As one of Hollywood’s rising young stars, it’s now time to see Brenton Thwaites back on home soil, taking on the lead role in Julius Avery’s directorial debut, Son of a Gun – and we had the pleasure of speaking to the young actor ahead of the film’s release.
We discussed what it was like to collaborate with co-star Ewan McGregor, while Thwaites also tells us about the current state of the Australian Film Industry, going from a soap opera to Hollywood stardom – and speaks briefly about his role in the forthcoming 5th addition to the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.
I’d seen Julius’ work before, his short films. I saw the way he shot, the way he tells such emotionally rich stories in his characters and the way he likes to create realism, so I thought it was a wonderful opportunity to go back to Australia and be part of such an edgy film – and to explore a part of the industry I hadn’t before, it was my first venture into such a troubled character and that’s what attracted me to it.
It must be fun working with first-time filmmakers, do they have a vitality and freshness for the project that extends to the cast?
Yeah I like working with first-time directors because they have a belief that anything can happen, and you’ve got to maintain that belief. One director who I’ve worked with, who has made many films that still has that belief is, is Phillip Noyce. He leaves the unknown quite alone, he waits for the magic, the unexpected to happen. A good quality in first-time directors is that nothing gets in their way, they are so passionate about their first feature and their energy is easy to pick up as an actor. The idea that in any take, anything can happen. Unless it’s a technical shot or a stunt, but acting wise it was good to know that every take could be completely different to the prior one.
Conversely, it must have been a complete joy working somebody as experienced – and gifted – as Ewan McGregor?
It was great having him in the movie, and great to have a leader. It was good for Julius as well to have such a confident actor take the reigns of his movie. For me it was great to watch and to build my confidence in that time. This was my second feature film in Australia and I hadn’t done much before, so it was nice to have a guy like Ewan, who is very friendly and easy to approach and pick up little tips from, and he was very generous with his time and gave me a lot of energy, which was cool.
Your character looks up to Ewan McGregor’s role – I’m assuming that’s the case off-screen as well, so did you transport any of that dynamic into the film?
Yeah of course, that’s exactly right. There were moments that were very similar to what was happening at the time. I look up to Ewan as an actor and a person, and so did JR. However the consequences of our characters was so real, it was always something else we had to play in a scene.
The opening scenes in the prison are incredibly intense – when you watch this back are you able to get caught up in that tension and enjoy it as an audience member would?
No man, I get caught up in the tension for real. At the time of shooting it was quite tense, rushed, nerve-wracking. In those moments I feel like I’m really feeling how I look on screen. In the prison scenes I was quite anxious and uncomfortable.
Outside of the prison there were some incredibly beautiful location shoots in this movie – was there ever a time to take a breather and enjoy your surroundings? Or did your schedule not really allow for that?
Yeah, actors on set have a lot of time. Well, some more than others, obviously. But there were stages where I’d just look out and think, what a beautiful country to shoot in. What a fantastic state of Western Australia – it’s so edgy and scary, but at the same time so beautiful.
It must be great to explore your own country? Because whenever we all travel or go on holiday, it’s usually abroad. I mean, there’s some supposedly amazing places in Britain I’ve never seen, for instance.
Oh it was great mate, you’re right. We tend to go elsewhere, don’t we? Especially for Australians. 90% probably haven’t even left the East Coast, and both Western Australia and the South Coast are beautiful. Before that I’d seen more of America than I had of Australia, and that annoyed me and one of the main reasons why I did the movie.
Talking of making films on home soil – do you think more Australian actors and directors should be doing that rather than seeking work elsewhere?
I do. I think what many Aussies are trying to do, is to make movies that Australians will go and see. We have a tendency to watch other people’s movies, which is fine, everyone does. But I’m in Spain right now and there are a bunch of Spanish movies on at the cinema. In France there are French movies and in Iceland there’s Icelandic movies. So one of our goals is to somehow in our film industry find the reason why we’re not watching our own movies. But we’re on the right track – Animal Kingdom was great, a lot of Aussies saw that, and Russell Crowe’s movie The Water Diviner has done really well recently. It was the top movie in Australia for 2014, which is a massive success, so we’re on the right track. It just seems that everywhere else, like in England loves Son of a Gun, whereas in Australia it didn’t do that well. But hopefully it does overseas, and that encourages artists to stay in Australia and continue to create in Australia.
It must be tough for actors like yourself, because with all due respect, the biggest roles are in America. Yet I imagine there is a sense of loyalty to want to stay at home and help boost the Australian Film Industry, so it much be tough to balance that…
To be honest, I couldn’t get away from Australia quicker. That’s the truth. I couldn’t get out of Australia and on to Hollywood quick enough. I took a few small jobs and I left, in the hope I could be in movies in America, like a lot of Aussies have. Once I did that I was pretty much invited back to work in Australia, which was great, and more recently with the notoriety, and being more well known, I have the opportunity now to choose, which is fantastic. But you’re right, there needs to be a balance between doing a Hollywood movie and doing something for the purpose of creative integrity, or to improve the film industry in your home country. So I’ve been quite lucky, I’ve been able to go back to Australia every year, and I’m going back in a couple months to do a movie. So last year and this year I would have mainly worked in Australia, which is fantastic. But I do like working in America, I have to say, I like American and European directors and I hope to eventually work all over the world. W’ere becoming very multi-national, the film industry isn’t specific to one country or culture anymore. There’s a lot of Europeans working in Hollywood now and Americans in foreign films.
Guy Pearce, Naomi Watts, Russell Crowe – these are all actors who have made the leap from Australia to America, but have also come from soap operas, just like yourself. They must have been a great influence for you, knowing that being on Home & Away can lead on to huge things? In England, when you star in a soap, you’re almost doomed into a limited career. It becomes tough to break out.
It can, yeah. But also it can’t. There are a lot of actors in soap operas in Australia who have chosen different career paths as well. Sometimes you have to choose what you have to do and fight for it. It can easy, a lot of people in soap operas, beforehand aren’t earning much money, they’re trying to act, maybe working in a bar like I was. There’s this money on offer you’ve never had before, so that comfort and security is very enticing, like the devil holding an apple in front of your mouth. For me, it was anyway. So it was a big decision to leave for America when I had the chance.
Next up, in England at least, we can see you in The Signal. That one looks really exciting…
Yeah that’s pretty cool and I’m really excited about that. It’s a drama mixed with a sci-fi and so in the same vein of District 9 and Chronicle, it has very real components. It’s about three characters travelling across America, from East Coast to West Coast, to start college, and they receive a signal on their computer and they decide to follow it and find out where it came from as it destroyed their hard-drive, so I guess it’s a revenge fuelled idea, and when they do, they get to the sight and next thing they know they wake up in a contamination zone. The rest of the movie unfolds in a way where they have to find out where they are and what has happened to them. It’s a really interesting, Kubrick-esque sci-fi story where you;’re constantly trying to figure out what’s happened. Don’t expect anything, just go and see it. That’s all I can say.
How about you joining the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise? Is that a project you’re involved in?
Yeah, would love to do this movie, it’ll be great fun. They’re making it, unless they waste millions and millions of dollars building a set in Queensland. Either they’re building a whole new town, or a film set in the middle of nowhere! So yes mate, very excited about that one, I hope it all comes together, because it should be very fun. It’s not all confirmed yet, all the contracts, but if it all works out I’ll be shooting that back in Australia.
Son of a Gun is released on January 30th.