FOR director Justin Kurzel, the decision to source local talent for his debut feature film Snowtown was a risky one. Enter local lad and first time actor Lucas Pittaway who plays the central character of Jamie Vlassakis. With the acclaimed film screening at this year’s London Film Festival, LIAM FLANAGAN sat down with the two men and despite both looking like they could’ve done with an afternoon off promoting the film, they quickly warmed into the discussion.
How are you guys doing?
Lucas – Feeling a little bit jet lagged, I’ve been in France and England for a week now. I’m enjoying my time here though, I went to Abbey Road the other day and did the tourist thing, got the obligatory tourist photo crossing the road.
Justin – Yeah I’m pretty tired, the screenings have gone really well and I’m sort of ready to go home now.
What was it about the Snowtown murders that made you want to make the film?
Justin – I think it was the relationship between John and Jamie, a kid finding a father figure in a guy like John Bunting, that I think was incredibly unique and I hadn’t heard about when the murders first came out. When the guys were arrested the initial reports were pretty sensationalised, with quotes about “Bodies in the Barrels”. They focused more on the macabre. I think the relationship and the dynamic within the group, in particular the community and the state that it was in, didn’t really come out in the initial coverage so that’s what intrigued me.
The film deals with some pretty intense themes. Lucas, how was it for you as a first time actor having to go through some of those scenes.
Lucas — Exhausting! At the end of every day I was just so glad to sit down. And at the start of most days as well I’d ask Justin ‘Okay Justin what scenes are up today?, Oh okay (sighs)’. But it was great going through the emotions and it helped me open up myself and I was really proud of myself that I achieved that and that it’s now on film forever
Based on the performances by all the cast but especially Lucas and Daniel Henshall (John Bunting), would it seem that the decision to use local actors has been vindicated?
Justin – I think the film’s pretty authentic, I think you watch the film and you go “whoa that film is pretty real and authentic” and I think you believe in it quicker than if you had a whole lot of known actors in it that had certain baggage. A profiled actor probably would’ve gone against the nature of the film. So it was pretty scary, I’d never worked with first time actors. I didn’t really have a method or knew what I was doing, so a lot of it was instinct. I felt relieved when I got into the edit, or even when I was on set I could tell that it was working and these guys were just bringing it every single day. Now I’m just proud really, the thing I’m probably most proud of in the film are the performances of these guys, some of them in their first film ever.
How did your casting come about?
Lucas — I was at the shopping centre and saw this lady talking to my brother and I just thought, ‘who’s this lady talking to my brother?’. So I went over and they said they were interviewing people about what it’s like to live in the area, so I gave them an interview. Then they told me that they were making a film about the Snowtown murders. I didn’t even know about the Snowtown murders, so I had to research and find out a bit more about the murders. Before hand I only knew the term ‘Bodies in the Barrels’. So they asked me for an audition and I walked into this room and there was Dan (John Bunting) sitting across from me, I didn’t know this guy at all. Justin just said to me, be yourself, act naturally, don’t try to act, they didn’t give me any lines, they just wanted to see how I respond to Dan. So I went through that scene and they liked it, I went through another couple of scenes and three or four days of shooting going through a range of different emotions. Eventually the investors approved so I said ‘yep, I love to do that’.
And what were you doing before you were cast?
I’d dropped out of high school and was planning on joining the army. Obviously I’m not in the army now so life’s a bit different, in a good way.
So what do your mates think of “Lucas Pittaway about to join the army” becoming “Lucas Pittaway leading actor”?
My friends love it when we go out to town cause it helps with the girls. I’m not barraged by people but within 10 or 15 minutes of being at a place somebody comes up and recognises me. I was at a karaoke bar a couple of weeks ago and one guy recognised me and told everyone in the bar and everyone was cheering for me after my song. I don’t know if it was because I was in the movie or because of my singing… I hope it was because of my singing.
The Snowtown case is a unique Australian story and the film is a terrific Australian production. What sort of state do you think the Australian Film Industry is in at the moment?
Justin – I think there is a very good group of voices coming through. From Samson & Delilah, Animal Kingdom to another Australian film called Hail, which just played at the Venice Film Festival. I think they’re a group of filmmakers who were making shorts five or six years ago that were really uncompromising interesting films. I think they’re now at the stage where they’ve just made or are just about to make their first features and they still have that quite uncompromising voice in them. So I think we’re in a really interesting time and some really distinct films are being made. They’re also seems to be a lot more dialogue going on between the film makers, it’s a bit less competitive and much more collaborative and we’re genuinely interested in each other’s work. So it’s going through a really healthy phase creatively.
And what’s next for you both?
Justin – I’m just reading lots of scripts at the moment.
Lucas – When I get back to Australia I’ve got a couple of exciting auditions that I’d love to pour my heart and soul into but looking forward to getting back to Adelaide.
Snowtown opens in London cinemas, 18 November.