“That’s the biggest problem with casting,” David Field smiles. “You do one role well, and all of a sudden, that’s what you are. People forget that you’re an actor. I’ve played lots of different things, so there’s no reason why I couldn’t play a priest. I didn’t even think about it in terms of, ‘Oh god, can I play a priest?’ What is a priest?” There’s a slight pause and then Field lets out that trademark laugh, full-bodied and uninhibited.
David Field has indeed played lots of things, but it’s his nasty bad guys and compromised hard-men that have resonated the most powerfully. So it’s no surprise that the character actor best known for Chopper, Ghosts…Of The Civil Dead, Two Hands, Gettin’ Square, Silent Partner, and Everynight…Everynight might not be the first to jump to a casting director’s mind when the role of a priest comes up. “I don’t have a relationship to religion, mate,” Field says. “Other than that, it’s causing more fucking trouble than just about anything else in the world right now.”
Field’s feelings on organised religion, however, don’t get in the way of his performance in the low budget Aussie indie, Sacred Heart. The debut feature from Kosta Nikas follows Robert (Kipan Rothbury), a religious man who rejects his faith and goes on a self-destructive spiral after the death of his wife and child. David Field’s priest comes into the film at about the halfway mark, and promptly shifts not just the balance of the narrative, but the very nature of the film itself. “I remember saying to my dad when I was seven-year-old, ‘Is there a god?’ It was in the garden,” Field reveals, continuing on the topic of religion. “He wasn’t a big talker, my dad. He said, ‘Listen, you’re born alone, you die alone, and then the worms eat ya. You got it?’ That was my religious education from my father. I used to jump from one to the other at school. I’d say to mum, ‘Anglican scripture is really boring…can I go to the Catholic one, because all my mates are there?’ And she’d go, ‘Yeah, yeah, you can go to whichever one you want.’ So I’d switch around from religion to religion depending on where the most humour was. Whoever had the best gags is where I would sit. [Laughs] I didn’t really care too much about it.”
That’s not to say, however, that this veteran actor is not a deeply spiritual man. “Spiritual stuff is different to religion,” Field asserts. “Religions are institutions…they don’t have much to do with spirituality. And the bulk of the Royal Commissions in the last two years have shown us exactly that…the Catholics, the Protestants, the Salvation Army, and whoever else has been found out in this disgusting and deplorable string of crimes against our children. If that’s religion, they can have it. I’m happy to die alone if that’s the case. I think we’re all pretty fucking upset about it. We live in a country with the oldest spiritual religion in the world. Why do we go to India to see a guru when we have people at the back of Alice Springs who hold more knowledge and wisdom than any culture in the world? Go figure.”
Field’s sense of old school wisdom crosses over into his performing career. He’s an actor of renowned daring whose consistent work on television allows him to cut loose in theatre and film, whether by directing his own projects (Field has two features under his belt with The Combination and Convict) or getting involved with projects like Sacred Heart, which was set up far outside the usual borders of conventional Australian filmmaking. “The script might have just come through the agent,” Field replies when asked how he came on board the project. “I can’t really remember…it’s that long ago. A lot of time with film, people ask me questions, and I think, ‘Fuck, I don’t know what year that was…when was that? When did we even do that?!’ I liked the script. It’s been called a psychological thriller, but I would call it noir. I liked the complexities of the morality, and ultimately the end point, which was just a great twist, which all noir films have. I liked the subject matter. And once I met Kosta, I thought, ‘He’s fairly mad…this could be fun.’ We’ve become so conservative in so many things that we do in the arts, and when people crop up like him, a lot of people just run away. I find myself the opposite. I want to meet the mad ones. Okay, some of them are just mad, but some of them have a wonderful, effervescent energy that’s just a bit left of field. And you never know with people like that.”
Is David Field perhaps a bit mad himself? “I was always a show off,” he replies when asked how he got into acting. “I was always being told to shut up as a kid. I just woke up one morning, I was about 24, and I went, ‘That’s it! That’s the one! That’s where I’m going.’ From there I went to school, to The Ensemble Theatre, and I was lucky enough to find one of the greatest acting teachers that this country has ever seen in Hayes Gordon. He inspired and informed me. His knowledge of the make-up of acting and how to decipher work was incredible. He had absolutely no interest in your personal life, which I really loved. There was no manipulation on his part about you as a person. They’re the greatest teachers.”
And he might not readily admit it, but David Field is one of those great teachers. A hugely generous actor and man, he has encouraged many young performers, including his cast of then young unknowns in his bracing directorial debut, The Combination, and that film’s writer and star, George Basha. Then there are also his fellow actors (including his co-star on TV’s The Secret Daughter, Jessica Mauboy), who happily and candidly sing his praises, and talk of the guidance and help that he brings as a veteran actor. Most importantly, David Field retains the spirit of a true underdog. “Nobody is a nobody,” he says. “Nobody is a nobody. The film industry is like the music industry or any part of the arts. It’s all very easy for people to go, ‘Oh, that person came out of nowhere.’ No one comes out of nowhere. I always believe that you just don’t know where things are going to lie. I guess that’s why I maintain a belief in people whose voices haven’t been heard before.”
Sacred Heart will screen at The Delphi Bank 23rd Greek Film Festival, which runs from October 11- 23 in Sydney, and October 12-23 in Melbourne, before travelling to Adelaide, Perth, Canberra, and Brisbane. For all venue, session, screening, and ticketing information, head to the official website.