I stepped in.  I’m glad I did in the end because the film is so personal to me and it was nice to be able to spin those three plates.  I’m proud of the work we did.  Also, Bojana and I have known each other for a long time because we went to drama school together in Sydney.  We had good chemistry because of that history and I think things worked out for the best.

Matt:  What was your approach to the casting?  Do you pick friends of yours?  Do you a do a lot of auditioning?  Do you go with people you’d rather work with? 

Josh:  Casting for this film was really crucial because it’s an actor’s piece.  There’s a lot of dialogue and a lot of tricky material.  It required the actors to be fearless given the nature of the subject.  I got to cast friends but I didn’t cast them because they were friends.  I went with who I thought the best people for job were.  One of the reasons I wanted to make this film here in Australia because I felt there was so much talent in actors who weren’t necessarily stars.

I also didn’t want the film to feel unbalanced by having a really big name.  I wanted it to feel very real, very natural.  I wanted the couples to feel believable.  It made sense to cast those who aren’t known globally and in some cases, not even known nationally.  I have a feeling that for a few of them, the film will really showcase their talents.

Matt:  Without giving everything away, the film doesn’t wrap up all the short stories with a nice, neat happy ending.  What was your approach to working out when each story would end?

Josh:  Someone asked me the other day as to why some of the stories didn’t have resolutions and my answer was “when does any story have a resolution?”  Tomorrow is another day and who knows what’s going to change.  Maybe you get back together and then tomorrow you have another fight and break up. 

For me, the moral of the stories are that those who are dishonest with each other are probably more doomed than those who are honest with each other.  Those who are transparent and communicate a little more with their partner have more hope I think.

Matt:  I was going to ask about the tone.  You could do this as a straight out raunchy comedy or it could be a really heavy serious drama.  When you’re writing the script, how do you balance that up?  How do you know you’ve got the right amount of humour while also treating the subject respectfully?

Josh:  It’s a good question and it was obviously really tricky.  The film is primarily a comedy but it’s other things as well.  Each story served a different purpose when trying to solicit a certain reactions and emotions from people.  I wanted the film to feel like a ride.  One minute you’re feeling one emotion and then the next minute you’re feeling something completely different.  Because sex can be so many different things, I wanted the film to be able to cover a lot of things under the umbrella of comedy.

To come back to your question about finding balance, it was important that the character’s intentions are ultimately good and not malicious.  While some of the characters do horrible things, it never comes from a place of malice.  As misguided as they may be, they’re actually trying to connect and find intimacy together.  If those intentions are clear, you can go to a darker place I think.

Matt:  My favourite story is the one that’s covered last – the deaf man and the phone operator.  The audience was laughing hysterically at the preview screening.  I’d love to know if there was something in particular that inspired that story?

Josh:  My uncle is deaf and my cousin is fluent in sign language.  She worked in one of those translating call centres.  I was thinking one day how funny it would be if someone called and had phone sex.  Their job is to interpret exactly and they can’t interfere with that as the whole idea is for a deaf person to call up and have a regular phone call.

I came to one of the services here in Brisbane to research it.  They showed me around and as I was leaving, I said to the manager “this is going to sound crazy but have you ever had guys call this place and try to have phone sex?” and she goes “yeah, most of them.”  That just goes to show you that people are sexual creatures.  Our instincts are there.  No matter how nice we dress or how articulate we sound, we’re all mammals. 

Matt:  You were able to screen the film at the Toronto Film Festival which is about as big as it gets in terms of the film festival circuit.  What was that like and what reactions did you get from North American audiences there?

Josh:  It was really special.  Like you say, it’s a real honour and a privilege to make it to a film festival like that.  I think that we get stuck a lot in this country to fill a mandate of telling “Australian stories”.  What we should be telling are human stories.  They can be set in Australia of course to let people know that we are here.  However, when you make a film that is quintessentially Australian, you a run a risk that you’ve going to make it so assertoric that it doesn’t travel.

We found the Canadians were loving this film because who can’t relate to being in a relationship, to having sex, to being embarrassed?  All of these are such human things and so we found the film travelled really well and the Canadians were reacting in the exact same way that Australians seemed to.

Matt:  When you write and direct a film it takes up a huge chunk of your time.  What happens now after this?  What have you got planned?  Will you be directing other stuff?

Josh:  I feel like I should hibernate for six months.  You’re right in that it really swallows up every chunk of time that you have.  I’m going back to acting and will be shooting series 4 of House Of Lies in the United States.  I’m keen to write and direct again.  I enjoyed the experience even though it was taxing.  Perhaps that’s because I enjoy a challenge.  I want to tell different stories and I’m looking forward to the next one being really different to The Little Death.  I wouldn’t mind tackling a different time and place.  I hope that I’ve learned so much from this film that I can make the next one even better.