Interview: Julius Avery and Brenton Thwaites

Ewan McGregor and director Julius Avery on the set of Son of a Gun.

Ewan McGregor and director Julius Avery on the set of Son of a Gun.

Interview by Matthew Eeles:

As a busy actor, do you still get time to watch movies?

Brenton: Well I was just looking at Felony thinking how much I would love to watch it. I’m lucky really because I have pretty cool agents who let me know about the latest directors and their films. Finding the time to watch them is quite difficult though.

What about growing up? What kind of films got you excited?

Brenton: As a kid I watched a lot of romance and drama but as I became a teenager I started watching more action and comedy. When I started drama school I went back to watching drama and foreign films.

Julius: I grew up in Mount Helena in the Perth hills and there’s this great video store there. Mum used to send me down to get some bread and milk and I would use the change to hire 3 weeklies – I’m really showing my age here. [Laughs].
I used to love watching anything with Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Anything that has stuff blowing up really. I was always looking for action when I was a kid. I loved all of that sort of stuff. I’ve been thinking about this a lot actually, and I don’t know about Brenton, but my happiest years were probably when I was a kid. Even though I fucking hated it at the time – my formative years – for me, was when I tapped into all of my most creative juices. I think about those times a lot to draw inspiration from. Being a kid is something special. I’d love to be a kid again.

JR (Brenton Thwaites) in a scene from Son of a Gun.

JR (Brenton Thwaites) in a scene from Son of a Gun.

When I left the cinema after seeing Son of a Gun I told my partner you reminded me of a young River Phoenix. Would it sit well with you to be compared to guys like him? 

Brenton: Yeah, I love River Phoenix. I don’t know his work that well. I love that he was very independent and that he was very sure of what he wanted. It seemed like he was very confident and peaceful and giving for someone at such a young age.

Julius, what did you see in Brenton that made you want to cast him?

Julius: Acting is about finding the truth in a scene and all that shit but for me it’s about instincts and also Brenton had something really special and magical. I pretty much new straight away that I was going to cast Brenton as JR. I actually tortured him through a process of…

Brenton: … of learning to work together.

Julius: Yeah, exactly. As I say, your greatest ally is your actors and you need their help to basically get through the day and Brenton was always a part of those sessions and always trying to find a way to make it better.

Director Julius Avery with Eddie Baroo, Ewan McGregor and Matt Nable on the set of Son of a Gun.

Director Julius Avery with Eddie Baroo, Ewan McGregor and Matt Nable on the set of Son of a Gun.

And what about your experiences, Brenton? Tell us a bit about working with Julius.

Brenton: Well I would say that we did a lot of exercises. It wasn’t so much about the scene but more about the energy in the room. It really reminded me of drama school in that we would prepare to get to a certain place before a scene would start. A lot of what we did was preparing and I really like that style of framework because it creates a safe room in a way and I think Julius created a safe room. From their I felt really comfortable. I didn’t even know my lines that well. I would just kind of improvise and the scene would just naturally take its shape. Don’t you reckon, Julius?

Julius: Yeah, that’s right. We weren’t looking for accuracy and memory skills it was more about looking for some of that magic. I really loved that whole process. Brenton hadn’t really had much out at that stage either.

What about Home and Away?

Brenton: Well I don’t know if anyone would cast me from watching my douche bag scenes on Home and Away.

Julius: I didn’t even know about Home and Away. When they send you an audition tape they don’t send you a CV with it.

Director Julius Avery on the set of Son of a Gun.

Director Julius Avery on the set of Son of a Gun.

Brenton, you’ve mentioned drama school a bit. Did Julius teach you much that you hadn’t learnt in drama school?

Brenton: Well I went to a lot of places that I had never gone before so each moment was a real discovery. In this kind of environment every place is a discovery and I think that’s the goal, to create a room where anything can happen.

Julius, you’ve mentioned Michael Mann being one your influences…

Julius: [Laughs]. Shit. I wish I hadn’t.

Does everyone ask you about it?

Julius: No, no it’s not that. It’s just that everyone’s saying, ‘Well he thinks he’s Michael Mann. He’s not quite there yet.” [Laughs]. I’m a huge Michael Mann fan because for me he’s the benchmark for action. For me his enquiries into man’s business is like no other. Thief is probably the best exploration of what it is to be a man. James Caan was at his absolute finest and for me I think Mann taps into something that no other action director is able to tap into. He’s had some flops. I even enjoyed The Keep, a horror film.

Brendan (Ewan McGregor) and JR (Brenton Thwaites) in a scene from Son of a Gun.

Brendan (Ewan McGregor) and JR (Brenton Thwaites) in a scene from Son of a Gun.

Brenton, how familiar were you with Ewan McGregor as an actor before you had this opportunity to work with him? He’s a pretty big deal. Does he act like it? 

Brenton: [Laughs]. No, he doesn’t act like it. And I was very familiar with him. I really wanted to build a relationship with him and he was very open with me and we did that. I still keep in contact with him now. He’s doing some great publicity for the film. The truth is, one little tweet from him probably gets a lot more of a reaction and publicity than us flying around Australia for two week. [Laughs]. 

Julius: He’s really excited about the film and what he did with Brendan (McGregor’s character in Son of a Gun) because it’s a slight departure from anything he’s really done lately. He’s really going back to what he was doing earlier on with Brendan, like Trainspotting and things like that.

There are some pretty heavy action sequences in the film? Was there ever a time you were concerned for your safety. 

Brenton: Yeah there was actually but not to the point of being scared of dying. I was scared because I had never been in a helicopter before and we were doing pretty dangerous things. The stunt team were very professional and we never stepped over the line.

The film is shot at numerous locations around Australia. Where was your favourite place to shoot? 

Brenton: Perth, I loved shooting on the coast of Perth. My favourite was probably Rottnest Island because we got to have a beautiful boat ride over there. I had never been there before. On our first night was a cracker sunset. It was a beautiful purple sky.

The action is flu on in Son of a Gun.

The action is flu on in Son of a Gun.

I’ve got a list of names here: Stephen Curry, Brendan Cowell, Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Helen Hunt, Luke Wilson, Gerard Buttler and Geoffrey Rush. Did you ever dream you would have worked with actors of this calibre by the time you were 25? 

Brenton: [Laughs]. I did hope and I did dream. The first two were the best to work with. They were the best because they’re Aussies. I can see what they’ve done and I can relate to them on levels that I can’t with some of the others. Brendan Cowell has done everything that I want to do. He writes a lot. He writes films, plays and he has directed his first feature. I would love to try to write one day. I love writing short stories.

Julius: I’ve never seen Brenton without a notebook. He’s collecting, I know it. [Laughs].

Eddie Baroo told me recently that he calls you Pony. Is this a common nickname or something personal between the two of you? 

Brenton: It actually came about on the set of Save Your Legs which Brendan Cowell wrote. Damon Gameau said that I looked like Justin Bieber and on the next take he said that I looked like My Little Pony. Eddie Baroo really stuck with it. After this interview though the whole world will probably know about it. Actually, why does he call you Slipper?

Well my last name is Eeles so he started off calling me Slippery and it eventually evolved into Slipper. What’s Eddie like to work with?

Julius: He’s got such an amazing energy. He plays a tough guy in Son of a Gun with a pretty brutal past but he’s totally opposite to that in real life. I’d love to work with Eddie again. Actually, there’s not one member of our cast that I wouldn’t work with again.

Son of a Gun is in cinemas from Thursday, 16th October.

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