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Interview by Matthew Eeles
More often than not, Australian actors who are household names are the ones who have been typecast – familiar faces like Asher Keddie, Claudia Karvan and Richard Roxburgh in familiar roles to appease the masses.
Josh McConville may not be a household name, but his resume is more impressive than any of the actors mentioned above.
Launching his career in the original Underbelly series back in 2009, McConville has grown to become one of Australia’s most versatile actors, rarely playing two characters alike since his first feature film role in director Hugh Sullivan’s indie masterpiece, The Infinite Man.
McConville pushes himself to his limits, both physically and mentally in his new film, Storm Ashwood’s war drama Escape and Evasion. In it he plays Seth, a lone soldier who returns home in search of solace where he’s forced to face the ghosts of his past one last time.
“Our legs are bound and our hands are bound, so we couldn’t really get up and walk or do anything, and there were scorpions, and leeches, and mosquitoes, and ticks and snakes crawling around our arseholes.”
Tell us about this character Seth, and how he compares to other characters you’ve played throughout your career.
Well, I mean, it was very difficult, in terms of the deep grief that was involved. I’ve put on a bit of weight for it as well. I probably got the most fit I’d ever been. I put on about five kilos I think, and went to the gym every day. This character, so much PTSD involved, so there was a lot of research to do in that. Arms training with guns. Yeah, I guess that’s the difference. It’s difficult to sort of put yourself back in there, because it was about two years ago. I’m racking my brain trying to remember all the ins and outs of it, but I found it really, really challenging.
Would you say that it was your most physical role?
Physical. Yeah. I try to always bring the physicality into my performance, but this one was the most taxing in terms of exercise. The working out. Yeah. I’ve definitely never done that before.
You’re ripped in this.
[Laughs]. I was exercising a lot. Yeah.
I’ve been keeping a close eye on your career over the last few years. I really enjoy your films. I love watching you act. One thing that I’ve noticed is that you rarely play the same character twice. I mean, from Infinite Man to Down Under, all of these characters you’ve played are quite different from one another. Is that intentional on your behalf?
Yeah. Thank you for noticing that. It is, yeah. I always looked up to actors like Daniel Day-Lewis or Gary Oldman, and I find that the challenging and exciting part of acting is trying to explore the character, and no character is the same in life. Yeah, the more detailed you can be with that, is the more specific. I think you can… Yeah, you can change it up with each story, but that’s just something I try to do, something that was ingrained in me from a young age, and I find that the most challenging and the most rewarding.
Is there a dream character? Is there someone that you’d really love to sink your teeth into?
I’d love to play Macbeth one day, whether that’s on stage, or maybe a film. That’s the only one that sort of comes to mind and I think that’s more of a childhood dream. I’ve always loved that play.
You’ve done a lot of theatre. I’m surprised that you haven’t played Macbeth yet.
No, not yet. Also, there weren’t any favourite roles, just sort of whatever speaks to you, and whatever rings true, and has a solid foundation in the writing, I think. And they could be new works, so I’m just looking forward to playing characters that really speak to me.
I want to ask you about your research into the emotional and mental themes of Escape and Evasion, because it’s pretty heavy in its exploration of this soldier’s PTSD. Can you tell us a bit about the research that went into it?
Yeah, I researched hallucinations, I researched a lot of internet stuff, YouTube videos. I watched a lot of war films. There’s some things on YouTube that I watched, it’s about what anxiety does to people and how it manifests, and things like it gives you sweats, and just little subtle details into how that would affect me. That was the main research. We had these two great guys on set who had served in Afghanistan, and they sort of talked us through the realities of the situations we were faced with in the story. That was very helpful as well. Giving us anecdotes and stories about what they’ve been through.
Storm Ashwood is a highly ambitious director. He never holds back in his style. Can you tell us a bit about working with Storm here?
Yeah. Storm and I have known each other quite awhile. He worked on The Infinite Man back whenever that was. It was such an intimate experience on that set in South Australia, so we got to know each other quite well. Yeah, it was like working with a friend, really, on this. It was so collaborative between everyone, but he was so open to change, and so willing to explore things that he hadn’t thought of before, which to an actor is really exciting. We had a great time together.
You mentioned that it was nearly two years ago that you shot this, but what was one of the highlights on the shoot? Do you have a favourite moment or a story that you could share with us about making this?
[Laughs]. We shot in Mount Tambourine, in the rainforest there, and there’s a couple of scenes where we’re naked. Me and Hugh Sheridan, and we’re tied up on the ground so we can’t move. Our legs are bound and our hands are bound, so we couldn’t really get up and walk or do anything, and there were scorpions, and leeches, and mosquitoes, and ticks and snakes crawling around our arseholes. That was terrifying. Yeah, not much research had to go into that. It just pure fear.
I saw Measure for Measure towards the end of last year, and it’s another terrific film. I know you’ve only got a small role in it, but I saw your character in that film as being an extreme extension of Seth, who you play in Escape and Evasion. Did you draw back on your performance as Seth for your role as Iceman in Measure for Measure?
[Laughs]. No, I can’t say I did, actually. I haven’t seen that either, so I don’t really know what I’m doing. I mean, to a degree, violence and deep, deep anger and resentment. They were the sort of feelings I had with the Iceman. It was also trying to serve a story. The story is quite different obviously. For me, I was trying to do something different, but I guess, for every character you do, you draw on your own experiences. I guess there’s always going to be a similarity.
Escape and Evasion is in cinemas now. Screening details here.