Interview – John Duigan

Writer/director John Duigan has managed to draw home grown (Nicole Kidman, Ben Mendolsohn, Noah Taylor) and international talent (Charlize Theron, Penelope Cruz, Sam Rockwell) talent to his projects throughout his career that has spanned almost 40 years and included well known titles such as The Year My Voice Broke, Sirens and Flirting. During Reel Review Roundup’s morning chat with Duigan about his latest film Careless Love, about an intelligent university student driven to prostitution, he explained why he chose local talent over famous Hollywood names.

Reel Review Roundup: I understand the film had its premier last week. Were you able to attend and how did it go?

John Duigan: It was a great night. The premiere was held at the Randwick Ritz cinema which is the local cinema near where I’m living at the moment in Coogee. There was a big turn up with almost a full house. There were some old friends and most of the key cast. It was a good night.

RRR: Do you enjoy that part of film making – the promotion side?

JD: The promotion of a film can be exhausting and you can be keyed up about how the film will be received. I have been doing this a long time but each time a film goes out you realise that people will either love you or loathe you, so there is a certain amount of nervous tension. We have had some Q and A’s and I had Nammi Li with me so we have supported each other and the film has been warmly received, so it has been a positive experience.

RRR: How did the story for Careless Love come about?

JD: It originated a few years ago during the global financial crisis. I read an article about the pressure on uni students with the fees increasing in most countries and the cost for students for board and lodging, a number were choosing to work in the sex industry to pay their way. A girl I knew at uni did it for two years. She was from rural Victoria. At first I thought it would be an interesting background for a novel but I decided it would be a better background for a film to explore a number of related issues such as how people seek to compartmentalise aspects of their lives.

RRR: How did you research for the film? Did you track down that former fellow student of yours?

JD: No. I hadn’t been in contact with her for many years. I spoke to a couple of uni students from Cambridge and one uni here who had turned to that industry, and read books about it. I thought the mobile escorts would be a good background for the story because most films deal with the extremes of the industry. On the one hand, they explore the issue of sex slavery and sex trafficking or it is glamourised like in Sleeping Beauty, another Australian film. I wanted the experiences in my film to fall in between those extremes. I didn’t want the main character to be a victim. Through her ingenuity, she is able to avoid most uncomfortable situations.

RRR: You mentioned Careless Love falls between the extremes. We have seen the rom com version with Pretty Woman and then there has been sequences in Requiem for a Dream which are very confronting. Why did you make the conscious decision to have it fall somewhere between the two?

JD: I wanted to show the camaraderie between the three characters in the car. I had an image in my mind of them in a capsule traveling from job to job, which can sometimes be confronting but they also support each other and joke around. It is not always doom and gloom. I think like with most jobs, there are moments of levity.

RRR: Some Australian films recruit American actors for many reasons, such as to secure overseas release. Careless Love has an American character played by an Australian actor. Was there pressure to cast an American actor? You have worked with several famous actors over the years, I would imagine you would have fairly easy access to them.

JD: I could have cast an American actor in that role and maybe that would have been a ticket to international sales overseas, but it would also have made the budget bigger and harder to muster. There is such a good talent pool to choose from here and I thought Peter O’Brien was convincing in that role. I was familiar with his work, he has done many roles in America. In this film he does a Baltimore accent, which is tricky because it has shades of the northern accent but also some southern in it.

RRR: Did Peter O’Brien work on the accent with anyone?

JD: He worked with a dialect coach. I was thrilled with his performance and the rest of the cast. There was some new talent here such as Nammi, Andrew and Hugo Johnstone-Burt who plays that character who is a little unpleasant. Numerous Australian actors get cast in US roles so I wanted to use local actors for this film.

RRR: What are you working on now?

JD: I have got a comedy, called Ego, set in London. I am going back to London in a few days to work on that with a couple of English producers. We are hoping to get it going at the end of this year or early next year so I will be over there for a while.

RRR: Is there any pressure to make another in the series after The Year My Voice Brok and Flirting? Sequels are big at the moment.

JD: I am often asked that question and there are loose plans for another film featuring the Danny Embling character. There is a skeleton of a script but I am just waiting for Noah Taylor to reach middle age so he can play the role again. I am in touch with Noah, we are good friends.

Careless Love released at Cinema Paradiso (Perth) May 31.

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