Interview – Simon Wincer and Stephen Curry

The Cup co-writer and director Simon Wincer and star Stephen Curry swung by Perth briefly as part of a country-wide promotional tour. Perched on the seventh floor of a swanky hotel with river views, the pair spent a day doing interviews about the story behind the 2002 Melbourne Cup which inspired the movie. Just a week before Damien Oliver, played by Stephen Curry, was to race, his brother Jason (played by Daniel MacPherson) died in a racing accident. After an ice breaking voice recorder mishap got a few chuckles from the director and actor – I hit play on a past interview instead of record – we were able to chat about the difficulty in getting the movie made and the day that stops the country.

Reel Review Roundup: Simon, going through your filmography, there are lots of animals. Do you have a passion for horses?

Wincer: Yes, I have a passion for horses, I have been riding them all my life and I’ve got a farm. It’s a hobby.

RRR: Did that rub off on you, Stephen?

Curry: Yeah it did, to see someone who is passionate for horses is infectious, it’s a great thing to see and his knowledge of horses is such a massive part of it as well. I actually learned to ride horses up at Simon’s property. It became a great learning curve for me over a couple of years.

RRR: When did you realise there was a story behind this particular Melbourne Cup win?

Wincer: I was out of the country when it happened, I was finishing a movie  in America and a Texas journo, called Eric O’Keefe, who had interviewed me a couple of times, contacted me and said “When you go back to Australia in a few days, could you look into the running of the Melbourne Cup, I heard it’s a huge horse race in Australia and I was just told 100,000 people cried. The crowd went crazy.”  I got back to Australia and looked at the story and I asked him “What do you want to know about it?” and he said “I think there is a magazine article or a book in it.” I said “This isn’t an article or a book, this is a Hollywood movie.” So we ended up writing the screenplay together. Then, after we did the first draft, we had to approach Damien Oliver to see if he would allow us to do this. He said it was an opportunity to pay tribute to his best mate, his brother and he allowed us to do it. It has taken a journey to get it to the screen.

RRR: Did you know anything about it previous to getting the script, Stephen?

Curry: I followed the story as closely as most people. I didn’t know about the racing circles or the extended back story until I started looking into it after I met Simon.  I guess once I realised – even just the image of Damien passing the post and kissing the heavens in respect for his brother – it’s just one of those images that stays with you. But finding out about the back-story about his father Ray Oliver who died in a race fall, I became absolutely enamored by it and really so excited and thrilled to be a part of it.

RRR: Melbourne Cup is a huge part of Australian culture, but I guess a lot of people;e just like the dressing up and having a bit of a bet. Did you guys have to research further into the history of it all?

Wincer: I was lucky enough to be able to shoot a couple of Melbourne Cup days with some cameras, so we knew what we were after in terms of what its like to be there …

Curry: Like the bloke in a dress with a hairy chest…

Wincer: … the guys giving points to the beautiful girls. It’s all so much fun. All the kids in Melbourne, they’re all in their suits and girls are dolled up, they’re all heading off to the races and at the end of the day the girls are carrying their shoes and everyone has had far too much to drink. But it is such a wonderful day and I really wanted to capture that and for those that have never been to a cup, show them how much fun it is and lift  the curtain on what happens behind the scenes. But that’s really background to the story. To me, triumph over tragedy and triumph of the human spirit, that’s the heart of the story, that’s what moves people I think. This background of the whole racing business is fascinating and what that world is like and the discipline required to be one of those elite athletes.

RRR: That leads me to the next question. As you said, it is about triumph over tragedy. You said before the preview, the process to get the movie made was difficult. Were there any points during the making where you both sat down like Damien did and thought “should I or shouldn’t I go ahead with this project?”

Wincer: There was last February, where the last piece of financing we thought we had fell away and I thought “Oh Christ.” I’d lived with this bloody thing for seven years now and dedicated far too much time of my life and turned down a lot of bloody good work just to get this thing done. It became a real passion for me because I believed so much in the story. I rang a friend of mine who is a private investor and said, sadly, “I think that’s it. I just don’t know where to turn. I’m quite a bit short.” He called me back 10 minutes later and said “Mate, I’ve been talking with my wife and we will put up the shortfall.” That was February 2010 and we started pre-production in March. Stephen had been learning to ride for a couple of years at my place with a wonderful instructor and every time he would get to the perfect riding weight, I’d say “Sorry the global financial crisis, sorry mate or sorry Stephen, this company just pulled out.” Poor guy.

RRR: Did you have any of those moments, Stephen?

Curry: Yeah, I’ll be honest, I think it’s a testament to Simon that the film actually got made. Other people would have given up. That is a long time to keep receiving bad news. I lost hope once or twice. I guess it’s so hard to maintain faith because it is such a fickle industry that we find ourselves in, but that’s our own stupid fault for not having real jobs.

Wincer: It does happen to so many films, so it’s not exactly uncommon in our business.

Curry: That’s exactly right. All joking aside, if it wasn’t for Simon, this film wouldn’t have been made. I am very thankful and extremely lucky that it did.

The Cup (PG) released October 13.

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