Interview: Matt Nable

Cinema Australia Original Content:

Matt Nable as Knuck in 1%.

Cinema Australia caught up with actor and screenwriter Matt Nable to discuss his violent new Australian bikie drama, 1%.

“There are many types of violence. I called upon some of the things I had seen and heard as a kid. When you’re in that environment it becomes the norm.”

Interview by
Matthew Eeles

1% has screened at a handful of film festivals around Australia. How have audiences been reacting to it?
There are so many fingerprints on a finished film, but from a writer’s point of view my approach was to write something that could be affecting. I used Once Were Warriors as a reference, which is a film I had seen many times. I remember walking out of that film at the time having had a really strong emotional reaction to it and thinking about it for days and days afterwards. We’re getting a similar type of reaction with this film. People are walking out of it thinking about it for days. That’s what the objective was. I don’t think it’s a film that people will walk out of saying they love because there’s so much content in there that is hard to stomach and it’s quite an affecting film. Some people have come out of it saying they didn’t like it, but they can’t stop thinking about it. For me, that’s as good as any review. The definition of art is how it makes you feel. Good or bad.

What kind of response have you had from real life one percenters?
We were very lucky to have a former member of a 1% club work on this as an advisor. The vernacular used is very authentic and he was right across this script wise. He’s seen the film and he thought it was a really accurate representation of the culture of actual 1% motorcycle clubs. Apart from that, the film is a story about family which is at times very difficult to watch. It may feel very unfamiliar to people but as far as authenticity is concerned, the representation of those characters is a pretty sharp outline of what these guys, and these women, are actually like.

The original script was set in the 1970’s. Can you tell us about the decision to set the story in more contemporary times?
I had written this script ten years before we started shooting. It went through an entire evolution during that time. When I got into business with [producers] Jamie Hilton and Michael Pontin and Stephen McCallum as director, the contemporary flip on that seemed to be the right thing to do. Having the film date back to the 70s would have seen us come up against a whole heap of problems as far as authenticity and research into what it was really like back then. Setting it today allowed us to hold onto some of the tropes that we wouldn’t have been able to setting it during that time period.

Matt Nable and Simone Kessell in 1%.

Simone Kessell and Abbey Lee’s characters affected me the most. They’re powerful and entirely dominating women. Tell us about writing these characters.
They are powerful, that’s for sure. It was a challenge because it’s such a male dominated world, so the two female characters we did write extensively, and there was also the Jac Williams character, Josie. Simone and Abbey Lee’s characters had to have a steeliness about them and their objectives had to be really, really clear and defined so that they weren’t lost in the mix of these men. We were lucky enough to get Abbey to come across from the states to play this role, who’s very much a Lady MacBeth type character. All the female actors brought a tremendous amount of strength to their roles. We were very fortunate to get those two leads to play those roles. To me, as a writer, it’s those two roles which I’m proud of the most.

Your father was in the army and you grew up on the barracks which you’ve said was a ‘man’s world’ and a ‘man’s domain’ and that episodes of violence were common. Did you draw on those experiences when writing this film’s male characters?
There are many types of violence, but the violence in one’s voice can be very confronting. I called upon some of the things I had seen and heard as a kid. What you have to understand, Matthew, is that when you’re in that environment it becomes the norm. No one is getting frightened about men carrying on and swearing so when you’re writing and playing a character like that, you’re immediately comfortable with that kind of vernacular. I understand that on the other side of the fence how that kind of behaviour can make a young person feel and that’s the level of discomfort we are trying to get across to the audience, to make them wince and to make them anxious. I did call on my past experiences and hopefully that reaches the audience.

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Why did you want to tell this story?
As a writer I’ve probably got ten scripts in the draw that at some point will either get made or not get made. This was something I had for a very long time. It was always about writing something that was affecting. I was always fascinated with the world of one percent clubs. It was with different people at different times and I think that once it reached Jamie, it was the right time to make it and to tell this story. I really wanted to write something and also be involved with it as an actor. The role I play is about as far removed as a person as I am. Knuck is an abhorrent character. I tried to layer it with vulnerability and some of it didn’t make it into the cut. I’m lucky to have seen the whole thing through and that people get to watch it.

Is Knuck an extension of your character, Jock from Bikie Wars: Brothers in Arms?
No. Jock was such a different, bombastic man and a big character who I had a lot of fun playing. He was a very, very different man to Knuck. Knuck is the evolution of what bikies have become while Jock was right at the forefront of 1% motorcycle clubs when they first came to Australia. He was much more of a military man than what Kuck is. I’ve been lucky enough to play two 1% presidents and I never got to meet Jock, but from what I’ve heard he wasn’t disappointed with my portrayal which felt good. [Laughs].

A lot of Australian films are directed by first-time filmmakers from their own scripts. What was it like working with Stephen, and what it was like to work with a first-time director on something you’d written?
I had worked with Stephen on Gallipoli for about seven weeks. I got to know him quite well through that and I loved his energy and his calm manner which he brought to set. I struggle being on set with people if it gets a bit wild and crazy and people lose their temper. I don’t deal well with that at all. Stephen has a wonderful manner and a wonderful eye. He was taking portraits of everyone on Gallipoli which were amazing. Jamie approached him and we met and we thought he was just a really nice fit. He’s a great friend, he’s a really decent human being and he’s remarkably talented. What he’s done as a first-time director, and I think that what he’s done with 1% proves that. I think Stephen has a huge career ahead of him.

Matt Nable in The Final Winter.

You acted in your first film in 2007 after a busy life as a professional footballer and a boxer. Were movies and television a part of your life growing up?
Very much so. I got into this through being a writer. It was a haphazard way of becoming an actor. You’re either a storyteller or you’re not. I’ve had some great successes as an actor but they were always driven by being in the right place at the right time. Movies and TV were huge influences for me as a kid. I left school at year twelve and I went to university and I found it wasn’t for me. I would catch the train to uni then get off and watch movies during the day when I should have been in lectures. It’s not a real transition for me and I think people make a much bigger deal about my sporting life than what it actually is. I think there’s this stigma attached to someone who has played physical sport that they’re not very intelligent. Storytelling is an internal gift which storytellers have from the very beginning. I was aware that I would become a storyteller early.

1% is the second film you’ve starred in and written after The Final Winter. Have you ever considered directing?
I think directing is something I will do down the line. I don’t think directing is something I’m capable of doing at the moment. When I’m writing I’m happily attached to that and in that realm. Also when I’m acting I’m not really concentrating on what’s going on around me as far as filmmaking is concerned. Directing might be a long way down the track but it’s definitely something that interests me. I’ve got a lot to learn.

What can you tell us about In Cold Light which is currently in post-production?
It was this beautiful little film I did with Felix Williamson and director Peter Slee. It’s this beautiful little two-hander hich was shot over seven days. It was a stage play which was developed into a script based on the premise of a priest coming into an interview room to talk to a detective. He realises that he’s being judged and there’s this huge twist at the end. It was a remarkable thing to make and I really hope it gets to see the light of day because it’s a really good little arthouse film.

1% is in cinemas now.

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