Set across three years at a WA folk festival, Ben Elton’s Three Summers is equal parts romantic comedy, ensemble piece and political observations, for which the British born comedian and playwright is famous. It’s a film where Australia’s past and present clash against a backdrop of Irish jigs, digeridoos and Morris dancing. Set adrift in this sea of multiculturalism is Irishman Robert Sheehan (Love/Hate, Fortitude, The Mortal Instruments) and Aussie Rebecca Breeds (Pretty Little Liars) playing two star-crossed lovers. Well, potential lovers at least.
“We’ve sort of gone into a CGI world where people accept these highly, intensely colourful worlds as real,” Robert Sheehan laments whilst discussing a recent unnamed blockbuster he’s seen. “I sort of find them a headache. I yearn for the more character driven, more contained stories that I was raised on.”
With a cast that includes Magda Szubanski, Michael Caton, Kelton Pell and even the Bondi Hipsters, Three Summers may not be punching at the same weight as the summer blockbusters, but it’s one that’s packed full of character. As he talks about Ben Elton’s script, you can see Sheehan’s enthusiasm percolate.
He plays Roland, a Theremin player who, at first, feels he’s artistically above Rebecca Breeds’ fiddle playing Keevy.
“It just felt so honest,” he exclaims. “It’s always an exciting thing when you’re reading a script for the first time, and you find yourself running around your apartment, doing little circles, you know? Already performing it and not just reading it as an academic exercise. All of a sudden you find you’re firing on all cylinders, because it does something to you emotionally.”
Rebecca Breeds is quick to agree. When trying to pinpoint the reason why she loves her character, it wasn’t that her character was pretty, or smart, or funny. It was the fact that she could be all of these things.
“I don’t often read female characters that are so full-bodied,” Breeds explains. “She was a full-bodied character with a journey and a story all of her own. She wasn’t an accessory to someone else. She wasn’t two-dimensional. And that’s what I fell in love with. Immediately from the audition, I had this rapport with her.”
As has been mentioned, Three Summers may be a romantic comedy, but step away and you’ll find that its screenplay is also focused on meaty themes including racism, immigration, indigenous rights and detention centres. That the film manages to mine laughs out of these subjects is seen by its two stars as a productive way of tackling them.
“Russel Brand is always talking about the terrible, terrible things that have happened to him in his stand-up comedy,” Robert Sheehan says by way of explanation. “And thereby he tears down the ability of those things to hurt him by laughing at them. It’s therapeutic.”
“It’s like in Harry Potter, there are things called boggarts.” Rebecca Breeds adds. “They take the form of the thing that you fear most. As soon as you look it in the eye, and think of the thing that you love, it becomes the funniest thing. You laugh at the thing and it totally takes its power away. So, in a way I think that’s what this is doing. Australians from all walks of life; a lot of people are suffering, a lot of people had very unfair blemishes on their past, but to be able to look at it and perhaps let go of the anger, and watch it through a comedy, is the perfect tool to take away the intensity of it.”
As appears to be fitting with a film that asks us to face uncomfortable truths, both actors admit that their own characters are far from perfect.
“I like that as a female character, she didn’t have to be perfect and appealing all the time. She was angry, and sometimes she was unreasonable,” Rebecca Breeds says. “I like how they switched roles and blended. They went through their light and dark. I think that’s the story of humanity. We’re all going through our light and dark, just as long as we’re all going in the right direction.”
“That’s what’s nice here.” Robert Sheehan summarises. “The characters change. They display humility.”
Seeing as Three Summers is spread over three years and, as Sheehan points out, sees its ensemble change with the seasons, we put one last question to the pair: have they changed over the last three years?
“I think I’ve become more patient and less consumptive as a human being,” Sheehan says honestly. “I think I’ve become someone who’s more patient and able to sit with times where I feel miserable. And that’s not easy. I’m not very good at it. But I am better at saying ‘This feeling will pass.’ On the very intermittent times when I do feel a bit dismal, I’m better capable at being human and not going ‘Argh! I need to distract myself.’ And that’s far from a lie. That’s far too truthful.”
“I think I’m learning to trust a lot more,” Breeds admits. “I was very unsure of myself a lot growing up. Unfortunately, through the culture I grew up in, I was taught that you can’t trust yourself. You have to outsource your decisions to a plethora of people before you could trust them. ‘What do you think? What should I do?’ Now, I’m taking the ownership back of my life and trusting that I am not distrustful. I am inherently good and I can trust in my inherent goodness. I don’t have to be afraid to be myself and I can just sit in that, and trust myself.”
“Also,” Robert Sheehan wryly adds. “I’ve become better at tennis.”