Capone talks with writer-director Patrick Hughes and star Ryan Kwanten about the Australian revenge Western RED HILL!!!
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
Unless you're Australian, you've probably never heard of writer-director Patrick Hughes, the next in a fast-growing list of first- or second-time directors from Down Under that have made some of the best crime dramas I've seen in years. And most of them have hit these shores in just the last year. I've gotten to the point where when I hear a new film is from Australia, I simply make the time to see it, no questions asked. I'd heard of Hughes' RED HILL before I caught it at Fantastic Fest in September, primarily because of two of its stars: Ryan Kwanten, who is best known for playing Jason Stackhouse on HBO's "True Blood," and Tommy Lewis, who I'd seen in THE PROPOSITION, but is probably best known in his native land for playing the title role in the ground-breaking work THE CHANT OF JIMMIE BLACKSMITH.
RED HILL is part "Western," part revenge film, and all bloody mess. Kwanten plays a newbie sheriff who has just moved himself and his pregnant wife to the outskirts, where you're as likely to see a man on a horse as you are one driving a pick-up truck. This is the outback, where ranches go on for acres and acres. Word soon gets out after Kwanten arrives for his first day of work that there's been a jailbreak and convicted murderer Jimmy Conway (Lewis) has escaped and is headed right for this particular town. Conway has burns over half his face and he has killing on his mind. The fact that Conway also happens to be Aboriginal makes the film all the more interesting and mysterious to watch, and we soon realize that all is not as it seems, with poor Kwanten stuck in the middle of Conway and the other lawmen in the town.
Before I saw RED HILL, I didn't have any scheduled interviews planned with any of the talent at the festival. But when the credits started rolling, I found the nearest publicist and asked who was available. Lucky for me, both Hughes and Kwanten (who also lent his voice to a major character in the animated owl-centric film LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS, which we tough on briefly) were available and eager to chat. RED HILL begins its regional release schedule this Friday, November 5, when it opens in Los Angeles, New York, and Austin with additional markets to follow. And it is actually kind of necessary that you check it out. It really is that good. Until then, please enjoy my talk with Patrick Hughes and Ryan Kwanten.
And be warned, there are SPOILERS galore throughout the interview. If you're planning on seeing it, don't read this interview until after you have.
Capone: This movie is playing I think at the Chicago Film Festival in a couple of weeks, too.
Patrick Hughes: Yeah, we go to Chicago, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee, then Hawaii.
Capone: There you go!
PH: It’s funny, they all sent [Ryan] an invitation, but no one sent me one.
Capone: That’s right! Well, HBO has it’s privileges I guess, right?
Ryan Kwanten: Yeah, yeah.
Capone: But you’re not coming to Chicago, though.
PH: I’d love to, but I’ve got to go shoot a commercial to pay the bills.
Capone: Okay. So I literally was not planning on doing this interview until I saw the film. I walked out of the screening, up to the publicist, and said “Who's here that I can talk to?” So I’m barely prepared.
RK: We like that though. Can we apologize, like Patrick did on stage, for the quality.
PH: It was fucking diabolical.
Capone: Quality of the picture?
RK: Yeah and sound.
PH: Sound and everything. You’re got to hear this with the DTS. We spent…
RK: This was a digiBeta you were watching.
PH: We went to such great lengths with a low budget to shoot on 35mm, so both Ryan and I know what it should look like and what it should sound like.
RK: And what it has looked like. This is the worst…
PH: The guys that mixed the sound are all gun fanatics, and they went to Adelaide. There was a team of eight sound recorders, I’m not kidding you, eight sound recorders went to Adelaide with the actual guns that we used in the film with the armorer. The armorer went with them, and they were shooting the 308 [Winchester], the sawed-off shotgun, every different rifle, every different gun. Ryan, remember the first time you heard it?
PH: He’s like “Holy Fuck.”
Capone: So wait. So how come we didn’t see the proper print?
PH: I think the next time they are going to play it, they are going to play the print. For some reason they didn’t have a print today, but anyway.
Capone: Hey, I still liked it.
RK: Yeah, but that was just a precursor to something much better.
Capone: I understood, that’s interesting to know. So when I see it in Chicago, then I’ll know and it will hopefully look even better.
RK: It will be full force.
Capone: Yeah, absolutely. The only downside about this is that you weren’t able to bring Tommy [Lewis] with you. I think the audience would have just eaten him up. They would have loved him. And he’s kind of a big-deal actor in Australia, right?
RK: He’s a gentle giant too. The guy that you see on screen is…
PH: He’s the complete opposite.
RK: Yeah, the complete opposite.
Capone: I was just looking up some of his credits. I know that he was in THE PROPOSITION, which I’ve seen, but he’s been making movies for a long time. Is he fairly well known? How did you think of him for the part?
PH: He was plucked from obscurity when he was 17 to play the lead in THE CHANT OF JIMMIE BLACKSMITH,which had its world premiere in Cannes and picked up an award I believe [for Best Director, Fred Schepisi], and his career sort of skyrocketed. When I was writing it, I was certainly thinking of him. It was funny, when I was writing the script, I refused to give "Jimmy” a name, I always knew I’d use the name “Jimmy Conway,” because there’s a history behind that name in Australia and what the white man did to the indigenous people was to give them a white man’s name, “Jimmy,” and then they would take the surname of the farmer they worked for, and Conway is a huge farming name in Australia.
It certainly felt like, when I was writing it, all I called him in the first draft of the script was “The Devil” and I called Old Bill “The King.” So, I always remind myself “What would the Devil do in this situation?” and “What would the corrupt king do in this situation?” That was kind of a cool way to develop the story just as a sort of reminder. I think Westerns are so lean and so raw and so sort of sparse, and I wanted to try and bring that across in RED HILL.
Capone: I love that his name has a history to it, that we might not get, but now we know. That’s a great little piece of information to carry into the film.
PH: Totally. At the end of the day I wanted the film to be about something; I didn’t want it to be just some shoot ‘em up. Because as soon you walk away, it doesn’t mean anything. But to actually, in a subtle way, make a statement on our colonial past and some of the past mistakes our country has made.
Capone: And even the limited knowledge I have of that, when he first came on and I saw that he was aboriginal, I thought “That’s really daring that you made of that heritage," because that could be really construed in a wrong way. But then having seen way too many movies in my lifetime, I realized “Okay, he’s probably actually not going to be that evil.” Even though I figured that out kind of early, it didn’t matter, because I was still fascinated with where this story was going.
PH: Certainly, it's quite a confronting image. And you know, when I wrote the script, I was really petrified to hand it to him. But his reaction was “This is the film my peoples have been waiting for.” I was like “Thank God,” because it could have gone the other way.
Capone: You don’t even realize until fairly far in that it’s a revenge film.
RK: That was something that amazed me too, the pacing. It didn’t feel like it had to adhere to the modern-day MTV style of cutting, where you are cutting every four seconds, where you’ve got to keep the audience constantly stimulated for fear that they are going to fall asleep or not get the story or lack of stimulation or whatever it may be. Patrick gives the audience credit to sort of say, “Look, I know you’re smart enough to follow a good story. If I lay it out there, you will come and you will follow me on this journey.” Today is evidence of that.
PH: We love that idea of… Act one was to just pull a handbrake on the audience, so when Jimmy pulls out from behind the car, it’s like the story there just takes a complete reversal, because up until that point I wanted to “Let’s just go through the motions. This is a drifty country town where the biggest thing that would happen is someone’s tractor would get stolen.”
RK: You can’t help but feel this sense of foreboding, that there’s something about to happen.
Capone: When you get to that moment with the dead horse, then you’re like, “Something’s going on here.”
Capone: It is. It’s like that’s an omen. “Something evil is coming to town.” You look really convincingly uncomfortable on that horse. Are you not a horse person?
RK: I had actually done a few sort of cowboy films, and it ended up being sort of a funny story that Patrick and I had, even that we used as an arc for Cooper, the way he rides the horse.
Capone: By the end he’s blazing a trail through the desert.
PH: [Laughs] It’s over the top and uses all of that big bold imagery from Westerns, but essentially his arc is he is a city boy who becomes a cowboy. It’s a city cop becomes a cattle man and he steps up, but I always think it’s funny because that first thing where we have that shot that pulls up to reveal Ryan on the horse for the first time, Ryan said “Maybe if I’m going to be on a horse, maybe I will try and steer it like a car.”
Capone: And with your legs straight out.
RK: These are all decisions, yeah.
PH: And you are trying to steer it. We were all laughing. It was just like everything you should never do.
Capone: I don’t ride horses, but I know your legs aren’t supposed to be like that.
RK: And it’s important to add those. Even though they seems small, those little subtle bits of humility, but also humor to it that sort of softens it, but also give you more of a gamut. You go through more of a gamut of emotions in the film, so hopefully that visceral response you get at the end is far greater.
Capone: Yeah, so the story you told before the movie about sending him the script and him saying “Yes,” why did you say “Yes?” What was it about the script that you liked so much, other than maybe getting to play a lead?
RK: That’s never really concerned me, but it was more just “Wow, this is a story.” I've read a lot, and for this pearl of brutality to find it’s way through the mix and speak to me, it said a lot. It was, firstly, the lack of exposition, but the main thing was that here was this western that I thought “How interesting is this to have the hero filled with all of these flaws?” He wasn’t the John Wayne. He wasn’t the Clint Eastwood. He's not the "In the face of any storm, he could stand up and rise above it." In the very first scene, you see he’s forgotten his gun, and the hits just keep coming and coming and pounding him and pounding him and he has to, through this horrendous day, find courage and the ability to find himself and the reason to uphold justice and defend what he thinks is right. That was a really interesting story for me. It was almost like a prequel to where Clint Eastwood finds himself and John Wayne finds himself. It was the backstory to their stories.
PH: Yeah, like PART 2 of RED HILL would be the badass Shane Cooper.
Capone: You would be the only cop left in town , so yeah.
PH: And he’d be like this [Makes shooting gestures.] Shooting ever motherfucker!
Capone: Were there any films that were an influence for you? A lot of people were walking out going “Oh, that was like NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN,” and I think that Tommy kind of lends himself to that comparison a lot . Were you thinking about certain things that you liked?
RK: I was inspired by MY LEFT FOOT. [laughs]
PH: Yeah, right. What?
PH: NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN was a big influence; because I felt like when I was writing it and I’m a huge fan of Cormac McCarthy I was certainly reading a lot of his material. And I guesss films like HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER and HIGH NOON were big influences, and then also to a certain extent DELIVERANCE was a huge influence, because there is a rawness to it where it becomes like a survival movie, and I felt like RED HILL--it takes place in almost real time, so to speak, it happens in one day, and it’s like pitching a city boy into this landscape, and he’s got to somehow survive through this night. It’s a discovery and a learning process, so yeah DELIVERANCE was a big influence too and films like SHANE obviously.
Capone: So the classics.
PH: Yeah, well I was going to say if Tommy was anything, it’s more HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER isn’t it? It’s more of “I’m not here to talk. We’ve got nothing to say. I’m just here to taste fucking blood. For touching my goddamn family, I’m going to kill you and you.” And the way we treated Tommy’s performance was like this was his last supper. We are saying, “You are going into the death chamber tonight” and he knows he is.
Capone: I never doubted for a second he was going to be dead at the end of this movie. Yeah, I never doubted that.
PH: Yeah, and he knows he’s going to die. So we were just like “How do we work in little things? Does he stop and just enjoy a simple piece of cake?” He hasn’t had that, he’s been in prison for 15 years; he’s never tasted that. So it’s these visceral experiences he has where he smells the air or he just takes in the landscape or he considers the horse--little moments that humanize the monster.
Capone: At least from the perspective of me sitting in America and seeing what’s coming from Australia in the last couple of years, there has been this wonderful resurgence of these crime dramas from Australia. I think THE SQUARE played here last year at this festival and then ANIMAL KINGDOM is one of my favorite films that I’ve seen this year and then now this. What’s going on? Did they put something in the water in the last couple of years?
PH: Exactly and I grew up like I’m a good friend of Nash [Edgerton], and this is the thing, I don’t think it’s like a conscious concerted effort where we said “Hey, let’s create a new wave of filmmakers.”
Capone: I don’t believe that for a second.
PH: [laughs] No, and I think that’s what new waves are--a resurgence in genre filmmaking, or whatever you want to call it. But I certainly feel like there’s a little mini-revolution and I’m really happy to be a part of it. When I sat down to make the film, we made it without government finance, we made it without the studios. I just sat down to write something I wanted to see on the big screen. I wanted to write something that would be raw and ruthless and mean, and I just wanted it to be warts-and-all filmmaking, like “Let’s just go and make a goddamn movie that I know that I can sell at an international film festival.” Thank God we did.
But I think when you step back form someone like yourself where you are here looking at us from the outside, it’s very interesting, because suddenly you are seeing this wave, and what I think it simply comes down to is a new generation of filmmakers coming through. You are looking at a bunch of young directors that are making their first films and they grew up watching films from the states and they grew up watching international cinema, because we grew up in the video culture, and I grew up watching Westerns with my dad. It certainly influenced my filmmaking sensibilities watching these genre films. I think it’s also just a backlash against Australia making so many of the same films for so long of these really meaningful dramas that no one wants to see. You go “Well, that’s great. It’s a really important issue you are exploring, but no one wants to see it. Why does anyone want to see it?”
RK: When you have filmmakers like Patrick too, he harnesses his love of cinema and then puts within that his love of the country, which is Australia. I think that’s evident when you sort of amalgamate those two worlds, you get the rawness and the madness of Australia and you get the cross-cultural references too. Everyone understands the mythology of good and evil. So I think you handled it with really good discretion, but you also are very true to our culture.
Capone: I don’t think there’s any American who loves Westerns who isn’t going to get what you are doing here, even though the cultures may be different.
PH: Yeah distinctly Australia. I look at the similarities between the foundation of America and the foundation of Australia, and the similarities are pretty frightening--the indigenous population in Australia and the American Indians and how they were treated and how they were pushed out of their land by the white man, the colonialism comes in, and you’ve got the same issues. You’ve got these issues. If anyone deserves revenge, it’s the original owners of Australia. I mean someone give them a goddamn sawed-off shotgun, because they deserve it. So when I wrote it, I was really petrified to send it to Tommy, but he responded saying “That’s what I’ve been waiting for, man. I want to play this role.” I’m like “Didn’t you play it when you did THE CHANT OF JIMMIE BLACKSMITH?” [Laughs] But that was a big more psychotic.
Capone: So I’m a huge "True Blood" fan. I’ve seen every episode, love it. This last season was bat-shit crazy.
RK: In a good way?
Capone: Oh yes. Every week, I had no idea where it was going. And it was like that every single week.
RK: Me neither. With reading the scripts, we would sit around at the table read and just sort of think, “What are they going to throw at us now?”
Capone: It really is like they just threw everything at us this year, and it was kind of fun, because it was not in any way predicable and Alan Ball kind of teased at the end of the last episode some things that were going to happen next season. Has he given you any idea where Jason is going from this point?
RK: Not really. I’ve always been under the opinion, Steve, that I feel like Jason is such a spur-of-the-moment character. He’s not exactly the most cerebral fellow.
Capone: Wherever the brightest lights are, that’s where he is running to.
RK: He's a little bit like that. That’s not a bad description. He’s not exactly the most cerebral fellow, so he’s not the best at forecasting the future, let alone what’s happening the very next second. So I kind of just like getting the scripts whenever they happen to find my way, and anything that I could possibly conjure up in my wildest imagination is going to pale in comparison to what they eventually do come up with for my character, so I’m happy to leave it in their more than capable hands.
Capone: Do you ever get bummed out that Jason doesn't have a power?
RK: [laughs] Not at all.
Capone: You are the only one at this point who doesn’t.
RK: Yeah, but I guess in the same way that Shane is our moral compass in RED HILL, in a bizarre sort of way, I think Jason is the moral compass for "True Blue."
Capone: Okay, thank you both so much. I really loved the movie and I can’t wait to see it in Chicago the way it’s meant to be seen and heard.
PH: [to Ryan] Hey, you’re going to Chicago right?
RK: Possibly, yeah. I don’t know, because I’ve got Hawaii and then I’m in London for LEGENDS OF THE GAURDIAN. That was really cool too. I just took a picture downstairs between the posters for RED HILL and LEGENDS OF THE GUARDIAN, my independent and my studio films right next to each other.
Capone: You had a big role in that. I just interviewed Zack [Snyder] a couple of weeks ago actually. He came to Chicago. But I was like “Did the accents sell the myth a little better for an American audience?” Because it’s mostly Australian actors, and he was like, “Yeah, it kind of does.”
RK: I think so. It takes you to that fantasy world; you are immediately taken to a different place.
PH: Yeah right, because when you are watching, you are watching it with this sort of foreign viewpoint, right?
Capone: Yeah, and obviously there are some British actors in there too, but it’s mostly Australian. But you have a huge part in the film.
RK: And he’s responsible for taking him to the dark side.
Capone: Yeah, that’s a great birth-of-a-villain kind of storyline. I really love that movie. I just put up my review yesterday actually.
RK: That’s good to hear. I was intrigued as to how the audiences were going to take that, because it was shot for 3D, unlike a lot of the 3D stuff which is not, which has been blowing up. It’s like a 2D image that they blow up to 3D, which doesn’t and can’t take advantage of the capabilities of 3D.
Capone: It’s easier with animation, but even still, it’s beautiful when compared to some of the other animated films that I’ve seen that are 3D. I like that they didn’t try to personify the animals in any way. They didn’t give them human features or turn their wings into fingers.
RK: Oh, you have no idea the absolute obsession the animators had with owls. They went into all of that stuff and asked “Could they really put this together?”
Capone: I love that Zach was talking about the blacksmith owl that has on his little anvil bullhorns so that he could grip it with one claw and swing the hammer with the other. I didn’t even notice that, my God! (Laughs)
RK: There’s an owl language that they came up with and owl books. There was a whole bunch of stuff.
Capone: Anyway, thank you guys.
PH: Thank you very much.
RK: I might see you in Chicago. If not, our paths will cross again.
Capone: That would be great. Take care.
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Nov. 6, 2010, 12:32 a.m. CST
Capone thinks the third season of "True Blue" is the best yet!!!
Nov. 6, 2010, 1:35 a.m. CST
The guy couldn't act.
Nov. 6, 2010, 1:45 a.m. CST
It's playing in only one theater in LA.... despite all the ads. Was one of 5 people in the theater. Great flick. Too bad about the shitty release.
Nov. 6, 2010, 3:01 a.m. CST
on this planet?
Nov. 6, 2010, 6:32 a.m. CST
Holy crap that film is so good. Red Hill looks pretty cool too, but AK is the gold standard this year.
Nov. 6, 2010, 11:11 a.m. CST
...where's the obit?
Nov. 6, 2010, 1:24 p.m. CST
That's terrible news. A very fine actress, one of my favorites. My condolences to her family and friends.
Nov. 6, 2010, 4:18 p.m. CST
Nov. 7, 2010, 5:46 a.m. CST
I love Jason's enthusiastic cluelessness. I'll check this out.
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