After teaming with Nicole Kidman, Hugo Weaving and Joseph Fiennes on her debut feature Strangerland, Kim Farrant returns with another look at obsession and loss in the equally starry, Melbourne shot-and-set Angel of Mine – starring The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and Prometheus actress Noomi Rapace as a woman who loses a grip on her sanity when she starts to suspect her daughter is still alive, and has been taken by another mother (Yvonne Strahovski).
Centring on familiar themes of grief and sexuality, the film allowed Farrant to return to her hometown to film her most thematically and physically challenging effort yet – and experience one of the most powerful moments in her career.
We sat down with Farrant to find out what was behind it all.
How did you go about the casting process for your second film?
We wanted someone who had the depth and breadth to really unravel. We were looking for a star who was at a certain place in their life where they wanted to extend themselves further or take more risks, and we did our research with casting agents and Noomi’s name came up. She read the script overnight, which is very rare, and she absolutely loved it. And we very much had that conversation about risks, because she’s done Dragon Tattoo and Prometheus and The Drop, and a lot of big blockbusters, and recently the series Jack Ryan.
She wanted to do something that was more stripped back, more raw, that was really going to challenge her. She was very excited by the opportunity of working closely with the director. She said, ‘Oh, my God, you’re not scared of me?’ And I was like, ‘No, I’m not’. And she was like, ‘this is awesome’, because she wants to be stretched and pulled. And she said that a lot of directors are scared of her, and maybe they’re also scared of a lot of actors, not just her. Because actors have this whirlpool of intense emotions and feelings. And that can be very confronting for people. But for me, that’s like my happy place, my sweet spot.
Coming off Strangerland, you worked with Nicole Kidman, Hugo Weaving, Joseph Fiennes. How did that inform your process of working closely with your leads?
Well, Nicole was very similar. When I met with her about Strangerland, we sat down in Nashville in a little cafe, and I said, ‘why do you want to play this role?’ And she said, ‘because I really want to go to places that are uncomfortable within me and to stretch myself. And, this is a role where I feel like I’ve not been seen in this kind of vulnerable state.’ I think it’s so wonderful when you can get an actor who’s got something in it for themselves, beyond a great character, story, paycheck, but that it’s something that is going to hit an edge within them that they want to face. Then it’s purely riveting to both direct and to watch. I think that having worked with such amazing actors as Nicole and Joseph and Hugo Weaving, who is extraordinary, I was so lucky, because then for the next lot of actors who were then looking at working with me, they would see I was able to work with actors of that calibre.
How did this story first arrive at your doorstep?
It landed in my inbox, via Josh and Brian Etting, who are two of the producers. They’re the American producers, along with Su Armstrong, who’s our incredible Australian producer. The Etting brothers saw Strangerland at Sundance, and thought I would be a really good fit for this film. Given that there is a slight crossover of one of the themes in the story, which is around grief.
They approached me, I read the script. There was so much about it that I loved, but I also wanted us to do more work on it. I met with Luke Davies, who’s the writer of the script, and the co-writer, David Regal. Luke was willing to do that work and explore where I wanted to go with it.
What were the differences this story provided in comparison to Strangerland?
I haven’t worked in this genre before. Angel of Mine is what I would call a psychological thriller. Strangerland was very much a mystery drama. It’s more laconic, bleak, and more of a drama. Whereas Angel of Mine is very much a thriller, but it has deeper psychological themes that play and also the performances are incredibly raw.
I would say the one common place between both films, is that there is a character who’s in the throes of grief. But Angel of Mine turns more into this character’s obsession; she’s assailed by the pain of grief. And that drives her denial, her quest, her obsession, to track and stalk this other human being. That is a complete departure from Strangerland.
Strangerland took 13 years. How long was the gestation on Angel of Mine?
This was close to four years.
What was behind the decision to film in Melbourne?
Having grown up in Melbourne, I knew that we could have the kind of contrasting wealthy areas with stately homes, mansions, opulence with a more modest means for the contrasting characters. I knew that we could access that within the environment.
You’ve said before that you want to explore the shadow side of sexuality. Do you think that’s apparent here?
In Angel of Mine, Noomi Rapace’s character Lizzie, in the despair of her grief tries to connect with life again; in one particular moment, through an encounter with a man played by Rob Collins, who’s an incredible Australian actor. Within that, yes, we explore sexuality. It’s a very small part, but it is a part of the story.
That scene is a very unusual and intimate examination of her psychology.
Thank you. Noomi was incredible to collaborate with, because she made offerings around that particular scene, and what her character might do and how they would behave sexually. She was incredibly brave in first making the offerings and then going through with them. One of the most powerful moments I’ve ever directed on cinema is that scene, because she was so incredibly raw and vulnerable, and also desperate. That’s the thing about grief, whether it’s sex, booze, violence, however it manifests in your behaviours… It’s like trying to leave one’s own body to get away from the pain of grief. And, obsession, because it grips the mind.
There’s also something in obsession, whether it’s with a person or an object, or a job, or, whatever it is, it consumes every waking thought. It’s another reason why she’s acting out in these reckless ways. Not just through sex, but through all sorts of crazy and on the edge ways.
Why do you think your films tend to explore intense experiences of grief and loss?
Part of why I wanted to direct this movie was to capture the spectrum of humanity; how we can feel completely sane, grounded, and in control, and then something happens. And the next moment we are feeling unhinged, vulnerable, desperate, rattled, violent – that’s all part of the human condition. But there’s something so incredibly beautiful when you actually can stand in the storm of grief and feel it move through you. It makes you feel how much you loved that person or that being, or it makes you feel how deeply you connected with them.
Angel of Mine opens in cinemas on September 5, 2019