In Damien Power’s debut feature, Killing Ground, a couple on a camping holiday (Harriet Dyer and Ian Meadows) find themselves in a world of pain and horror when they run afoul of two outback killers, German (Aaron Pedersen), and Chooka (Aaron Glenane). It’s to the second Aaron that we turn today, who ends up being quite an amiable interview subject when he’s not being absolutely terrifying on screen.
How did you come on board Killing Ground and what attracted you to the project?
After my initial audition I was fortunate enough to be offered the role of Vincent in Damien’s short film Hitchhiker. The premise is “What would happen if a serial killer picked up an escaped prisoner while hitchhiking?” All the dialogue was constructed together from hitchhiking scenes from previous films and is a power play between an erratic prisoner and a cold-blooded killer with some innocent bystanders along the way.
I see that short film as an elaborate call back that Damien set for me! I remember after my first read of Killing Ground I sat in silence for around 20 minutes processing what I’d just read. It’s an incredibly intelligent, visceral and relentless script unlike anything I’d read in this genre before. With Chook, I was fascinated by this erratic, unpredictable and lost soul who is at a cross roads in his life. Understanding and justifying his actions both daunted and excited me… which became an automatic “YES!” to the role.
Were you cast before or after Aaron Pedersen? How did you fit together during this project, and what kind of dynamic did you develop?
Aaron P was cast before me. Not long after I first arrived on set he said “Right, I’m A1 and you’re A2.” I asked “Why am I A2?” He replied with his classic Azza grin “Cause we were here first, brother!” I grinned back and said “That sounds fair enough to me!”
Aaron is an incredible man and he helped set the tone for our characters’ relationship from the moment we met. We caught up for a couple of hours before our first shoot day in our motel room getting to know each other’s lives, interests and history. Then we began discussing Chook and German’s relationship, motivation, past and present. Within four hours we’d found what makes these characters tick.
Further to that, what’s your take on your characters’ history and relationship?
We took some dialogue that is filtered ever so gently throughout the script as to the history of the land. That this was once a massacre ground and has now become a camping site and tourist location. We wanted to explore the idea of there being a sickness in the land, which has infected German and in turn is being passed onto Chook. We both believe that land holds memories and events and we wanted to push that history of violence through these characters and their actions.
How did you feel about the violence in the film? How much was on the page, and did it differ much from what we saw on the screen?
What I find so compelling about the film is its exploration of violence. It puts us in an incredibly realistic place emotionally, strips back the layers and asks the characters and audience “What would you really do? Not the superhero version of you. But you, as you are today.” Not all of these characters are ‘heroic’ but they’re incredibly human, which is why audiences connect so strongly to them, because we can all see ourselves in these characters. We’ve become slightly desensitised to violence on screen with entire cities being wiped out in superhero movies while we devour our popcorn and choc tops, whereas when you see a gun for the first time in Killing Ground your heart drops, you suck in a deep breath and think “What now?!”
What was the pre-production and rehearsal process like? Were you given room to improvise and develop your character, or did you stick pretty close to what was written?
Pre-production was very swift and outside of Aaron and I’s late night immersion prior to day one it was straight into it. Damien came into the shoot with such a tight script so it was exciting to act what was on the page. However, I’d spent some time with a hunter, Glenn, lovely man, prior to filming and I wanted to bring some of the phrases – and way of thinking when you’re out in the field strategising a hunt – to the character. We were definitely able to explore, try new things, and make the characters our own.
What was the atmosphere like on set, particularly between you and, for want of a better term, the “victim” actors?
Firstly, we had a kick ass and respectful crew that brought such a high production value to this piece. They knew the exact tone of the story and worked with us in creating the right environment to push the boundaries in. I can’t speak highly enough of Maya, Tiarnie, Julian, Ian and Harriet [cast members Maya Stange, Tiarnie Coupland, Julian Garner, Ian Meadows, and Harriet Dyer] because they were spending entire days in highly emotional head spaces and everyone brought their A game. It’s challenging because we all know it’s ‘make believe’ but your body doesn’t know the difference, so you can walk away at the end of the day and it takes a while to get back to normality! The more physically confronting scenes required specific rehearsal and we all built up a strong camaraderie in order for us to fully commit to the storytelling. Harriet is a goddamn rock star! We share a difficult scene together and she was terrific in lightening the mood between takes.
Have you seen or experienced any strong adverse reactions to the film? Have you seen it shock or disturb any punters?
I have never been a part of a film or TV series that has evoked such vocal and physical reactions! It’s an intense journey watching it with a full cinema and hearing the explosive gasps, “Oh no!”s and loud cheers in all the right places. At Sundance there was one guy pacing up and down the aisle and getting in and out of his seat during the climax! He couldn’t sit still. After another screening, a previous homicide detective who had worked on the Milat and Murphy Brothers cases came up to me and said that Aaron and I had taken her back to interviewing these men. An unexpected yet humbling compliment to receive. Damien definitely doesn’t hold back with this film and sometimes that means it’s not for everyone… and that’s okay. Something tells me that if it was, it wouldn’t have the desired effect.
Finally, what are you working on now?
I’ve recently completed filming Foxtel’s Picnic at Hanging Rock, which was great! I can’t wait to see what Larysa, Michael and Amanda [directors Larysa Kondracki, Michael Rymer, and Amanda Brotchie] have done with it because our camera crew were doing in camera effects that I’ve never seen done before! All in order to create a dream-like quality and a distorted sense of what is real and what is not… which ties into the mystery of what happened to these girls? I was fortunate enough to play Reg Lumley opposite the brilliant Yael Stone as Dora Lumley and I learnt so much from the brilliant actresses I was surrounded by. I’m currently in LA and in the mix for a number of projects so hopefully you’ll be hearing more soon!
Killing Ground is in cinemas from August 24, 2017. Read our review here.