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Interview - Nathan Phillips On These Final Hours

Nathan Phillips

These Final Hours is the latest Australian films to hit our screens.  I caught up with star Nathan Phillips to chat a little about it…

Matt:  You started out in Neighbours and have been in the business for 15 years now.  Has it gotten any easier to get your foot in the door and land auditions for roles you really want?

Nathan:  I’d like to say yes but also no.  Just like life, my career is constantly evolving.  With acting itself as a craft, you’re continually learning on the job and working with new people. 

Matt:  Can you tell me how this particular role came across your radar?

Nathan:  I was fortunate enough to be sent the script.  I was living in northern California on a farm and had been removed from the industry for a few months.  I choose to do that and I think it’s really healthy to take a break.  So yeah, I read the script and saw it was a coming-of-age tale for a young man moving from his 20s to his 30s and realising that there’s more to life than getting “off your head” every weekend.  He wants more substance in his life.

You don’t really know too much about his backstory.  All you know is that there’s only 12 hours left and so you get this microscopic view of a self-obsessed man on the road to redemption through the catalyst of Angourie Rice’s character, Rose.  They’re an odd couple.

Matt:  Every director has to start somewhere and in the case of Zak Hilditch, this is his first feature film.  Does it feel any different on set working with someone who is making a film for the first time?

Nathan:  He’d made a short film previously called Transmission which starred Angourie Rice.  That was a proof of concept for him.  I could see that he had a great piece of the puzzle already done – and that was finding a young actress that could bring energy to the film.  Also, while I knew he was a first time feature director, I also knew that he’d written the script and that he was very close to these characters. 

Matt:  You’ve mentioned Angourie Rice and I believe she was only about 12 years old when the movie was shot.  How is that for you working with someone so young on such an emotionally intense film? 

Nathan:  Yeah, it was funny.  It brought out my natural paternal instincts of wanting to cover her eyes during the party scenes because there’s a lot of nudity and crass language.  While it is the end of the world, not everyone is sitting around singing Kumbaya My Lord.  A lot of people are getting loaded and trying to escape from the problem with drugs, alcohol and whatever.

When we talk about this film, everyone has an idea of how they will spend their final hours.  Everyone is intrigued by the concept.  It deals with mortality.  It deals with an existential, philosophical subject matter.  To have a young girl thrown into this and being asked that question – “how do you spend your final hours?” – I think it’s a very brave concept.

Matt:  Did you get involved in the script?  Were you able to provide some input into how your character would act and what he might say?

Nathan:  Yeah.  The blueprint was there and we adhered to that.  However, the backstory and life of these characters before they come on screen was our responsibility.  The authenticity of the relationship between myself and my mother, played by Lynette Curran, were so important to nail and we only had a week of rehearsals. 

Matt:  I noticed last night that you sat in on the preview screening and watched the whole film.  Can you sit back, enjoy the film and admire your performances… or are you looking at yourself far more critically?

Nathan:  It’s hard to not be critical of your own performance… but as a filmmaker myself, I’m more intrigued by what Nick Meyers did as the editor.  I’m interesting to see how he put these stories together into a seamless narrative.  So yeah, I’m dissecting it while also trying to let go and get caught up in the world of it. 

Matt:  It’s a very physical role.  You’re doing a lot of running and fighting and stressing.  Was there a lot of physical training that you had to put yourself through prior to the shoot?

Nathan:  Yep.  It comes back to the importance of authenticity.  I didn’t want to get all 300 and have the washboard abs but it was still really important for my character to have a physical appearance so that you can believe that he’d handle himself in a fight and that he’d be able to carry a 12-year-old girl in extreme heat.  I was preparing while I was living on the farm and so it was easy for me to build up my strength.

Matt:  It looks like you’re a sweaty mess throughout the whole film.  Is that you actually being a sweaty mess or do we owe some thanks to a talented make up crew?

Nathan:  (laughs)  No, I was a sweaty mess.  The film is suggesting that it’s getting hotter as we get closer to the catastrophic event.  Lucky it wasn’t shot in the heat of a Western Australian summer.  It was just on the border as we filmed in October and November. 

Matt:  We’re introduced to your character here straight up with a pretty steamy sex scene.  It’s a question that’s often asked of actors but how easy is that to do?

Nathan:  It’s never easy.  There’s a great quote from Michael Caine that I like to use in these circumstances and I just worked with Diane Kruger and I got to use the line on her as well – “if something happens I apologise and if something doesn’t happen I apologise.”  It’s a small room with about 10 people holding boom sticks and cameras and so it’s always a weird experience… but it’s not the hardest part of the job.

Matt:  Australian budgets typically aren’t very high and so despite this being an apocalyptic film, there isn’t quite room for huge special effects, or massive car crashes, or scenes with hundreds of people running down a CBD street.  This film is set in the quieter suburbs and focuses solely on your character.  Do you think that limits the film in any way?

Nathan:  No, I think the film can stand alone without all the things that you’ve mentioned.  It allows for many more creative choices to be made when you don’t have a budget and don’t have an “excess”.  You have to rely on acting, characters and story.  You’re not relying on special effects and a quick edit.  There’s a charm to that and it’s important to remember that this isn’t a Hollywood movie.  It’s an Australian movie.   

Matt:  And to finish up, are you able to tell us what you’ll be working on next?

Nathan:  Yep, I’ll be working on The Bridge, a television series with Diane Kruger.  It’s a wonderfully written show with a great subject matter and I get to play a very cool, mysterious lover of Diane Kruger.  It’s all being filmed in Los Angeles at the moment and I’m really excited to be on the FX network and on that show.

Nominations For The 2013/14 Toomey Awards


One of my favourite parts of any film year is award season. It begins in December and culminates in late February with the Academy Awards.

Since I'll never be a member of the Academy, I decided back in 2000 to create a way of recognising my own favourite films and performances. It was somewhat self-indulgent to call them the Toomey Awards but meh, it was the best I could come up with at the time so I'm sticking with the name for now.

You can click here to see the winners and nominees for the past 14 years. I always go off a fiscal year and so the 2014 awards include all films released in Australian cinemas between 1 July 2013 and 30 June 2014.  This is because (1) I'm an accountant by day, and (2) it helps line up with the staggered release of "awards season" contenders in Australia through December, January and February each year.

It took a white to settle on the choices but here's my complete list of nominations.  I'll announce the winners in 4 weeks time.


Best Picture

BLUE JASMINE
EDGE OF TOMORROW
GRAVITY
PHILOMENA
12 YEARS A SLAVE


Best Director

Doug Liman (EDGE OF TOMORROW)
Alfonso Cuarón (GRAVITY)
Alexander Payne (NEBRASKA)
Stephen Frears (PHILOMENA)
Steve McQueen (12 YEARS A SLAVE)


Best Actor In A Leading Role

Leonardo DiCaprio (THE WOLF OF WALL STREET)
Bruce Dern (NEBRASKA)
Sitthiphon Disamoe (THE ROCKET)
Matthew McConaughey (DALLAS BUYERS CLUB)
Robert Redford (ALL IS LOST)


Best Actress In A Leading Role

Cate Blanchett (BLUE JASMINE)
Sandra Bullock (GRAVITY)
Paulina Garcia (GLORIA)
Emma Thompson (SAVING MR BANKS)
Maribel Verdú (BLANCANIEVES)


Best Actor In A Supporting Role

Steve Coogan (PHILOMENA)
Dane DeHaan (KILL YOUR DARLINGS)
Michael Fassbender (12 YEARS A SLAVE)
Paul Giamatti (SAVING MR BANKS)
Sam Rockwell (THE WAY WAY BACK)


Best Actress In A Supporting Role

Emily Blunt (EDGE OF TOMORROW)
Jennifer Garner (DALLAS BUYERS CLUB)
Sally Hawkins (BLUE JASMINE)
Lupita N'yongo (12 YEARS A SLAVE)
June Squibb (NEBRASKA)


Best Screenplay Written Directly For The Screen

ABOUT TIME (Richard Curtis)
BLUE JASMINE (Woody Allen)
GRAVITY (Alfonso Cuarón, Jonás Cuarón)
THE HEAT (Katie Dippold)
NEBRASKA (Bob Nelson)


Best Screenplay Based On Material Previously Produced Or Published

CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (Billy Ray)
EDGE OF TOMORROW (Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth)
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (Joss Whedon)
PHILOMENA (Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope)
12 YEARS A SLAVE (John Ridley)


Best Original Score

GRAVITY (Steven Price)
NEBRASKA (Mark Orton)
PACIFIC RIM (Ramin Djawadi)
PHILOMENA (Alexandre Desplat)
12 YEARS A SLAVE (Hans Zimmer)


Best Animated Feature

CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS 2
FROZEN
THE LEGO MOVIE
TURBO


Best Foreign Language Film

BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR
THE GREAT BEAUTY
THE RAID 2
THE ROCKET
WADJDA


Best Australian Film

RED OBSESSION
THE BABADOOK
THE ROCKET
THE ROVER


Best Documentary

RED OBSESSION
SALINGER
STORIES WE TELL
20 FEET FROM STARDOM
 

Interview - Director David Michod Talks About The Rover

David Michod

Director David Michôd (Animal Kingdom) made quick stopover in Brisbane (en route from Sydney to Los Angeles) to talk about his terrific new film, The Rover.  He provided some insightful answers at a post-film Q&A at the Dendy Portside and just beforehand, I was lucky to sit down with him for 15 minutes to talk about his movie…

Matt:  Animal Kingdom was a script that took a long time to get off the ground.  Given that film’s commercial success here in Australia and of course the Oscar nomination for Jacki Weaver, was it a little easier getting The Rover kick started?

David:  Once I decided that The Rover was the film I wanted to make, yeah, it was a little bit easier.  Animal Kingdom was such a life changer for me.  After its first screening at Sundance in 2010, I spent a couple of years sifting through all my options.  I wanted to take them seriously but in the end, The Rover became a “no brainer” for me.

Matt:  The backstory here is intriguing and it’s really only referred to during the opening title sequence as the “collapse”.  Was thought given to providing a bit more history, a bit more context for this futuristic setting?

David:  Not really.  I knew I wanted to set the film in a kind of degraded future and within that, there were two options.  I either the put the movie on the other side of an unimaginable cataclysm like an asteroid hitting earth or a nuclear holocaust.  Or, I just make it what it is – the product of a couple of decades of really steady but severe Western economic decline.  I really wanted everything that had gone wrong in the world of the movie to feel like a direct product of everything that is wrong with the world today.  

Matt:  Guy Pearce is fantastic in the role.  He’s expressionless for so much of it and never really speaks unless he has to ask a question.  I believe you always had Guy in mind for the character but he took a little convincing?

David:  I don’t know if he took a lot of convincing but on the page, the character reads as very taciturn, very shutdown.  I think he wanted to understand what I was asking him to do before he took the full leap of faith.  This guy is a murderous, embittered drifter and I wanted Guy to play the character because he is such a master at playing a powerfully intense stillness and yet filling the stillness with tiny little bits of emotional detail.  There aren’t many actors in the world who can do that and certainly not as well as Guy can.

Matt:  Did you always want an Australian for that role?

David:  Yeah, it felt important to me.  It never felt to me like a movie that could have been shot anywhere but in the Australian desert.  There have been a few decades of Western economic collapse but the mines are still working and we’re still feeding the Asian century.  In the middle of this world, I wanted this angry drifter in his mid-40s who was old enough to remember what the world used to be like but also young enough to be physically dangerous.

Matt:  Robert Pattinson is the person who most people will know as the sparkly vampire from the Twilight franchise – a role that couldn’t be much more different from this.  How did he come across your radar?

David:  I had a meeting with him in Los Angeles.  As Animal Kingdom was so well received, I went on the super intense meeting circuit for quite a while.  I did hundreds of meetings and I met producers, studio executives, and actors.  It’s like your agent is setting up on blind dates.  I really liked doing them because I love actors and I love meeting them personally because you frequently find something in them that you don’t necessarily see in their work.  Rob was one of those for me.

I was totally unfamiliar with his work when we had the meeting with him but was completely beguiled by him.  He had this wonderfully awkward physical energy and he was really smart and funny.  When it came to start testing for The Rover, Rob was willing to come in and audition for me.  He was one of a few people who came in but within 5 minutes of seeing him perform, I knew he was my guy.  There’s an exhilaration in that because I knew that if he gave me on set what he was giving me in the audition room, people would be seeing a side of him that they had never seen before.

Matt:  Do you tailor a role like this when Robert was cast?  I was talking to a fellow critic and we both found it interesting that he’s in the car singing the lyrics to “don’t hate me because I’m beautiful”?

David:  Yeah.  I had already tailored that song to the movie already but it was one of a few different options I had.  As soon as Rob was on board, I kind of thought this was strangely perfect.  It’s a moment of levity but it’s at a particularly dark juncture in the movie and it was important that I reminded the audience that he’s a kid.  In different circumstances, he’d probably be listening to pop music and looking at himself in the mirror and thinking about girls.  Not in this world though and not while sitting alongside the monstrous creature that Guy Pearce plays.

Matt:  Almost every film is shot digitally these days but not this one.  Speaking to someone who doesn’t have an intimate knowledge of the technology, what was the advantage of using film on The Rover?

David:  There were a number of reasons.  The first, and most important, is that I still love it.  As great as digital technology is, there’s still something beautiful about the organic milkiness of film.  It handles contrasts better than digital also.  It can handle the incredibly intense and harsh light that you get I the desert.  

Another reason I love shooting on film is because it’s more expensive.  It’s not that I want to spend more money but when the film is rolling through the camera on set, you can feel everybody’s focus.  They know that money is being spent and that everyone needs to concentrate.

Matt:  A lot of people are shot dead but we don’t actually seem them getting killed.  We’re either looking at the shooter or looking from a far off angle.  It’s different in one particular case though towards the beginning of the film where Guy is looking for a gun.  Was there something about that particular moment that made you use that approach?

David:  This really gets to a broader question about my feelings towards violence in cinema.  It doesn’t surprise me that violence is such a prevalent dramatic tool in cinema because it’s a powerful one.  It has the capacity to turn characters’ lives upside down.  I don’t like to revel in violence for the sake of it but I needed to show that Guy’s character is an incredibly dangerous and volatile person.  It’s at that moment where you realise just how dangerous he is and how he is capable of anything.  It felt like it needed to have that impact.

There are other moments though where I didn’t need to see the direct consequences of what he’s done.  Sometimes if you are too graphic in your representation of violence, it can detract from the dramatic power of it.  I’m always very aware of that.

Matt:  The film was shot in the Flinders Rangers in a remote part of South Australia.  I’m guessing that threw up its fair share of challenges?

David:  It was the height of summer and it was really, really hot.  We had vast distances to travel.  We were quite isolated much of the time.  We were in an amazing town called Marree for the last three weeks of the shoot which is about 8-9 hours north of Adelaide.  It’s so beautifully strange.  There was no mobile phone reception.  There was only one phone line in town that we could use.  We kind of all went a little wonderfully mad.  It’s often the case that the more physically demanding the shoot is, the more you bond with your cast and crew.  That was certainly the case on this film.

Matt:  The film screened as part of the “midnight screenings” at the Cannes Film Festival.  What was the whole Cannes experience like for you?

David:  I almost can’t even tell you because it felt like I’d been hit by a Gucci truck.  It was amazing.  All the pomp and ceremony that Cannes puts on… it all comes together to make you know definitively that once you’re on that red carpet, you’re having one of the most important experiences of your career, if not your life.  It’s the spiritual home of cinema and it feels amazing to be a part of it.  

Matt:  What plans are in place for the film’s international release?

David:  It opens the same week in America as it does here and so tomorrow I’m on a plane to L.A. and the travelling circus rolls on.

Matt:  And where to from here?  Do you have any other projects in the works that you can tell us about?  Or will promotion for The Rover be occupying your time for a while?

David:  The Rover will occupy a little bit of my time first.  I’m glad it’s opening at the same time in America as it is here because I can condense all the promotion.  On Animal Kingdom, it felt like I was living in hotel rooms and airports for about 18 months.  It felt important to do though as it was my first movie.  I needed to be where people wanted me to be.  It also meant that I didn’t get anything else done.

But yeah, there are movies that I’m fooling around with at the moment and I’d like to get back on the horse and make them reasonably soon.  

David Michod

 

Interview - Guy Pearce Chats About The Rover

Guy Pearce

Guy Pearce was at the Sydney Film Festival over the weekend for the Australian premiere of the new David Michod film, The Rover.  I was fortunate enough to get ten minutes with Guy to speak a little about it…

Matt:  I was reading that David Michod had you in mind for this role as far back as when he was writing a first draft of the screenplay.  We know you guys worked together on the brilliant Animal Kingdom.  When was it that he first approached you about the role?

Guy:  I can’t remember exactly when it was but it was some months before we made the movie.  He called and told me he had something for me to look at.  I believe he’d been working on it for some time before he did approach me.  I was pretty excited because I believe David is an interesting filmmaker and I got on well with him when we made Animal Kingdom.  

When I read the script, I had some reservations.  I had a tricky time understanding who this character was.  By the time we find him in the film, he’s fairly devoid of who he used to be.  David and I had to have a number of discussions just to make sure we were on the same page.  

Matt:  I saw that David had described the role as someone who is embittered, jaded and full of resentment.  What sort of preparation do you put yourself into this character before shooting begins?

Guy:  It’s really about the discussions we have.  Once you have a clear picture in your mind of who he is, or who he was at least, then it’s really just a matter of enacting it.  It was an interesting character to play because he is so devoid of humanity and a moral/ethical standing in the world.

Matt:  The theme of the film is quite grim.  We’re looking at this futuristic world where capitalism has collapsed and there are some who believe, including friends of mine, that this is path we’re actually heading down today.  Did the backstory play a part when you agreed to sign onto the film?  Is it something you believe the world needs to think about?

Guy:  Oh, I’m very interested in the backstory.  It’s hard not to feel concerned about the direction that the world is heading in.  At the start of the film is 10 years after the collapse and we get a sense of a lawless, military run kind of state.  We know for a fact that there are parts of the world that operate like that as we speak – where corruption and greed and overpopulation and societal breakdown has meant that we’ve reverted back to a less civilised world.  It’s hard to imagine that isn’t going to dominate more parts of the world if we keep operating the way that we currently are.

Matt:  The film was shot in the Flinders Ranges in a remote part of South Australia.  I’m guessing that threw up its fair share of challenges?

Guy:  Yeah, the heat is the obvious factor but at the same time it’s kind of inspiring as well.  With that landscape, you’re given a view of the real life of the movie every day.  David didn’t want the film to look beautiful.  He wanted it to look barren and bleak… but there is a beauty there that’s undeniable.

In a way, that matched the relationships in the film where everyone is either desperate or at death’s door and yet underneath, there’s this need for people to love and to still be human and to still connect.  

Matt:  I was reading that you spent 3 weeks in the town of Marree – which has a population of just 90 people.  What was the level of interest from locals in the project?  Did they get involved with the film?

Guy:  Some were involved, yeah.  You end up getting to know people too.  Every town we went to people were generous and appreciative of you being there.  We’d bring a bit of business and as long as we weren’t destroying things, people were generally happy for us to be there.  Marree is a fascinating part of the world because it’s at the end of the road where the Birdsville and Oodnadatta Track start.

Matt:  Where do you stay?  Do you have some makeshift caravans that you could drive from town to town?

Guy:  Phil and Maz own the big pub in Marree and they had half of us staying there.  They also had some “dongers” out the back where the other half were.  There was another accommodation place that had tin sheds.

Matt:  Do you get a mobile phone reception out there?

Guy:  Nope.  If you wanted to make a phone call, you had to go to Phil and ask him to use the land line.  We had the internet though as there was a dish on the top of his pub.  In a way, it was nice to lose phone reception up there as it helped make us feel like we were an isolated little group.

Matt:  Let’s talk about your co-star in the film, Robert Pattinson.  He’ll forever be known for the Twilight franchise and he has a small army of adoring female fans.  But this is a very different role from him which is great to see.  What was he like to work with?

Guy:  I’ll correct you on one thing – I think it’s a “large” army of female fans.  I don’t know if there’s anything small about it.  (laughs)  Robert is great.  He’s fantastic in the film, he genuinely wants to do good work, and I think he delivers in everything he does.

I think he really enjoyed his time out there because he was away from paparazzi.  He was walking down the main street of town and he was saying “I can’t do this anywhere, this is great.”  We had a lot of fun together.

Matt:  The film had its world premiere in Cannes last month and now here it is getting its first wide release here in Australia.  What responses have you been getting to the film so far?

Guy:  Generally it’s been good.  It’s interesting that in Cannes, everyone was totally silent throughout the movie.  You could hear a pin drop.  When we were here in Sydney, there were lots of laughs through the movie which we thought was unusual considering the nature of the film and how heavy it is.  I assumed some of that was “uncomfortable laughter” at the prospect of what might happen next.  

I think people are finding the film evocative and powerful.  Some people have talked about not having enough storyline in there but I think it’s more about a very lean storyline where the subtlety in the difference between the characters is evident.  It’s not a dense, multi-layered film character wise like David’s other film, Animal Kingdom.  

Matt:  You’ve worked under a lot of high profile directors – Kathryn Bigelow, Todd Haynes, Tom Hooper, Christopher Nolan, Curtis Hanson.  You’ve worked with John Hillcoat a few times.  Do you have any dreams to follow in the footsteps of what Russell Crowe is doing and directing your first feature?

Guy:  I think about it but I don’t know if I think about it on a level that would see me doing something about it.  I’d love to do it but until I have a story that I want to tell, I won’t do it.  

Matt:  And can you tell us about what you’ve been working on and what we’re going to see you in next?

Guy:  I’ve been working on making a record!  After shooting The Rover last March and the new Jack Irish movie last June, I took some time off, spent it at home, and concentrated on music for a while.  I don’t have any other films to come out so it’s time for me to go to America to find a job.