Interview: Alex Lykos

Cinema Australia Original Content:

Alex Lykos and Malcolm Kennard on the set of Me & My Left Brain.

Unsatisfied with his first feature film experience on Alex & Eve, writer, director, producer and actor Alex Lykos explains how he took complete control of his new Australian romantic comedy, Me & My Left Brain.

“The whole process of the making of Alex & Eve did cause some infighting behind the scenes. It wasn’t a pleasant experience for myself, but a lot of valuable lessons were learnt in the making of that film.”

Interview by Matthew Eeles

Take us back to Alex & Eve. The film was a success but you’ve said the experience of making it wasn’t pleasant for you. Can you elaborate on that?
Obviously I was at the helm of the Alex & Eve stage show for about eight or nine years at that point and I shaped its evolution from 2006 when we first did the stage play. It was our first film that we were making and we had no idea about how to make a film. Because we went into the filmmaking process so naive, we made the mistake as producers of the film that lead to us not understanding the process of filmmaking and film distribution. We didn’t know how to properly get a film seen, especially one with such a large, strong fanbase. The whole process of the making of Alex & Eve did cause some infighting behind the scenes. It wasn’t a pleasant experience for myself, but a lot of valuable lessons were learnt in the making of that film.

Were you originally going to play Alex in that film?
Well that was probably one of the causes of what lead to a lot of infighting and the dramas that that caused. As I said, it wasn’t an overly pleasant experience for me.

What did you do to make sure Me & My Left Brain was a more enjoyable experience?
The first thing was understanding how setting up a company to produce a film works. I did not understand that from a business point of view. Understanding and appreciating the intellectual property. Perhaps I didn’t appreciate what I was bringing to the table as a creative on Alex & Eve. Generally writers of films aren’t appreciated as much, and they should be appreciated more than anybody in my view. So I didn’t understand the value I was bringing, obviously with Alex & Eve having a pre-existing fanbase which was obviously created by us. I made sure in the creation of the film company moving forward that I was going to have total control in terms of the decision making of the film and the direction the film was going to take, what the budget would be, who was going to distribute the film etc. We had a lot of drama with distribution with Alex & Eve. It was understanding more the infrastructure to be put in place which would allow for a film to be made and have a pathway to cinema which would give it a good result.

Where did the idea for Me & My Left Brain come from?
We decided to make Alex & Eve into a film in late 2009 from what I remember and we started shooting in 2014. We spent so much time having meetings and setbacks. For five years we were almost treading water. I was used to the theatre where it would take me six to eight months to write a theatre show and we were rehearsing it two months later. It would be on within a year. I was used to that quick turnaround where you would see the work being put in front of an audience. When we made Alex & Eve it took longer than five years and I really struggled with that. For my next film I wanted to make a lower budget film with a much quicker turnaround time. Obviously a lower budget film would mean the film would be smaller in scope, a smaller cast, less set pieces. Less grand if you will. I don’t normally have trouble sleeping, and I struggled this one night to sleep and I was staring at the ceiling. I found I was compartmentalising my life and thinking about all the things I haven’t achieved with my life and I worked myself up to this level of anxiety. The longer I dwelled on this the longer I couldn’t sleep. Something came to me that maybe this was an idea for a movie. That was the genesis for Me & My Left Brain. I had these inner voices inside my head saying things like, ‘you’re not that bad’, and ‘yes you are.’ [Laughs]. I thought that maybe that’s the device that would make this film a bit different. Maybe play out this idea of the inner voice in my head. Initially I was going to have the one person play the main character and the inner voice. But conflict is drama and having another actor do it would allow us to externalise that drama. The restrictions of the story were actually quite liberating because with those restrictions you’re forced to be more creative.

Rachael Beck and Alex Lykos on the set of Me & My Left Brain.

There’s an audition scene in the film which felt like it was written by someone who’s had a similar experience to the one which plays out on screen.
[Laughs]. Well yes. That scene is pretty close to home. [Laughs]. I wanted to be honest about what my experience had been. That actually happened to me and I didn’t want to hide that. I’m sure many others have had casting directors treat them like. That’s one thing I tried to do. I try to be honest in my writing.

How would you describe your relationship with the left hemisphere of your own brain?
I’m a worrier by nature. I’m constantly worrying and assessing. It’s hard not to. I do have a love/hate relationship with it. What I try to do with this film, and I do hope that this comes through, that that inner voice or that critic inside your head can be very tough on you but sometimes when you get to the point when you’re really down the left side of your brain can sense that and give you a bit of a lift. My left brain often reserves that function until I’m at absolute rock bottom. [Laughs]. My inner critic is forever chastising me and rarely gives me a break.

Me & My Left Brain pays homage to the films of Woody Allen including an obvious nod to Manhattan half way through. Why is Allen such an inspiration?
I came into film late in life. When I saw Annie Hall about fifteen years ago I fell in love with that style of comedy. It uses looks as collateral. Woody is not the best looking guy on the planet, and I don’t consider myself to be the best looking guy on the planet, so I guess I resonated with that. I resonated with Annie Hall when I first saw it and I fell in love with that neuroses. I started in theatre and I mentioned the turnaround in theatre earlier. I’d rock up to a theatre room and I’d direct actors and as a theatre viewer I can watch whoever I want to watch on stage. If I want to watch the person talking, I can. If I want to watch the person reacting, I can. I have the freedom to do so. What I found with Woody Allen’s work is that he shoots in a way where by the viewer has the option to focus on who they want to focus on. Having directed most of my work in theatre, I love the idea of directing a scene that plays out for the viewer in one long take, which I tried to do quite a lot with Me & My Left Brain. Because I have ADD and a short attention span, I found the most difficult scenes to shoot were the ones where we got such coverage of the long shot, medium shot, close up etc. It just took so bloody long. I had so much more fun when we did the walk and talk scenes because they provide so much freedom to the actor. They’re so simplistic.

Me & My Left Brain is the first time we’ve seen you in front of the camera. Did you ever consider casting another actor to play Arthur?
Circling back to the beginning of this interview with Alex & Eve, I played Alex for so many years and I felt I was the right person to play that role in the movie. It obviously didn’t pan out that way. There was a close connection to that character and myself. I felt I could typify and express that character quite well on the screen and the same thing applied to the character I play in this film.

Malcolm Kennard on the set of Me & My Left Brain.

I can’t imagine anyone else playing the role of Left Brain. Tell us about working so closely with Mal Kennard.
I cast all my stage shows so having the autonomy to cast a film, I wanted to go against type. I thought that would be more interesting. What I wanted was someone with more status than me, someone with a bigger name because I knew that their frustration of taking direction from a first-time director would manifest on screen. I wanted to meet with the guy who played Ivan Milat. A meeting was set up with Mal Kennard and I didn’t know him. It was supposed to be half an hour but three hours later we were still having coffee and we were finishing off each other’s sentences. [Laughs]. It’s as if I had known him my whole life. Mal was actually the one who encouraged me to direct Me & My Left Brain. This was a Logie nominee and he was telling me to back myself and telling me to direct it. Having someone with so much respect within the industry backing me, that was an enormous vote of confidence. We got along so well. You can’t plan for that. After that three hour chat I knew that Mal was the guy. He is brilliant in this and he taught me so much as an actor. He’s terrific. He’s brilliant. He just did it, man.

I’d love to see him in more films.
Absolutely. And his comedy timing is outstanding. Outstanding.

Did you see him in Pawno?
I did. And in fairness, I didn’t see Pawno until after he was cast. Basically, the three hour chat we had convinced me that he was the right one. You can’t buy that kind of chemistry. He’s like a big brother to me. He knows when I’m down and he senses when sometimes things aren’t going well. He’ll always shoot me through a message with the right things to say. Thinking about that now, he’s kind of playing the left side of my brain post film.

There’s a hilarious scene in the film which involves you masturbating while Mal Kennard’s Left Brain and Rachael Beck’s Vivien watch on. It would have been a lot of fun to shoot.
[Laughs]. It was. [Laughs]. It’s interesting because most of the crew would be in the other room doing what they’re doing. But for that scene all of a sudden we noticed that the entire crew were in the room because they wanted to watch us shoot that scene. [Laughs]. I was on two hours sleep and I didn’t really think much of it, but I knew that I just had to it. I was so tired and emotionally exhausted that I wasn’t even thinking that I had to masturbate in-front of all these people. To be quite honest, by the third or fourth take, it got a bit tiring having to reach the climax all the time. We covered that climax so much that we probably did it in twenty or thirty takes. [Laughs].

Me & My Left Brain will be released on May 16, a few days before the Australian federal election. Was this decision made before or after the election was called?
Look, going back to distribution, we’re self distributing this film because we have direct access to our fanbase. When we started calling up the cinemas and booking the film a date was set for May 16. I have a few politician mates and they told me that it was looking like it was going to be a May 18 election. I called the cinemas and asked to change to May 23. But it was too difficult to recoordinate the film’s release for another day. I spoke to someone who told me that people might want to see the film to escape the madness of the election. So I’m confident it will work in our favour.

Me & My Left Brain is in cinemas from May 16. 

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