Interview: John Jarratt

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John Jarratt in The Possessed.

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John Jarratt needs no introduction.

With an acting career spanning almost 50 years, including roles in the mega-popular McLeod’s Daughters, Peter Weir’s unforgettable Picnic at Hanging Rock and the nightmare inducing Wolf Creek film and television series, it’s safe to say the Australian acting legend has now reached icon status.

Jarrett’s latest turn in Chris Sun’s paranormal horror, The Possessed, sees him take on evil demons as Jacob Chandler – an exorcist based on real life demon clearer, Mark Gardner. 

Cinema Australia sat down with Jarratt over Zoom this week to discuss The Possessed and his new romantic comedy, Love You Like That. And of course we got the scoop on Wolf Creek 3 – a film we couldn’t be any more excited for. 

Interview by Matthew Eeles

I watched Love You Like That and The Possessed back-to-back. One’s a violent horror and the other one’s this cute little romance. I don’t want to take anything away from your performance in Love You Like That, but you seem to be the most at ease as an actor when you’re doing horror, or a thriller.
I’ll tell you something. I think my performance in that romcom is better than my performance in The Possessed. I found my character in Love You Like That easier to attain than my The Possessed character. You’ve got to remember that before Wolf Creek came along I played good guys in all sorts of genres, but horror was not one of the things I was well known for until about 2004.

You’re a horror icon now. Have you grown to embrace the genre?
I like watching horror films that could happen. I hate zombie movies. People often ask me how I think Mick would go against zombies? I say, “Mate, they walk slower than your Nanna and they fall into bits”. What’s scary about them? It’s not like you can’t get away from the bastards. So I think Mick would just take them out, no trouble. [Laughs]. I like Cape Fear, and the Hannibal Lector films, and Psycho and all of those because they can happen. And that’s what I like about Wolf Creek. But as for Freddie Kruger and all those, you know, the movies where they need masks and leather helmets and stuff, don’t impress me, but where the actor has to be scary without any further makeup, apart from the rifle he’s got. I like those kind of horror films. I think they’re the scariest.

Do characters like Jacob and Mick stay with you when you leave a film set? I imagine playing an exorcist penetrates your psyche much more than Roy in Love You Like That.
Well, Wolf Creek yes. When I play a psychopathic killer like that, which is nothing like me, that tends to live a little bit on the way home in the car. Sometimes it’s hard to step right out of Mick. And if I do it’s not like you can have a cup of coffee and talk about the football and then suddenly be asked to go over and cut someone’s head off. So when I’m making the Mick Taylor things, I kind of stay in the mood and by the time I get home from set I’m John Jarratt again. I don’t run around killing people or anything. [Laughs]. But you know, I sort of stay in that zone when I’m playing a character like that. Whereas with Jacob in The Possessed, when I acted those exorcisms and stuff, it’s just heightened overacting probably. So yes, the character, Jacob is just an ordinary bloke. So I go home because I’m an ordinary bloke too. So I don’t carry someone like him with me once cut is called.

John Jarratt in Love You Like That.

You seem very happy to discuss Mick, so I don’t mind asking you about Wolf Creek 3. What are you allowed to say about that film?
It’s dark and creepy.

This time around you’ll be working with a first-time director, Rachel Wiggins. What is Rachel going to bring a Wolf Creek production that will be different to Greg McLean?
Well, I always have a lot of say on the script. Sometimes Greg and I think of storylines beforehand. And then it’s all handed to a writer. I was in Melbourne a couple of months ago. We had a workshop at Greg’s place, with Greg and his wife Bianca who’s also producing, and Rachel, the writer and myself, and we banged it around. It’s script consultancy, I suppose you would call it. And I know what Mick can do better than anyone. And I know what Mick says, so I normally have to straighten out all the dialogue, so the writer just gives me the bare bones and I’ll fix it. Don’t even think about having to write for me because I’ll make it my own because I know how to, and that just saves them a lot of trouble. That’s how we work the Wolf Creek stuff. And I met Rachel there and I’m very impressed with her. She’s very knowledgeable and her head is in the right place. She didn’t come down in the last shower, she’s had experience. But regarding Greg, I’ve worked with Peter Weir, I’ve worked with Tarantino, and I rate Greg McLean amongst them as a director. Greg wouldn’t put someone in charge of Wolf Creek if he didn’t believe in them. He just wanted a female to have a go at it, to show that aspect.

Speaking of directors, The Possessed is the second time you’ve worked with Chris Sun following Boar a few of years ago. What is it about Chris that made you want to work with him again?
I just love that he’s old school and he comes from a special effects background. He doesn’t take horror seriously. It’s tongue in cheek stuff like Boar was. He does it all for the sake of the genre and the punters who love that shit. And he gives it to them in spades. You just go there and say, “Oh great, we’re going to see an absolute, real live monster in this room.” And he creates that monster and puts it together and it is what it is. And I like that about Boar as well, that he does these old-school movies. They’re almost like from the sixties or seventies. I like his attitude and that he just gets things done. On a three and half million dollar budget, all that special effects and stuff is quite unreal. It’s quite an achievement.

John Jarratt as horror icon, Mick Taylor in Wolf Creek.

There’s a great hook with this film in that it’s based on a real life person, Mark “The Accidental Exorcist” Gardener. What was it like to spend time with Mark?
It was interesting. [Laughs]. And I saw his stuff and I said, “Well, I take his word for what he says he can do.” And we Hollywood it really. It’s very bloody interesting. I don’t believe in any of it, but he believes in it. I truly believe that he thinks that that’s happening and that’s great. I’m agnostic. I know that when you die, two things are going to happen: Nothing and I won’t know, or something and that’s going to be a blast. I thought it was very challenging to play that and that exorcism stuff was very out there. I’m 69, I’m 70 next year, so to be able to find something different to do is kind of interesting too.

Did you banter with Mark about your beliefs versus his beliefs?
No. I didn’t want to get into that. He’d say, “This is exactly what happened, John.” I said fair enough. I don’t ever get into discussions about what people believe. Just tell me what you saw. That’ll help me. I don’t tell people what I believe. It’s none of my business to jam anything down anyone’s throat. So I just don’t go there. I just got the information I needed from what he thought he felt. And I made sure that that’s what Jacob thought he felt.

Where did the hand movements come from? Physically you look nothing like Mark, but there are some physical aspects of Mark’s that you imitate.
Mark told me about the hand movement and I thought, fair enough. So I used the hand movement. And that was specifically from what he does during his exorcisms. I thought it was a good tool. You’ve got to do some bloody thing. I can’t just stand there. [Laughs]. I had to do something. And that seemed fair enough. That’ll do me. I learned how to do that pretty well. And off we went.

There are a lot of physical, practical effects in this film and practical makeup. Do you prefer to work with practical effects compared to CGI? And I think you’ll know what film of yours I’m referring to that had some pretty pad CGI.
[Laughs]. Yeah. In his film, as I say, it’s tongue in cheek, you can get away with it being a little unreal. But if it’s a film where it’s got to be absolutely utterly believable, this suspends reality, and we all know that and that’s why we’re going to watch when we watch a Chris Sun film. But if another film, like Wolf Creek 2 that you’re referring to, if they’ve got to have a CGI kangaroos bouncing off a truck, then that’s just what they’ve got to do. Sometimes it’s not going to work. I think I was a bit worried about that, but I think that was okay.

Jade Kevin Foster, John Jarratt, Angie Kent, Lauren Grimson and Lincoln Lewis on the set of The Possessed.

We’re in this new age of film casting at the moment in that the deciding of an actor for a role can be determined by how many social media followers they have. Is that something that you are picking up on as a veteran actor? And I ask because with The Possessed you’re working with two people who have never acted before in Jade Kevin Foster and Angie Kent who are famous in their own right, but they certainly aren’t known actors.
Well personally, I would never choose an actor on the strength of his or her social media following. When I cast someone for my films, I find an actor who can cut it. And I just think Chris got lucky. These two are really good and they managed to pull it off, but I think it’s a very risky move, but that’s just my opinion. I’m not into Face-Tube. I’m not into it. I do what I have to do. My daughter runs mine and tells me what I’ve got to say. And she says I have to write this and post it. And so I’ll write something for her and she’ll post it. And she takes a photo of me and shoves it on there. I don’t know how to get on it. My daughter does it. She’s also my manager and producer. I’m not into Face-Tube. [Laughs]I won’t tell Chris how to cast his films, but the shining light that came out of that social media world, or whatever you want to call it, the reality TV world was Romy Poulier. I thought she was fantastic. They’re all so dedicated. Every single one of them worked their asses off, no matter what their background was. Everyone turned up and everyone took it very serious. Everyone got in the mood and they’re all good like that. And they did their back stories. So everyone turned up ready to rock and roll.

Are you looking to direct again? Do you have any projects in the works?
I just finished a film called What About Sal? And it’s the story of a down syndrome guy, with Gerard O’Dwyer. He’s a fantastic actor. He owns the film. He’s the outright star of this film. He’s absolutely stunning. We finished principle photography, and we’re two thirds of the way through the cut and we’ve just got the sound mix and the grade to do, and we’re looking to distribute it next year. It’s the story of a single man who doesn’t have any family. He’s the result of a one night stand in 1983. His mother gets lung cancer. They take her to hospital. He escapes the hospital and goes looking for his father. It’s a really good film. And that’s what I’ve been doing all year. Yeah. See it. You won’t be disappointed.

The Possessed is in cinemas from November 5. Visit the The Possessed Facebook page for screening details.

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