Call it a resurgence of Australian cinema, but it seems the even-year Sundance Film Festivals are the place to catch the movies that find their way across the pond and to the audiences that desire dark, interesting thrillers that masquerade as family dramas. “Animal Kingdom” introduced a wide audience to Joel Edgerton who played as ruthless family man Baz. It’s a fitting return for Edgerton to the 2012 Sundance Film Festival with “Wish You Were Here,” an examination of how three people deal with the loss of their friend after a week of partying in Southeast Cambodia. Of course, it wouldn’t be a modern Australian thriller if there weren’t hidden intentions, distorted memory and deconstruction of the nuclear family. Produced under the Aussie film collective, Blue Tongue Films (which counts among its members Joel’s brother Nash and co-writer/director Kieran Darcy-Smith), the film opened the festival last Thursday and The Playlist caught up with Edgerton and co-star Teresa Palmer about their character choices, future projects and the distribution model they’d prefer for their film.
What is the working relationship like between you and [director] Kieran [Darcy-Smith]?
Joel Edgerton: We’ve been the closest of friends for 18 years now. We went to drama school together. We were both there for the creation of Blue Tongue Films, we’ve written stuff together. I was the best man at his wedding and the godfather to his little boy, Levi. We couldn’t be closer. Strangely enough even that didn’t mean I was going to be a natural fit in the movie because Kieran had said, why wouldn’t I want to be doing it? On a personal level, we had just made a very good movie and it doesn’t blemish our friendship so I don’t have to be tense around him. He’s incredibly talented and exceptional person and impeccable taste in all regards. That’s an important ingredient to being a successful filmmaker.
How much did you bring of yourself into a role that’s clearly a character or caricature of Kieran [who co-wrote the film with co-star and wife, Felicity Price]?
JE: Kieran’s characters in his, and my own screenplays, are different, kind of equalized versions of himself. There was an natural ease to all of us in these characters that was about breathing real life into it. Often that means trying to bring as much of yourself into a character as possible. Kieran had chosen Teresa too, because of her natural essence rather than “Let’s get an actor that’ll play a character like the one I’d written!” So we’re all trying to bring ourselves a lot to the screen. And I find that harder to do than if I have some kind of vile character to hide behind. Because they’re trying to sound like me, but how do I sound? How do I behave? I’m really good at judging and observing other people, but not myself.
That’s a perfect way to look at “Steph,” who deals with the emotional brunt from both ends of Dave and [his wife] Alice. What can you do to prep for that?
Teresa Palmer: I really went on a journey with Steph. You see all facets with her as she’s very much at that stage in her life when she doesn’t have any boundaries and doesn’t think about consequences. She’s in her mid-20s and a little lost. It was challenging for me, finding a balance between someone who’s vulnerable and lost but having fun, and someone who she has a desire for people she shouldn’t be desiring in the film. I guess she’s the antagonist, but I didn’t want her to be unlikable. She’s just broken and trying to find her way to grow up. It was challenging.
JE: What I like about the character, if I can talk about that, is so much of what inspired Felicity is the question of responsibility and culpability, which all sticks out hand in hand. These characters we play suddenly find themselves out of that care-free space into a space of responsibility, kids, mortgage–and Steph is interesting because she’s still operating in the space of where anything’s possible and youth is wasted on the young. She commits one act where you start to see how humans evolve from being care-free to understanding that they hurt other people. And then they start to understand responsibility.
TP: She has to hit rock bottom to realize that. It happens all the time.
You bring up this duality and it comes up a lot in both of your performances: for Joel, returning to a father figure in “Warrior” and upcoming “The Odd Life of Timothy Green,” and Teresa as love interest in “AWOL” and “Warm Bodies.” How do you see that as actors with your performances?
JE: I think you recognize certain qualities in you. The worst version of that is feeling like you’re kind of pigeon holed or you’re running with the same tied-on shoes all the time. And then as an actor you get push the boundaries and pick the right projects. That comes up to, picking the robust choices that you want to explore and the lesser-drawn paths every now andthen. I’ve had eight wives and 13 children in the last four years, and in my life it’s opposite.
TP: I had eight girlfriends as well.
Was taking on “Warm Bodies” an intentional choice to avoid a traditional romantic comedy?
Teresa: I don’t have a zombie boyfriend. But it’s not so much whether I connect to it or if it’s similar to my personality. In the last year I decided I wanted to do completely different characters and explore myself as an artist, seeing what I can achieve rather than what I can’t. They’re all different characters, growing up and 25 is an interesting age. I’m now at the point where people are getting married and having children, so it’s interesting to me and I connect that way.
Why has there been such a high standard of quality coming out of Australia films in the last cou
ple of years?
JE: It’s a per capita thing. We’ve got a small community and we make very few movies, but the ones that you see are the ones that ride the boat overseas. North America makes a ton of movies and there’s a ton of movies that are exceptional. I just think you’re looking at Australia and thinking, “Oh you guys make such great movies.’
TP: We make so far less than you guys.
JE: We punch out 20 or 30 movies a year. Ten of those are probably “credit card” movies that never see the light of day. There’s a good quality of writing, directing and acting and technical skills down there. Blue Tongue is working for us because we’re pushing each other in an unspoken way to just do a bit of work. We’ll watch Kieran’s movie here and Nash’ll want to make his movie faster.
What’s the takeaway you want with “Wish You Were Here”? How do you want us to see it in terms of Sundance?
JE: I would like to see a really good, robust independent distributor pick it up for North America and the rest of the world. Basically you want as many people as possible to see your movie. Someone like [Fox] Searchlight or Sony Pictures picks up the movie and gives it a little run out here.
Would you consider a Video-on-Demand release or partnership with a streaming service? Even a direct iTunes release?
JE: I don’t know. Personally, I’m a little bit arrogant like that. I would want to see a movie played in a cinema. I might have old ideas, though. You might be right.
TP: I think it’s the best way to see our film. I’m old-fashioned that way. It’s such an incredible thing and it’d be our ultimate goal [for theatrical].
JE: If I were younger and hipper, I’d probably be “Yeah, yeah digital media and streaming.” I don’t know much about it. I’ve still got my actual head in film, I’m an auteurist in that way.
TP: There’s something nice about making a night of the theater rather than sitting in front of your TV.
JE: You can put it on the TV later. That’s interesting though, where the world’s going with movies.
“Wish You Were Here” is currently seeking U.S. distribution. You can read our review here.