The Daughter is about to be released in Australian cinemas and I caught up with director Simon Stone to chat about it…
Matt: You’ve appeared in TV shows like Blue Heelers, you’ve been in movies like Balibo and The Eye of the Storm, you’ve directed theatrical productions, and now here you are directing a feature length motion picture. It’s a pretty good resume for someone your age. Is this the career progression you always had planned for yourself?
Simon: No, not really. I wish I could travel back in time to when I was a 16-year-old and tell myself “hey, those things you were daydreaming about on the way to school… well, they actually happened.” It’s very exciting.
Matt: I guess you could say the creation of this film started more than 100 years ago with Henrik Ibsen putting pen to paper and writing The Wild Duck. What was it that made you think it’d be ripe for a modern adaptation?
Simon: It’s a very touching story about a family trying to stay together amidst the revelation of long buried secrets. It’s classic story material. I wrote a contemporary play based on Henrik Ibsen’s work which really connected with audiences. The idea of then turning it into a film was a slightly easier decision than had it been taken from the original material. The play was effectively the “road test”.
Matt: You’ve got Jan Chapman here as a producer – a woman who has been Oscar nominated for The Piano and also involved on films such as Love Serenade, Lantana and Bright Star. How valuable is she to you? What can she offer as a producer?
Simon: She knows how good films are made and she’s been involved with making several of them. You get some great juju from her. A common theme in my career is that I love to put myself in a scenario where I could look like a complete idiot because everyone around me is so much more talented.
Matt: A lot of actors who direct often put themselves in the movie as a way of helping improve their chances of landing acting gigs down the road. Did you give it any thought yourself?
Simon: No, not at all. I don’t have any ego from an acting point of view. A joy that I’ve gained in my career is helping other actors find moments of great truth and vulnerability in their performances. I admire actors because they’re always putting themselves in a situation where they could fail in the hands of the wrong director. I much prefer to be a position where I can try to make sure that the position is not a horrible one for them.
Matt: At the start of the year, I’d never heard the name Odessa Young and now I’ve seen her deliver two great performances – here and in Looking For Grace. How did you discover her for this role?
Simon: A friend of mine had worked with her on a short film and she mentioned her about 18 months before we shot The Daughter. I remember the name because it was so unique. I got her in for a workshop for the film and I could see that she was amazing on screen but I didn’t think she was right for this particular role. Her agents convinced me to give her another look and so I sent her an email telling her to go completely in the opposite direction of her normal instincts when playing the character. She took up the challenge and she really transformed during the audition process. She’s one of the most extraordinarily skilful people at becoming someone else that I’ve ever worked with.
Matt: You’re a 31-year-old directing your first movie. What’s it like giving instruction to the likes of Geoffrey Rush, Sam Neill and Miranda Otto?
Simon: The thing that people often don’t realise that great actors like Geoffrey, Sam and Miranda are desperate for people to direct them. If you’re an actor going “what should I be doing on the next take?” instead of thinking about the content of the scene, you’ll end up repeating the same performance throughout your career because people are too scared to direct you. It’s why I became an actor in the first place. I like transforming, changing and discovering things that I didn’t know I was capable of doing.
Matt: I liked the fast pace of the film in the early stages. You move quickly from character-to-character, from subplot-to-subplot to create that backstory before we move into the meatier part of the film. How easy was it to find that right pace?
Simon: That’s a really good question. It was something that didn’t exist in the script. When it was cut together the first time, it was depressing how long-winded the introduction was. I left Australia 3 hours after we finished shooting to go to Amsterdam to produce a play. It gave me plenty of time to think about the edit and when I came home 2 months later, I had this idea that everything overlapped at the start. It would be a good way to show the connectedness of these characters in a film that highlights the connectedness of their fates and destinies. It also gives the audience a sense of security that something will actually happen in the movie.
Matt: Your film was selected to screen at the Toronto Film Festival – a great honour in its own right given they only select a small percentage of films that are submitted each year. What was that experience like?
Simon: Toronto was amazing because it was just off the back of having been to the Venice Film Festival. I was like “oh wow, this is really the film world”. The extraordinary thing when you go to festivals is that you get to meet the audience that is watching the movie. It’s amazing to see their reactions. It was deeply moving to see how the film affected them.
Matt: What are the plans going forward? Anything you’re working on at the moment?
Simon: I’m currently halfway through directing a play in Germany and I’m taking a quick break from it to do publicity for The Daughter. I’m then doing a play in Amsterdam, London, and doing an opera – all before August. I’m writing a TV series, preparing film, seeing what happens next, trying to have a relationship, trying to stay connected with life… I’m in an incredibly lucky period of my life where I get to experience a whole lot of things that others don’t.