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by MATTHEW EELES
Richard Roxburgh is no stranger to Western Australia.
When I spoke to Roxburgh recently, the very popular and highly-respected Australian actor was in the middle of a press day for his new family film GO!, his fifth WA-shot feature film following The Turning, Looking for Grace, Breath and H is for Happiness.
On the day we spoke, Roxburgh was in Sydney, trying to escape the smoke from the bushfires raging in the city’s outer regions.
“I’m not out there fighting the fires with Russell Crowe,” Roxburgh joked. “But it’s just such a weird time.”
Richard and I agreed that it was an odd time to discussing movies, but there was also a positive place for the conversion.
“That’s the odd thing I’m feeling about today. There’s so much happening, but it’s great for families to be able to see something like GO! and take their minds off things.”
GO! follows Jack (William Lodder) who moves to Western Australia with his mother Christie (Francis O’Connor). When he arrives in town he’s quickly drawn into the local go karting scene. In desperate need of some training, he looks to Roxburgh’s Patrick for advice.
You may groan because on paper it sounds like a film you’ve seen a million times before – Mighty Ducks, The Sandlot Kids et al – but GO!’s big difference is its uniquely Australian voice.
“I love performing for young people because they’re completely open. If you bring them along for the ride they will give you the gift of laughter and tears like no other.”
How much did you know about go karting before taking on GO!?
Absolutely zip. I didn’t even realise it was the forerunner to Formula 1 racing prior to shooting the film. It was a revelation for me that it was really where Senna started for instance and so many of the great Formula 1 racers. I didn’t really know anything about it at all. I had a go under very strict supervision. They don’t let you take stupid chances on film anymore. I used to love the Wild West times of Australian filmmaking when I was fresh out of drama school and you could do whatever you like on set. [Laughs]. You’re not allowed to do that anymore. I would have loved to have raced some of the kids, but no sadly.
Your character Patrick is a bit of a grumpy bastard. He’s a bit damaged because of some things that happened to him in his past. Very similar to Jim who you play in H is for Happiness. Tell us a bit about Patrick in your own words and what you enjoy most about playing broken characters like Patrick and Jim in particular?
It’s a great question. It’s an interesting parallel that I hadn’t thought of. It’s always interesting to play characters who have a sense of burden, who have something that’s broken in them. It gives you a place to go emotionally. You have conflicts that are constantly at play in the work and in what you’re doing. You’re given great obstacles with these characters. What was great on this production in particular was that they were so open to my ideas to help develop this character. For instance, my character might have been someone who loved to play bass guitar with headphones on. I thought that that would be an interesting note that’s never really explained, but it’s how he occupies his time inside that caravan. A lot of it was me thinking about what this guy does inside that caravan where he’s essentially a hermit. [Laughs]. I really enjoyed that and working on the internal landscape of who that human is.
GO! is a film squarely aimed at the preteen/teen market which follows a very familiar formula, but its difference is that it has a very uniquely Australian voice. If anything, what do you want younger audience to take away from this very physical and activity-based film during the age of iPhones and Netflix.
I think there’s a lot to be said for it in that respect. I hope it encourages kids to get outdoors and in to go karts. As a father of two, I think anything that encourages kids to get away from screens is a great thing. I just think human activity is a great thing. I would infinitely prefer my boy to be out and about with friends at skate parks or beaches than sitting in a room on a screen. That’s definitely one thing I’d like to think that GO! might offer.
I spent quite a bit of time with this cast of young adults recently and I found them all to be well beyond their years. You’ve worked with many young actors but what did you take away from working with this group of kids in particular?
As you said, they’re incredibly bright kids and they’re always open to learning. They’re very humble and there was no cockyness or arrogance. They were universally terrific and an absolute bright spark to be around. I just like the energy that young people project. I love that energy because it’s bright and receptive. When I do theatre work there are people who are always sceptical about doing performances for high schools. I’ve always loved it. I love performing for young people because they’re completely open. If you bring them along for the ride they will give you the gift of laughter and tears like no other. I guess I found that with these kids that they’re just open vessels and they’re really open to learn.
Are you the kind of person to offer advice to young people on set?
I’m not really. I’ve never been an advice giver. I guess I could steer things so it goes a certain way on set. If I find that a scene might be floundering a bit I could suggest that maybe we do another take. Most of the time it’s to do with solid eye contact, because younger people can sometimes find it harder to keep solid eye contact. Sometimes I guess it’s advice without giving advice as such.
You’re no stranger to Western Australia having made many movies here over the years including H is for Happiness which is due out at the end of the month. What do you enjoy most about shooting in Western Australia?
There are so many really diverse and amazing landscapes over there. Within the scope of a few hundred kilometres you can go from beautiful aqua water and white sandy beaches to salt flats to red dirt and incredible giant boulders you get down in Denmark. It’s all so very beautiful down there. It’s the great gift of nature that Western Australian gives to you. That’s what I find the most interesting. And of course there’s Busselton where we shot GO! which has a great combination of all of the things I just mentioned. There’s plenty of good scripts coming out of Western Australia to keep me coming back.
Share a story with us about your most memorable time shooting in WA?
When we were shooting GO! there was such a great camaraderie on set. Owen Trevor is such a great guy and he’s a terrific leader and you really need that on set. The atmosphere filters down from that position. He was wonderful. And it was also great being in close proximity to all those vinyards you get down there. What you’ll find when making a film is that you get very excited about a location you’re shooting in and everything that location has to offer. But most of the time you’re so busy shooting that you don’t get to experience it all. I remember shooting in Barcelona and I was so excited. I got there and we were filming in a decommissioned lung hospital in an industrial estate. [Laughs]. We drove out in the middle of a dreary winter and would start in the morning at 6am and finish at 6pm and I never got to see any of Barcelona. [Laughs]. Shooting GO!, every weekend we would get to stunning vineyards to enjoy a Sunday lunch. It’s just such a beautiful part of the world.
Romulus, My Father is one of my favourite Australian films of all time. I loved that film so much. Do you have any plans to get in the director’s chair again?
Thank you so much, mate. That means a lot. I would love to direct again. Actually, I found the matter of directing a film really hard on my sole. I was attached to a film for a really long time and I withdrew recently just because I found the material quite difficult emotionally for me. The short answer is that I would love to direct again, but the material would have to be the right kind of material. I guess where I was getting too with Rake, in terms of being a creator on that, the lightness of it and anything with funny chops is where I like to be in my life right now.
GO! is in cinemas now.