‘There is the family you are born into, the family you choose and the family you try to escape.’
Thicker Than Water is an independent Australian drama starring Anthony Brandon Wong, Ellie Popov, Chai Romruen and Pete Murray. The film centres around orphaned Ludmiller [Ellie Popov] and her siblings, who struggle to keep their family unit together when their estranged brother, D [Pete Murray], an ex-heroin addict, returns from rehab. Although her siblings are eager to forget D’s past, Ludmiller knows the true extent of his addiction and can’t forgive him so easily. The family’s already fragile reunion fractures further when the past – in the form of D’s former drug dealer – comes knocking.
You probably recognise Pete Murray from chart-topping, Aria award-winning songs like So Beautiful, Better Days, Opportunity and Bail Me Out. Although Murray has some acting experience from his music videos, Thicker Than Water is his first feature film.
“Before this film, I didn’t really have any experience,” Murray says. “A lot of people had been telling me to try out acting, but I dismissed it because I didn’t think I could do it. Then eventually I did an acting course in Byron Bay, and I met up with a couple who were working on this film. They asked me if I’d be interested in having a role.” Although the couple originally asked him to play the role of a headmaster in the film, Murray didn’t see this as enough of a challenge. “I told them, look, if I’m going to do something I want to do something different, something that challenges me, and eventually I scored the role of D. I don’t like to play characters that are close to home – I don’t just want to be seen as myself on screen.”
Murray plays a recovering drug addict – so it’s safe to say he’s a far cry from the soulful, guitar-strumming musician most people know from his video clips. “D’s been away in rehab for a while, and his brother has organised him to come back and rejoin the family,” Murray explains. “D really wants to make up for his actions of the past, but his sister Ludmiller – who has held the family together since the death of their parents – isn’t happy about his return. The film is all about this family conflict, and the reconciliation of the relationship between D and Ludmiller.”
Ludmiller is played by Ellie Popov, who also wrote the film. “I was so impressed with Ellie,” Murray muses. “She’s so talented, and I think her acting in this film is just brilliant.” Murray and Popov share intense scenes together, and a particularly grueling one was actually Murray’s favourite scene to shoot. “A really challenging scene – and also the one I enjoyed the most – is one where I’m having withdrawals. I go up to the bathroom to have a hit, and Ludmiller comes upstairs to stop me. Let’s just say it doesn’t end very well. To act this scene, I had to get to a point where I was violently angry, and then I had to break down into tears, all in the space of like 20 seconds. So that was a really challenging role for me, but I loved it. It was great.”
To learn how to access the emotions he needed in this scene, Murray took up acting lessons with co-star Anthony Brandon Wong [famous for playing Ghost in the Matrix films]. “I did some work with Anthony on a technique where you go back in your life and find a moment that makes you angry or sad, and then you tap into that.”
Murray thought back to the death of his father. “My dad died when I was 18. At that age, being a male, I kept it all bottled up. It took me a while to find the emotions I needed, but once I tapped in, it happened, and the emotions were real. In that scene with Ellie, I really was furious with her. Shooting that scene was so rewarding, and I just felt so relieved afterwards.”
Although this film and the emotions it required were challenging for Murray, stepping out of his comfort zone is something he’s used to. “Before I started playing music, I was into sport. I did swimming, athletics and rugby, so I’m used to having goals and trying to achieve things. I think the arts are similar to sport – you constantly set goals and challenges that keep you excited and interested in what you’re doing. And really for me, I love doing music, but this is definitely something else that I’d love to do. I’d love to do more movies. It’s good fun, and it’s a nice break from music, it’s nice to do something different where I’m not just waiting on myself or for my next album to come through.”
Being accustomed to challenges doesn’t make tackling them any easier though – Murray found coming onto the project as an established musician quite nerve-wracking. “I was nervous at the start, because I felt like I was just the musician hanging out with the actors, and I was really worried that I would let them down with my role because I wasn’t experienced. But everyone was so supportive.”
Pete Murray likens the emotions that came with acting in this film to stepping out on stage for the first time. “The first time you step on stage it’s a new thing, it’s the first time anyone has ever heard your music, so you’re really putting yourself out there and you’re open to whatever response you get back. So, doing this film was the same thing – I had to go in and do something for the very first time, and it was being filmed, so it’s around forever and you can’t really afford to look silly. You want to come across like you know what you’re doing. Early on I was really nervous. I started to loosen up towards the end, so I think some scenes are much better than others. When my wife and I saw the film at the premiere, when it played in Caloundra, we were actually quite pleased. I was so nervous though, not knowing what it would be like. It’s always weird when you see yourself on film for the first time – it’s like hearing a recording of your voice.”
The experience of seeing himself on the silver screen didn’t dissuade Murray from continuing his exploration of acting. Up next, he’ll be working on another independent Australian film called Dark Man. “It’s funny, I’m paying another role where I’m quite a violent, manipulative guy. It’s an interesting role because I need to make the audience believe that I’m a nice guy for most of it, but then towards the end they need to start seeing who I really am. So that’s the challenge, but to me that’s a really interesting role, and that’s what I’m really into at the moment. Roles that are really different to myself. A few people have been like ‘go on, get a job on Neighbours or Home & Away or something like that’, but that doesn’t really interest me, I want to do something more creative and ‘out there’. And I think I’ve found that with this film… We’re still looking for funding, but I think we’ll shoot it by early next year. I like doing independent films and not having the pressure of any major company looming over us. Dark Man will be challenging no doubt, but I think it will be rewarding too.”
It’s looking to be a busy year for Pete, who also has a music tour coming up in June. “It’s a 3-piece with 3-part harmonies, beats and grooves. We’ll be doing smallish shows with about 500-1000 capacity. People can find details on my website, petemurray.com.”
Thicker Than Water will be available in Australia and New Zealand from the 18th of May via Amazon Prime & Instant Video and Vimeo On Demand.