Hey, my friends. Barbarella here, hoping you are doing well. I recently had an opportunity to check out Matt Nable’s new movie Transfusion, which shows how trauma impacts a father and his son. Written by actor Matt Nable, it features Sam Worthington playing on the story’s themes beautifully. One of the qualities I appreciate about Matt’s screenplay deals with its subtleties. The story presents many strong topics but leaves it to the viewer to draw them out. Like many people seem to miss some heartbreaking moments in The Whale – just take a moment to contemplate what it means that he lives on the second floor – I suspect some people may not see how much is going on under the surface in Transfusion; there are riptides in these waters. You have the option to ignore them completely, or you could dive in and let the currents pull you deeper into contemplation.
While being hyped as an action-thriller, the dramatic scenes prove far more compelling than almost every action scene that occurs. Expectations of edge-of-your-seat, non-stop action may lead to some disappointment, but if you go in expecting to bear witness to the human experience, to veterans trying to find where they fit after their military service, to a father and son trying to figure out life after loss, then you may appreciate it as much as I do.
I had the opportunity to chat with writer, actor, and now director Matt Nable, whom I’m guessing a lot of our readers will know mostly from his role as Boss Johns in Riddick. After a short introductory exchange, I launched into the heart of things. Check it out!
The father-son portion of this film is so beautiful, especially that scene where he’s talking about the different ways to be brave. How does that father-son relationship compare to your own relationships with your sons or father?
“Similar. My father was in the army for twenty years, so we grew up in this very physical environment, and there’s five of us in my family, four boys and a girl. I guess the way I fathered my three kids - two of them are boys – in regards to what Sam says to that child is pretty similar to how I sort of feel. There was a little bit of pressure on us as children to gain the approval of my father and in a physical sense, and I didn’t want that for my children. Not that it was traumatic or anything for me, it was just something…as you evolve into a person, what you want for your kids, it just wasn’t important. That’s the genesis of that whole conversation he has with his kid. Being brave can be very, very different manifestations. It’s not just about shooting a deer. Bravery takes many forms. As a father, I guess that’s what I try to instill in them and show them.”
Once upon a time you played rugby, how does directing a film compare to playing rugby?
“It’s very, very different. A rugby league match is eighty minutes. You know, it’s pretty hectic, and it’s a very high-impact, violent sport, to a point. Filmmaking is about joining the dots to everything. It’s methodical, and you’ve got to be prepared – it’s like that in sport, as well, but goes very quickly. This thing goes on for years, really, from the time you write it, and you’re putting it together, and then you’re casting it, and then designing it, and so it’s a challenge. They’re both challenges; they’re just very, very different.”
Sam Worthington is wonderful in this. Did you have him in mind when you were writing the screenplay?
“I definitely had Sam in mind for this. We wanted an Australian actor in that age range. We have a small country, population-wise, and although we do punch well above our weight in this industry, with acting, there weren’t a great deal of choices around that could have had the film made, but beyond that, Sam is a father of three children himself, and I met him years earlier on Hacksaw Ridge that we did together. He was at the top of the list. We were lucky enough that we got to him pretty early, and he really responded to it. He came onboard immediately, and after that, the actual mechanics of putting the film together financially came together, and then Sam [and I] started talking about tone and where we thought we needed to head towards, and what we really leant into was the father-son side of it. That’s what he resonated with, and that’s what was really appealing to him.”
You’ve tried several different jobs or careers. Were you trying to find where you wanted to be in life or do in life, or were you really just gathering material that you could later use in your writing?
“I’ve always wanted to be a writer. Wanting to do something, and then becoming that are, obviously, two very different things. You gravitate towards the things that you get approval from or you get accolade for when you’re younger. Creatively, I was always wanting to tell a story and write. The other side of my life was a very physical life. Like I said, I was playing rugby league; I was boxing, but there is a line of thinking or people trying to draw a line from one to the other. They have trouble getting their head around it because you’re a physical type person, and you can’t do that, or you can’t do this. It’s a very myopic way to look at things, but I understand.
“I had no intention of being an actor; that was never on the radar. It wasn’t anything I was ever really interested in. I was simply interested in writing. I was writing twenty-five years ago in longform manuscripts, and I had written something and felt like it might make a good movie. I didn’t know anything about the film industry. I’d never written a screenplay before. That screenplay was produced, Paramount bought it, and all of a sudden, I was an actor. It wasn’t a grand plan. The plan was always to write and see if I could carve out a career doing that, and everything sort of fell along from that.
“There was no desire or any ambition to direct until three or four years ago, where at a point in my acting career, I’d been around for so long, I’d written some screenplays that were produced and had international releases and had done quite well, and I was like, “Maybe I’ll have a shot at [directing].” I feel like it’s not beyond me; I’m not gonna be out of my depth. I’ve been on film sets for a long, long time. I understand the process of it. It was just an evolution of things, you know. And look, as far as sport was concerned, you’re an old man very quickly in sports, by the time you’re thirty. You know, I played at elite level and boxed at an elite level, but it’s over very, very quickly. Most people of thirty are really only starting to make some headway into their careers. For me, it was writing, and the way things turned out and evolved brought me to here. It was always on the back of that creative pursuit.”
I sometimes struggle coming up with decent titles for things I’ve written. How do you select titles, and how did you decide on Transfusion for this?
“That’s difficult sometimes, and it’s something I often just put to the side. I won’t worry too much about it. I’m writing something at the moment and thinking about a title. The title’s important, obviously, from a marketing point of view.
“With Transfusion we went on and on about that title. Some people thought it felt too science-fiction. Some people really responded to it. It’s so subjective. Transfusion just came from the transfusion element in the plot. It was quite ambiguous until you’ve watched it. We could’ve leaned into a whole heap of cheesy titles. The streamer over here went heavily into it being a thriller, and in my mind, it was never a thriller; it was a drama. That’s what I set out to make. There are elements that have high stakes, and there are thriller elements to it, but it’s a really slow burn to get to those points. The ambiguity of it and the ideology behind it being a drama is probably how that sort of took shape.”
There was something else in the story. It was this idea of veterans trying to assimilate back into civilian society after being in the military. Did you do a lot of research on that, and what kinds of things did you learn about the mental health aspect of veterans in that situation?
“We did an enormous amount of research. The branch we’re dealing with is SAS, top-tier special services, so talking with those guys quite a lot, one guy, in particular, who was a sniper in the SAS. Like I said, I grew up as an army child, so I lived on army bases until I was fifteen. In barracks, there were a lot of affected men, so I saw firsthand what that was like. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) wasn’t diagnosed until 1980, so a lot of these men were walking around uncertain and unaware of what was happening, but everyone else was bearing witness to that kind of behavior and trauma. There was my own experience and then the research that I was gathering with these men who became very open over time about what their journey was and how hard it was leaving from a hierarchical sense of an environment where they gain rank, and then they’re out of it, and then they often become subordinates. It’s very difficult; there’s a real loss of identity and confidence. They attach such a big part of their persona to who they were in the service. Not for everyone, but for a lot of people, it can be a real battle. There’s an epidemic of suicide in this country with returning service people, and it’s remarkably troubling because it’s not getting any better. It needs to be addressed.
“[In Transfusion], we don’t hit anyone over the head with what’s going on with these two men other than to say, "Watch and observe their behavior." I really think the way we’ve constructed that, it’s based in reality and people’s experiences, so it’s troubling. I’m not sure what the solution is other than for people to be gaining awareness and education in and around what’s going around on. It’s very sad.”
What’s also sad is I had to leave our session on that note. I feel like it’s appropriate to mention that one of the bravest things a person could do is ask for help when needed. If you are a veteran (or anyone, really) struggling, please seek out one of the many resources available for help. Also, not all resources are created equal and people are different, so you may have to try a couple different options before finding one that works for you. In the meantime, you could watch a movie. Transfusion releases today in theaters and on VOD and Digital.
Check out the trailer!