For decades, people have been trying to figure out a way to
translate the works of treasured Australian novelist (and Nobel
Prize Winner) Patrick White with no luck. Many attempts have been
launched to bring the famously internal writer's work to the screen,
but except for one short story adaptation, every one of those
Therefore, three of Australia's finest,
Geoffrey Rush (Shine, The King's Speech, Pirates of the Caribbean),
Judy Davis (My Brilliant Career, Husbands and Wives) and
celebrated director Fred Schepisi (The Devil's
Playground, Six Degrees of Separation, Roxanne) have teamed up
to film one of White's densest, most difficult novels, The Eye of
the Storm. They brought along acclaimed British actress
Charlotte Rampling (The Night Porter, Swimming Pool) to fill
out the dysfunctional Hunter clan.
Elizabeth Hunter (Rampling) is a rich manipulative woman
who is dying. Her estranged children
Sir Basil (Rush) a fading British actor and Princess
Dorothy (Davis), the broke, divorced ex-wife of a French prince
return home to say goodbye as well as keep an eye on their
inheritance. They see it as a chance for redemption, so they can't
leave despite the fact that they have run ins with their sometimes
spiteful mother and her attentive staff. The director's daughter
Alexandra also took on the important role of a nurse who starts an
affair with Sir Basil.
A couple of days before the film was due to open in New
York, Geoffrey Rush, Fred Schepisi ("rhymes with Pepsi," he
explained) and Alexandra Schepisi met up with us and just a few
other media outlets to discuss the new film and the difficulties and
rewards of bringing Patrick White to the screen.
familiar were you with Patrick White's novel before becoming
involved in the making of the film?
I knew I'd get that one. Not very. I was familiar with Patrick
White's work, but I hadn't read that novel. But (producer) Antony
Waddington, whose dream it was to have a work of Patrick White's put
on film, brought it to me and convinced me to do it. A lot of
people had tried to do Patrick White on film and hadn't succeeded,
including Joseph Losey, with one of his [novels] called Voss.
Because some of them tend to be very interior. So, I was a little
reticent, but after listening to what Antony saw in it, I decided to
plumb the book, see what was in there. I could see what he meant,
so we took it from there.
Do you think this
film would work as a play?
I don't know. Patrick's very first novel, The Aunt's Story
(actually, it was his third), I think he wrote it in the late 40s
(it was published in 1948), which gave him his first international
acclaim in the UK and America, I know that has been adapted to being
created as a piece of theater. It, in fact, starred Helen Morse,
the actress who played Lotte in the film. It was done by the MTC
(Melbourne Theater Company). In fact, there are a number of actors
in the film John Gaden, who plays the solicitor, Wyburd, and his
wife, Robyn Nevin they are both great exponents of various Patrick
White plays in Australia. They have done some very highly
significant productions, as have I, on a lesser degree.
How has your
background in theater enhanced your performance in this film and
your view of Basil?
The film is set in the early 70s. That's when I started as an
actor, so I tried to find out from close friends... I knew Patrick
later in his life, because I've been involved in a couple of his
plays... who he might have had in mind particularly when he was
creating that character in that particular time frame. I talked to
his biographer and different people. No one seemed to be able to
give me an exact answer. But I would have thought and I don't
know if these names are that well known in America but there were
a generation of actors that all migrated to England in the 40s, 50s
and 60s. That's what people did, because we presumably had a kind
of a cultural wasteland. There were actors like Keith Michell, who
might have been known in America, because he did a very famous
British TV series called The Six Wives of Henry VIII. This
was back in the 60s, maybe. (It aired in 1970.) There is Peter
Finch, who was originally English, but he came to Australia when he
was quite young. Then he got picked up by Laurence Olivier and
Vivien Leigh when they were doing a tour of Australia back in the
late 40s. He went to England and then established a very
substantial career. I don't think Robert Helpmann is in there, even
though I put a bit of that in there. So, I was looking at that
generation: when I was in my early 20s, the kinds of actors I knew
who were in their 50s and 60s, that had either come back from having
had a career in Australia, or whatever. That was more the kind of
study that I indulged in.
What is your
Nothing personal, in fact, I think in the original screenplay, Judy
Morris, the writer, had written a bit from Lear which is
where he and Cordelia are being taken to prison. "We two alone will
sing like two birds in the cage." She's just playing Cordelia. It
all overlaps. I think I suggested to Fred, look, because he's in
the middle of the Outback, it just feels, filmically, he needs to be
on the Heath. I've been in the play twice, as Lear's fool, at
different points in my career. I said a little bit of him being on
the Heath or about to go on the Heath, fearing that he's going mad,
might be dramatically a little more interesting. He could have
chosen any piece of Shakespeare. I quite like the idea of him
testing his vocal power in the middle of the Outback. It was fun
when we were shooting it. I said to Fred, do you imagine this shot
being quite wide? He said, "Oh, yeah, I'm going to be really close
on your feet, squishing in the mud. And then I'm going to go wide.
And then I'm going to go even wider." Which I love, because Basil
suddenly went much smaller in the frame and then of course he stands
on a bit of rusty iron and hacks his foot up.
It's almost an audition piece as well. I'm going to put it on my
show reel. I got to do a bit of The Tempest in The King's
Speech, when I'm playing with my boys, I did a bit of Caliban.
So, there are these strange coincidences where you get to do a bit
of Shakespeare in different films.
Would you like to
be knighted before or after you do
Knighthoods don't exist. They used to exist in Australia, back in
the old, more imperial days. I think was it [former Prime
Minister] Gough [Whitlam] that got rid of them?
In the early 70s, that period of change that Patrick is writing
about in this novel. We had had 23 years of a Conservative
government. Most of it with one Prime Minister. I think [Sir
Robert] Menzies was in for like 19 years or something? (Actually,
it was just over 16.) So there was a huge cultural shift
happening that I think was the kind of zeitgeist that Patrick
was tapping into. A fading sense of the Sydney aristocracy. Land
as gentry, people with money [had] owned the land. The Vietnam War
and with a new Labor government, our leftist, Socialist government
coming in '72. All coincided with a kind of new Australian
writing. A lot of playwrights started to write for the local
voice. Local stories. We were on the cusp of the film industry
starting to slowly kick start itself again, after maybe four or five
decades of almost non-existent production. So, there's a lot of
stuff hovering around all of that, you know?
Rampling played such a fascinating, complicated character as your
mother, and I believe she's actually only a few years older than
you. What was she like to work with?
Charlotte? Absolutely fantastic. I used to see Charlotte on
billboards in the London Tube, back in the 70s when I was a
student. When she was in The Night Porter with Dirk Bogarde.
I never dreamed in a million years that I would end up being in a
film with her myself. And that she would be playing my
mother. Somebody in the press made a kind of strange, snide comment
the other day, saying "How dysfunctional can this family be?
Charlotte Rampling is 66 and Geoffrey Rush is 62." Both of those
facts were wrong. She was 65 and I was 58 when we shot the film.
But, obviously, that's the challenge for Fred in looking at "who do
I cast in this role?" You don't want to have to woman in her late
40s early 50s and the woman in the mid-70s played by different
actresses. The dramatic continuity would be awful.
Of course, she
had to be young enough to do the flashback scenes...
So who do you get who can age up? We have a bit of a thing in the
theater where... certainly onstage and maybe on film, slightly...
certainly on stage you can always play ten years older and ten years
younger. Well we delude ourselves into thinking that. (Schepisi
laughs) I remember when I was in The Importance of Being
Earnest many years ago. I was 39 and I was playing Jack, who is
supposed to be 29. When Lady Bracknell interviews me and says, "How
old are you?" I used to go (high-pitched) "29." (laughs)
Very flat. So, no one has ever really had problems with that.
Charlotte wouldn't have any prosthetics. She said, "I want to act
this role." The makeup woman and her collaborated.
something you were considering when doing the casting?
Absolutely. And you had to find someone who was beautiful and
seductive. That was important. If you read the book or read the
part, you could very easily play it where that woman was extremely
hard and... not bitter, but biting. Like a viper waiting to strike
all the time. Charlotte when we were in rehearsals just started
doing it [a different] way and I went that's so much better, because
that really is who the character is, isn't it? She's seductive.
(chuckles) You should have seen the crew. There she is, lying
there looking 75 and the crew are all giggling.
Even with that
Yes, even with the lavender wig. Big hairy grips are going,
In early 70s
Australia, how would acting have been perceived by a family of this
As Geoffrey was saying, in Australia... I worked in an advertising
agency in 1955. Everyone in that advertising agency did not want to
be in advertising. That was the only place as writers and painters
there weren't any actors that was the only place they could get
work where they got paid. That's when television was coming into
the country. Anyone who was wanting to have a career in theater
and/or movies, they went overseas. Overseas to Australians at that
time meant they went to England. England-stroke-Europe. That's
where they went and didn't really come back. Some of them came back
and didn't like what they came back to, because it was still a
backwater. [So they] went away, again. So it wasn't so much about
families disapproving, because we don't have that many extremely
rich, upper-class families. We were more, or we liked to think we
were more of an egalitarian society. So I don't know that that was
as frowned upon at that time. We made a change from 1972 on.
I started as a professional actor in December of 1971, when I was
20. At that time, the fact that I got a job at the newly formed
Queensland Theater Company it had only existed for like two years
as a regional state theater company [was incredible]. I'd done a
lot of stuff in high school, ran the school drama club and all of
that, without any kind of infrastructure. There were no drama
teachers and things like that. Then when I was at university from
'69 to '71, it was a very active time on campus, politically and
culturally and theatrically. So to be given a three year contract
to work in a company was like out of nowhere, you know? I thought I
was probably going to wind up in radio or I would have to find some
alternative outlet where I could write copy or do on-air stuff of
teach. You know what I mean. There was no big infrastructure.
If you could have
picked any film project from the 70s you could have worked on, what
would it be?
At that time, I suppose, we were sandwiched very much between
British culture and American culture. Getting the best of both in
lots of conflicting ways. We were listening to surf music and later
hard rock or country rock, whatever, from America. But also we were
very influenced by high-powered BBC drama on television, etc., etc.
At that point, my real acting gods totally away from my own
personal style, I suppose, whatever that was as a young actor it
was that golden age of the new studio system in the 70s. There was
a lot of alternative, counter-cultural filmmaking happening in the
mainstream. So as young actors, we would look at someone like
Dustin Hoffman being in The Graduate and then being in
Little Big Man and then being in, umm, what else was from that
Yes, Midnight Cowboy. Year by year, we thought that these
guys were really pulling down [walls]... I suppose his New York
roots in theater were really heavily influencing his film work. Or
looking at early De Niro or Pacino. I got absolutely obsessed and
fascinated by their acting heritage from Lee Strasburg, that
Actor's Studio, whatever. I couldn't quite work out how they could
put together such monumental, dangerous, unpredictable performances
in those great classic Americana movies like The Godfather
coming out in that period.
important lessons have you learned as a filmmaker over all these
years? How important is it to trust the audience's intelligence?
(laughs) Well, I'm still learning. I don't believe audiences
are stupid. I don't like catering down to them. The first film
(The Devil's Playground) I did, I remember seeing it ten years
after I made it. I remember watching it in front of an audience and
thinking: Oh, God, I did that twice because I didn't think the
audience would get it. I've overstated that. You can tell. You
can tell. I've sat in audiences where you just hear people going
"He's going to do this..." "She's going to do that..." "He's going
to be back later and kill him..." All that sort of stuff. They are
ahead of you, all the time. I'd much rather be ahead of the
audience. Not too far, because otherwise you're going to leave them
behind. There are certain times in a film when you can't take
anymore side roads, because you've got people on a path and have
done the little thought patterns off to this side or that side.
Little reflections, if you like. At a certain time you've got to
bring it in. (Claps his hands together) It's like shooting
an arrow out of a bow, it's got to go straight to the target.
Because, you will upset them, emotionally. One of the things I've
learned in America was to allow emotion to happen. Americans like
to hang on to emotional moments way longer than I do. [Suppose] In
Australia, Geoffrey and I had an argument. Before the argument
finished, you'd cut to a door slamming. You'd think it would be him
walking out of the room, but in fact it was another character
walking through another room and taking their angst out on
somebody. It's what I refer to as an intellectual cut, because
everybody knows what is going to happen, and therefore, let's
surprise them and take them somewhere else. That's an intellectual
cut. What I've learned from America is that if you set people up
for an emotion, you've got to allow that emotion to happen. The
same way as if you set people up for a laugh, you've got a give time
for the laugh to happen, otherwise you're short-changing people.
One of my
favorite of your movies was
is obviously a very different type of film. Do you value the
opportunity to try totally different things as a director? Also,
was nice filming in Australia again for the first time since the
Yes and yes. (laughs) No, I don't like to go down the same
roads. Where's the fun in that? I like to be made nervous. I like
to explore things I'm not necessarily that comfortable with or
knowledgeable of and learn about them as I go along. Out of being
worried that you don't have enough school to do something, you get
all of your energies focused. Going back to Australia, it was
fantastic. The very important thing about this film is that it's an
extraordinary collaboration. It's not one person's work. Everybody
got into the book, read the book, looked for little parts in the
book that we might have left behind when the script was being done
that illuminate the character or the whole situation in a better
way. Actors were constantly contributing from that point of view.
Right down to the crew. The crew was so happy to be doing a film of
intelligence I didn't mean to describe them as hairy grips
before. (laughs) They get excited. They got excited.
There are scenes in the bedroom where we have erected a giant crane,
the size of this table, in her room to do some of those moves. Not
that you're supposed to sit there and go "That's a nice crane
move." But they knew why they were doing it and the enthusiasm for
that. If something needed changing, they'd change immediately.
There was such enthusiasm to make a good film that they could all be
proud of and we could all be proud of. It was fantastic. Honestly.
I liked your use
of lions and swans and horses.
Oh, well done. Thank you. (laughs) Yes, they are
all themes in Patrick's book. There are [also] roses throughout.
Mirrors are everywhere. There's always stage entrances by you and
by you, because Patrick says everybody is an actor. They are all
acting all the time, different personas to different people. A lot
of it had to do with who Mrs. Hunter (Rampling's character) was and
what her taste was that she imposed on everybody.
It's rare that
you see a film where the set design is so much thematically linked
to what is going on.
(chuckles) Well, hopefully you'll find it in all my films.
I believe where things are taking place is frequently as important
as what is taking place.
What was the deal
about Basil and the food? Does he have an eating disorder?
I'm assuming the scene you are referring to is when he is leaving
the house and we've seen Dorothy (the sister character played by
Judy Davis) take note of the extravagance of expenditure and stuff
that is going on within the household. She's fearful that the
amount of money that she might get is going to be dissipated because
Lotte is such an extravagant cook. I think moments like that for
him are a way of inveigling his way into being surrounded by all of
these women of the household, so he can particularly flirt with
her. (motions to Alexandra) He's a man of big appetites.
When he sits in Wyburd's (the family solicitor) office, he likes to
act as if he's a great man of the world who can look through legal
papers and eat biscuits and act very intelligent.
Basil is always
trying to be liked, but he's also always trying to avoid things
serious confrontations, relationships, even work. Was that an
interesting balancing act for you as an actor?
Yeah. There were dimensions of that, I suppose. It's in an
accumulation of small details that you start to find that. I didn't
sit down and actually write that rather eloquent thesis of the
character to think: Oh, he does this, he does this. I would look at
it more pragmatically as an actor. These are the objectives. These
are the actions. These are the things that he does in particular
scenes. And let the resonances of that add up by the way Fred
chooses to frame it or shoot it or the way Kate (Williams) chooses
the rhythm of the edit. You know what I mean. There are so many
things come into play.
lot of times when adult siblings have to take care of an ailing
parent, some of the sibling rivalry and issues they had as children
play out in their adult lives. How far back did you discuss the
There are certain passages in the novel. One of the things that you
maybe can't achieve definitively and specifically in film language,
but in a Patrick White novel, he will go in and out of interior
states of mind. Then suddenly you'll hit a full stop and you'll go:
Oh, now he's jumped back into third person narrative. Or now he's
back inside Basil's head. So it was great having the novel there.
A six-hundred-and-something-page novel next to the
hundred-and-five-page screenplay. It was like having a special
research bible. You can go: What's Basil thinking over 20 pages
here that I can use to help inform the qualities within this scene?
And there are quite a few things. Little flashbacks. I think in
the scene when he first goes to meet his mother, there is about a
half a page just on his knees cracking. (To Fred) I heard
that last night [in the screening].
Yes, it's there. (laughs)
There's one moment in there where his brain just goes on an interior
monologue on the feeling that he's in such a disconnected state
coming back from England to Australia and not liking it. Where he
meets the actors in the novel is in Singapore in the transit
lounge. They're on their way to do a Southeast Asian tour or
something like that. He has the terrible sexual relationship with
the young actress and all that stuff. But, umm... now I've lost my
thread, I've gone into so many sidebars.
When he was
Oh, yeah, yeah. There is a moment where Patrick White writes about
how he regresses into wanting to be sitting back in the high chair,
when he was like two, wanting to be spoon-fed. There are these
little... they're not psychological portraits, they're just very
resonant emotional images. There's a lot of that about Dorothy and
Basil from their Cudgery (the family's summer home) childhood and
stuff that pops up. (Theatrical and film director) Julie Taymor
last night knows it. She said, "What was the photo they used of your
Titus Andronicus?" She saw the photo. Because the
production designer, Melinda (Doring) said, "Could you provide me
with a lot of photos? We need in the set dressing to have a
suggestion of Basil's twenties onwards." I had to find photos from
my own theatrical collection that could look like it was me in the
1940s and 50s, not me in the 70s and 80s. Maybe they made some of
them look black & white or a bit more sepia or whatever. There are
a number of performances of my own that have been doctored to look
like they were Basil's career, which is a bit scary.
How is your
approach to intimate scenes different for you now than when you were
in your 20s?
Intimate as in sex scenes?
Very careful when it's with my daughter. (They all laugh.)
I learned a great thing from working on Pirates of the Caribbean.
This is a sidetrack, but I think it's an important thing. We worked
with this great maestro, Bob Anderson, who was the sword
master. He played the original Darth Vader in Star Wars (in
the light saber fight scenes). Even before that, he used to
tutor Errol Flynn back in the 50s. He was about 80 when he worked
with us ten years ago. He choreographed that famous sword fight in
The Princess Bride, where they have dialogue all the way
through the foil stomp. So he came in to give us, along with the
stunt men and sword masters on Pirates of the Caribbean, to
sort of do a master class. We would only get through two moves of
the swordfight and he'd go "Stop!" It was like working with
(British director) Peter Brook or some great Russian director. He
said, "Everyone acts fighting with a sword. They do the general
impression of 'I'm hacking at him.'" He said, "It is a dialogue
with a blade." You are coming in on there. More often than not for
film, you are doing rapier style. It's just showier and a
little more interesting than épée work. So you're aiming to
cut someone's arm so they bleed to death or you're aiming to come
down on their head. With the power of that, they then block and
they may come back with, "Ah hah, caught you out there. Tricked you
with that move." You get this dynamic going. I think the same is
true with non-dialogue sex scenes. You don't just go through the
general huffing and puffing and making a lot of loud noise because
that's what people do when they make sex. You've got to find the
two characters who aren't given dialogue to say what is going on
moment by moment in this particular, very complex physical
activity? I remember doing a sex scene with Jamie Lee Curtis in
The Tailor of Panama. We wanted to have a credibility. Not
that you want to show so much, but I said we'll have to have some
under-the-sheet signals. This is why it's like a stunt sequence.
When I squeeze your right knee, this is when this is happening,
physically, because you're not really doing it, you know? So you
have this kind of code. That's the way actors can talk about it.
But the best thing about this particular scene was Alex and I, it
ends up with fairly significant dialogue that tells you a lot about
the subtext of what shifts from a physical act into a slightly more
curious understanding of [whether] she [has] gone down the path that
she thought she was quite manipulatively going down during it.
There is a vulnerability about him that she detects. There is a lot
of unspoken stuff going on there. We went in and Fred's going,
"Hey, come on and look at the set up. I'm going to start really
close on you. You're at the peak, almost at orgasm. But I'm going
to pull back and we'll realize that you are actually looking at
yourself in the mirror while you are making love." This is why he's
a great filmmaker. There is already another dimension to it that is
independent of how we are performing it. It's another layer.
there a scene for you that you felt was your entrance into the
character of Flora?
There's so much more information in the book. The characters are so
densely written. It was just the biggest joy to have access to that
back story and that richer building of a character to inform what I
had in the script for the film. She really struggles with being a
woman in that time in Australia and how sexist men are. That stuff
is not explored in the film, but it's part of who I am and I know
that informed my character's relationship to other people in the
room. There's a certain bitterness and unease about her. That was
magic, having access to all of that information. Then of course you
continue to build characters on your own and feed in your own ideas
as well. But it was brilliant having the book as a starting point.
In the novel,
there is a scene where Flora is explaining she is so desperate. Her
two options are to marry someone of means or she can clean up old
women for the rest of her life.
There was not a
lot of opportunity for women at her level of education at
that time. So that need to bed the superstar is not just a vanity
[thing]. It's not as common as everybody's desire to be famous
now. It's a real, desperate need to get out. To give herself an
opportunity to have a better life and a bigger chance that she will
not get in any other way at that point in time. There's that hunger
for something else. She lives serving these people who are so much
wealthier and perhaps smarter and have so much more than her. It's
something she never will have access to. You're not going to build
your way up in the world of nursing to get that. So to see an
opportunity like that, it's the only opportunity she has. Either
that or give up. It's very real. It's a very deep need for
something better and something better for her children, as well.
Her name in the book is Flora Manhood. Patrick used to invent very
curious names for characters in all his novels.
Cherry Cheeseman... (They all laugh.)
Yes, it's great. It's great, isn't it? I hadn't thought about
this, but Manhood, it's like he's given her Flora for a conventional
femininity, but Manhood being that she has taken on the strength of
what's acceptable in males at the time.
Yeah, and to
explore it. To explore her right to have it, somewhat.
There was a great number of pages for every character in the book.
Like 50 pages of inside their mind musing on everything, you know?
Particularly your character (motions to Alexandra), because
Col, the guy she should be with, she's actually very, very in love
with and kind of likes. But it's always disturbed by this isn't
good enough. This isn't right for my children. I want my kids to
have a better opportunity in the world. They won't with him, so
she's conflicted all the time. That was something that we had very
few scenes to put that across in, but you had to put it across,
which I thought Alex did extremely well. This is better for her
children than him. And yet, who would she be happiest with and more
comfortable with? It would be that guy. All of that is in the
book, which is a great resource for everybody, I think.
As human beings,
how were you able to shake off your roles emotionally?
I'm the sort of actor that tends to generally hang the costume up at
the end of the day. Not live with it 24/7. For me, acting is
putting yourself into a state of imaginative play. When the scene
is ready to be shot, you've talked about it, you've been very
outside it and third person about analyzing it. Tossing around
ideas. For me, when that work is done, you yield and give yourself
over to playing the beats with the input of your fellow players,
whether it's a duo or a group scene or whatever. I've said this
before, but having been a great admirer of that Lee Strasburg
method, tradition from America out of Russia, back in the 30s
through group theater and so forth, it doesn't work for me. I'm a
bit fearful that if I'm in character all day, I might end up doing
some of my best work at the craft services table. (laughs)
It is better to save it for when Fred says, "Action! Let's go for
the scene now." Are we all ready to play with the refinement and
the nuances we think are needed? Maybe take you'll go, "Oh, that
was great, I reckon there is a little bit more just on this moment
where you could play and we could establish, mold and shape the
dynamic of the scene."
emotional honesty come mostly from the script, or from the
I think it's a mixture of many things. Not having seen the film,
when I saw it last night, I hadn't seen it for a year, and I read
completely different things in my own work and what everyone else
was doing than hadn't even occurred to me when I had seen it last
time. Sometimes you go... like in the great classical plays, anyone
who plays Hamlet knows that "To be, or not to be" is
something they should think about very, very carefully. You know
it's a famous moment. I just played Lady Bracknell last year (in
The Importance of Being Earnest). Everyone would come up to me
and say how are you going to say the handbag line? I went I don't
think I'll give the handbag line that much significance, because by
my analysis of that particular scene, it was much more funny later
in the scene when he's going on about railway stations and she
explodes on "The line is immaterial." The handbag line is just,
what? Where are you going? With her class structure and so forth.
So, I never earmark a moment to go this must be the moment where you
cry. Or this must be the moment where this happens. Sometimes they
happen out of the chemistry of rehearsal. I'll give you a case in
point. The day we shot the scene at Cudgery, where without too much
buildup and we'd shot some of the other stuff out of sequence, just
going into that room where Judy Davis is melting down, naked and wet
from a distraught cleansing of herself in the shower. You don't
intellectualize that before going this is her. She just offered the
fireworks that I have to deal with. I didn't know what to do in
that room, you know? I thought she's gone down that path. She was
discovering that with such immediacy. Every little beat.
Judy Davis is
such a great actress. Her character was so uptight and so cut off.
Was it enjoyable to play the scenes off of her?
I've done three other films with Judy. We've played husband and
wife a couple of times. She always amazes me. I love watching her
work now, and I've been seeing it all on the set and I think it's
partly to do with the Schepisi style and also the Patrick White
material. [Others agree] the North American audiences, certainly at
the Toronto Film Festival and what I've seen here now. Even though
it's a dramatic portrait of a woman off-balance with herself,
culturally, geographically, within her own family, Judy just gets
that slightly comic, almost screwball edge of not being completely
upright and vertical. (chuckles) Stomping over to get roses
out of the garden to present them to the people in the country. Her
comic timing is great. But, it's knife-edge, dramatic, where you're
going I really feel for this person not being complete.
Well, speaking of
not being complete, it seemed the time that Basil was most
comfortable was when he was at the country house. Do you think he
would have ultimately been happier if he just stayed there and just
gone for a much simpler life?
There was a key line, I can't recall it, it's a big detail in the
novel, which we kind of put into his narration. He's not a
narrator, as such, in the novel. That was an invention for the
film, probably to balance the flashbacks with Dorothy and mom.
There was a feeling that he had that other shape going. There was a
definite feeling in going back to Cudgery and Patrick would
elaborate on this for pages that he knew he wanted to go back to
some kind of... what do you call it?... is it antediluvian? You
know, where you go back to before the fall. He wanted to go back to
childhood. Where did I go off the rails? He always had this
wonderful image in the novel, which has sort of become the cutting
of the foot. There was another incident in the novel where he
remembers his father helping him down from a tree.
You actually say it in that scene. You say, "I fell out of a tree
and my father carried me home."
Yes, I remember we put that in, because I loved it so much from the
novel. It was him emotionally trying to connect with that intimacy
and tenderness for the father that he probably got so far away
Got taken away from. Separated from. And lost the love that was
there and the innocence of that time. The purity of that time.
This is a little
bit off-topic, but since we have a roomful of Australians...
Are we Australian? (laughs)
Do you have any
thoughts about the situation of (the Australian WikiLeaks founder)
Julian Assange and how the Australian government is ignoring him?
I'm not really up to speed on that story, but I know Robert
Connolly, one of our very notable younger filmmakers of the moment.
He was there last night. He's done a film, I think, or
It's a telly movie, but it's being recut as a feature and it's going
to play at Toronto (International Film Festival) called
Underground, about Julian Assange when he was growing up and an
activist in squats in Melbourne.
I don't know about him personally, at all. I do think perhaps the
US government are trying to railroad him for exposing their
secrets. But it does seem to me that it is good that someone in the
world is telling us what is really going on. Because, mostly, sorry
guys, the media isn't.
Have you seen
King's Speech play in London, yet?
No, I haven't seen it.
What do you have
Go on, you go...
Well, I'm actually about to have a baby...
...so I'm having a little break. (laughs)
It's our first grandchild. I can, but I'm not allowed to [say what
my next project is]. They're going to make an announcement in a
couple of weeks, so... I'd get destroyed. (laughs) But,
I've got three or four projects in.
I found out a bit of it at lunch, because I had lunch with Mary (Schepisi's
wife). It was great. (they both laugh) I've just done a
film with Giuseppe Tornatore, who did Cinema Paradiso. (It
is called The Best Offer.) We shot the last four months in
Italy, which was fantastic. It's brilliant. And I'm about to do
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, the very, very
early Stephen Sondheim musical, in Melbourne. I start rehearsals
next week. Comedy tonight.
us Let us know what you