Were you familiar with motorbikes before you took on this role?
On dirt bikes, sure. But not on Harley Davidsons, but I’ll tell you what, the first time I sat on one, I fell in love. I think it’s very boyish, like when you’re six years old, when you’re into your Matchbox cars thing. But you feel amazing after.
Did you feel you wanted to hang out with any motorbike gangs?
I don’t think that’d go well. ‘Ah, hi guys, I’m an actor. I’m playing a bikie. Oh, is that leather?’ Ah no. We did have a couple of guys put their hands up to come help us on set. Many of them were extras, or would come and discuss the vernacular of what we are using in the script so we can create authenticity to the world. It’s no good if you’re watching actors play dress-ups trying to be hardcore. We had to believe the world, and I think through Shelley Farthing-Dawe (Cinematography) and Matt Nable’s script, through Steve [McCallum, director], we do believe the world. I think it’s very gritty, it’s very real, it’s very human.
The film for me was always from [my character] Paddo’s point of view, it was about brotherhood, it was about struggle, it was about blood, it was about love. And family, in a scene you wouldn’t usually perceive to be domestic, and that’s what I think makes it feel interesting. It’s a 1% world, so you’re all criminal and outside the law, they have laws of their own. And within that world we’re exploring issues of family, love, and loyalty that I think everyone relates to. And that might be quite a jarring experience for people who don’t feel they in any way relate to a 1% gang.
You were the recipient of the Heath Ledger Scholarship in 2011; is that something you feel you have to live up to?
It was an honour to be related to anything to do with Heath’s name. He’s up there with my favourite actors in the world. I think that scholarship, as it is, is a support for young people trying to come into the industry and to find a path, and in particular, bridging that gap into America, which was a big part of Heath’s journey. There is only ever going to be one Heath Ledger, there is no pressure on your shoulders to do as well as he, that would be virtually impossible. But a great honour to be acknowledged by the fans of Australian film to be deserving of it.
1% is an Australian film, and you’ve done so much in Australia. Is there an urge to go to L.A.?
I’ve been thinking about it recently and for the last five or six years, it’s been spotted for me. Coming over to L.A., first of all to see what it is, and only for weeks at a time. At first, it’s very overwhelming, and then I went through the experience of “I don’t know if I can do this”. Just taking those little chunks. I used to think that you do something in Australia then you do L.A. or do Hollywood. My perception has completely changed. I think it’s solely work based, and I think you have to aim to work with writers and directors that inspire you, or towards a role that stretches you. Whether that be here or Hollywood. I don’t think it’s anymore a game of come to Hollywood, live here to try and break into it. I think there is a difference between being in Hollywood and being an actor. I can find as much joy being on stage at the Griffin Independent Theatre Company down in Melbourne as being on a film set. Much more, often. So, there’s no pressure to do it.
The ultimate goal for me is to have creative control of the work that you do. So, when Ryan Gosling comes and says, “I’ll do Lars and the Real Girl”, Lars and the Real Girl gets made. Because he thought it should. I think that’s appealing, to have full licence over the types of stories you want to tell and what you give your work over to, I think is the ultimate goal for me. Whether that’s in American, France, London, Australia, that doesn’t really matter.
Had you met Abby [Lee] before?
I hadn’t meet Abby before. But the first time I met her, I had been discussing with Stephen, the idea of a back history for Paddo, and we said ‘Hey, you have any ideas of who Catrina was beforehand?’, I shit you not, Abby talked for half an hour into detail on what her father’s job was that influenced her to do this, to move to a small town. I was just like *clap*, we are cooking with gas here. The way we got together and assisted each other in the scenes, we lived together for a lot of the times, the three boys and essentially Abby a lot of the time. And because it was a limited rehearsal period, and because we shot it really quickly, that time to build the texture and the fabric of the relationships was invaluable. Hopefully that’s what transcends.
So when you say “lived together”, the four of you?
Me, Sam Parsonson who played Noisy the Accountant, and Josh McConville, in one house. And of course, Abs. Abs we called ‘Mamma’, she made sure us boys had fed ourselves. More importantly, as artists, we could come together and say, ‘I don’t understand how to solve this scene’ and that’s really rare, and I haven’t really experienced that on a set before, because you’re often separated and you go and do your own thing. All being in Perth and away from home, that experience was condensed, we were able to basically jam with each other, and workshop ideas. And that was a really free, and non-judgmental atmosphere it does that in. I think that’s really hard to come by. It’s part of what made this film so valuable to me.
You’ve worked with so many different people, including Russell Crowe on The Water Diviner. Who have been your mentors?
Russell was definitely, in terms of understanding L.A. He has a ferocious drive.
Because he’s one that never wanted to live there?
Exactly right. But he loves to work there. He is one of the ones that taught me that exact thing. It’s not where I choose to live, he said to me ‘Los Angeles is the city of angels, if you know what you want, it’ll open its wings for you, and if not potentially something else.’ Russell was definitely there. I mean it’s been different people along the way. In my drama school, my drama teacher, Kevin Jackson, was my real mentor. So, I went in as a 17, 18-year-old punk thinking it was all fun, and I didn’t realise what we were actually doing, being a tiny cog in something much bigger than us. It’s a privilege to be a part of that story. I think that was very important to learn as a young man, and it taught me respect for the work that we do, much more than I understood.
What did your folks do? Any actors in the family?
Ah no. My dad has coached the Paralympics basketball team for much of his life. He currently does the Paralympic Goalball team. My mum is an occupational therapist.
So those people give a lot back. And I get certain points in acting where I sort of go ‘This is a very sort of self-reflective sort of job’. But if you take it seriously, and you take it honorably, the work, and you do what Kevin taught me and actually make this about the story we’re telling – then that has its own nobility and honour. I was affected by films more so than most other things when I was a young man, it’s why I wanted to be an actor. And there is a nobility in that and there’s a strength in that that I think is really appealing.
Which are the Australian filmmakers that you admire the most?
At the moment I think Garth Davis is one of the most important directors around. I’ve never worked with a director that works in quite a similar way. He never rehearsed a line, wouldn’t sit down for read-throughs, he’d sort of set up environments where we would sit down and make a family meal out of the traditional ingredients we can find off the land. And this acts to create relationships, and by the time you came to shoot the scene it wasn’t specifically about the lines. And I think he is a truth-teller. So that’s at the moment. I think Andrew Dominik I think is one of the best directors.
You seem very passionate about what you’re doing. Is writing and directing in the future for you?
I think writing is one of the most difficult things in the world to do. And I think everyone calls themselves writers, but the true writers I know, I’m completely in awe of. But since I was 13/14 I’ve had a pip at it. I’m directing, definitely. I think when you start seeing stories visually, because I’ve literally spent 14 years of my life reading scripts, you now sort of see them in images. I think it would be really exciting to put the images I see in my brain when reading a script, and try and bring them to the floor. And I think that’s a fair sign you should direct.
Going back to your originally passion for acting, how old were you?
I did my first professional job at 13. I was a puppy. I learnt the ropes through many many directors and people who sort of taught me along the way. Then I was doing it because the same teachers that were saying shut up in class when I finally did the high school musical, were enjoying the same energy that was getting me in trouble in English. So, you know, there was something to that for me, as a young man, it was an outlet. It was an outlet that essentially made people laugh, and that appealed to me. I never liked sitting down and working in a classroom for 2-3 hours at a time, I always wanted to get out and move it. So, I just sort of think it found me. I had incredibly supportive parents and I sort of kept driving forward and level up. It wasn’t until about 17/18 that I sort of understood the craft of it and went to theatre school, learnt to respect it for what it is we actually do. The importance of what we do.
Is there a dream project for you in the future?
Um no. the next thing that tests me or I’m interested in, I like the brain of the director or the writing. I’d really like to say the words of the writer. I think that next project excites me.