You were great in Danger Close, a lot of vulnerability, which is quickly becoming your stock in trade, it seems. How did you prepare for that character? He’s a Kiwi, but I didn’t notice any inflection, was that conscious? Has Morrie’s family seen the film and what sort of reaction did they have?
While all the other actors were playing with guns, my weapon of choice was a map and a compass. I spent a lot of time with Vince Dunn (Coral Balmoral forward observer) and Colonel Arthur Burke. Colonel Burke walked me through every single physical detail of a forward observer’s job. Morrie (who I played) travelled with Harry Smith and company HQ and it was his task to receive information from each platoon as to where the enemy was estimated to be, calculate how far away from the base gunner’s position they were and call for artillery to be dropped within seconds. All with his pair of eyes and mathematical estimations (no GPS back then)! Most men had the responsibility of himself and the guy next to him. If Morrie made one wrong decision, it could’ve cost them entire platoons.
I aimed to bring that huge amount of pressure on him, his nerves of steel, heart, soul and intelligence to the screen.
He was a proud New Zealander and I did develop his accent. I found Morrie’s accent to be quite subtle from the footage I saw. I was lucky to have Jay Kiriona (Willie Walker) by my side so I felt very kiwi as we were filming. What I learnt from watching the final film is that I could have leant into the accent a little more to provide a greater contrast against the other actors rather than sticking so close to my interpretation of what I’d heard from footage.
But that’s the beauty about performance, it’s constantly a learning experience and a work in progress.
I know Alva (Morrie’s wife) has seen the film and from all reports they found it to be incredibly moving and appreciated seeing the strong New Zealand representation.
How was the Danger Close shoot, was there a lot of camaraderie on set? A lot of lifelong friendships forged?
It was the single most connected film I’ve shot across the board. A lot of bromances were made! The tone was set by our brilliant director Kriv Stenders, producers Martin Walsh, John and Mike Schwarz as well as our first AD Jamie Leslie. We were asked to reflect on why we were telling this story and the responsibility we had to do it justice. What took it to a deeper level was turning up on day one and being told that actual veterans were volunteering just a hundred metres away spending their entire week sandbagging for our Nui Dat set. People who had served in Afghanistan and Iraq were building our sets! Because of their commitment they all became extras, and many turned into featured characters. Their authenticity rubbed off on all of us actors while lying in the mud together. Along with this we had Long Tan veterans visit the set, the acclaimed war photographer Tim Page taking stills of us with the cameras he used in Vietnam and Huey helicopters and APC tanks that were on the ground in 1966. All of this, combined, provided a very spiritual experience that has connected us all and will continue to for many years.
Congrats on the birth of your bub, too!! How’s it compare to getting the call about being cast in Snowpiercer?
Haha thanks so much! It’d be fair to say that I thought I’d pass out when I heard the news that I’d landed my first US gig and seeing the birth of my child come into the world. Good news is, I stayed on my feet for both! When I found out about Snowpiercer it was a moment of huge relief. Relief that for the past 13 years I was on the right track and that I was able to tell stories on an international level. When Indiana was born, I literally felt my heart expand and immediately become more vulnerable. It was, and is, a complete and constant rush of emotion. My chest shakes being with her.
You’ve been at this acting gig for a while, can you discuss how you got the Snowpiercer role and has it been a struggle to keep going in this tough biz?
Snowpiercer came along while shooting Ride Like A Girl in Melbourne. I initially auditioned for a character at the front of the train (first class) and they came back and said “We’ve got the perfect character for you. He’s at the back.” (class of stowaways!) I put down two self tapes from Australia and then a couple of months later I was called back into Wittney Horton’s casting office in Los Angeles. I Skyped with James Hawes (director) where we talked about the character and I did my final audition the next day. One week later I was on a plane to Vancouver to start filming!
I think the nature of any passion or industry you deeply care about, provides incredible highs and devastating lows. The key to longevity is whether you’re able to manage both of these emotions and continue to focus on growth and the enjoyment of creativity. Now being 12 years into this career I wouldn’t change a thing.
How has shooting Snowpiercer been? Is it different to the experiences that you’ve had shooting in Australia, and if so, how?
Being aboard the train that never stops has been a blast! I play a character who believes he is the last Australian left on earth. He’s desperate to survive and keep the Aussie spirit alive. My running joke with everyone was that I would enter each carriage of the train and say “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie?” hoping that I’d hear an “Oi, Oi, Oi” response. Alas, I’ve been left wanting. We spend 14 – 16 hours days shooting between four studios where they have built an entire train to keep all of humanity alive. It’s incredible. There are aquariums, brothels, cabaret show rooms, first class dining, sub train engine rooms and the infamous tail. It’s pretty easy to get lost! So, the scale is slightly different to anything I’ve worked on in Australia, but what happens between “action” and “cut” is exactly the same. Albeit, acting on a moving train!
Can you tell us about the character that you play in Ride Like a Girl?
The great part about Ride Like A Girl was that I knew the story inside out because I grew up in Ballarat. The Payne family farm is about a 15 minute drive from the house I grew up in. Every location that appeared on each page was somewhere I hung out at as a kid. I play Patrick Payne, the eldest brother of the family who is super competitive, a tough love kind of brother and an incredibly successful jockey in his own right (winning the 2002 Cox Plate). He constantly pushes Michelle to greatness while keeping her feet on the ground along the way. It’s such an inspiring film that I’m so proud to be a part of.
Can you speak about the character you play in Les Norton? How was that experience?
While I was on one of my 3 month trips to LA, Les Norton creator Morgan O’Neil (who I’d worked with on Drift) said “come over tomorrow afternoon, I’ve got this script I want you to read. I want to hear if it’s funny or not.” Knowing Morgan for his films like Solo, The Factory and Drift, all powerfully dramatic pieces of work, I was keen to see what he had in store. We got to his house with a bunch of Aussie actors and I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard reading through the script! You could almost smell Kings Cross of the ‘80s, the salty sand of Bondi and the larger than life characters partaking in outrageous acts! At the end I thought, “Well I think it’s official. It’s pretty bloody funny!” I was lucky enough to bring to life Tony Levin, “part time dope dealer, full time dead shit.” I thought of him as a tropical fruit salad with a shotgun. A lot of pastel outfits, fake tan and Miami Vice hair spray. He owes Price Galese some debts and is keen to navigate his way out of them. He was an absolute blast!
Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan is in cinemas August 8, 2019, Les Norton is available to view on ABC iView, Ride Like a Girl is in cinemas September 26, 2019, Snowpiercer will be released in 2020.