“I think a lot of Australian’s don’t know the detail of this story”, explains Gregor Jordan, director of the new Australian epic “Ned Kelly. “If you grew up in Victoria you learnt about it at school, but I grew up in New South Wales and didn’t know a lot about the details of the story and the theme. And I mean there’s so many different interpretations that tell the fact”.
Jordan’s film combines fact with faction, but the director is quick to point out that the majority of it is completely true. “Australian’s will think what they’re seeing is fictional but the most of the movie is fact. Bits that are fictionalised are done for good reason. There is a love story involving Ned Kelly and Naomi Watt’s character, Julia Cook. People are going to think it’s a Hollywood romance just thrown in there, but the thing is we’re trying to tell a story about Ned Kelly, so we wanted to show the different sides to the man, but also a different side to the society”.
“Ned was also a very charming charismatic guy and there was a rumour that he liked married women”, explains Jordan. “In the Jerilderie letter there was mention of a woman he wanted to kiss, Julia. I went, who’s Julia?”. I mean we’ve taken some artistic licence but it’s not as if we just took gratuitous liberties with historical fact. We’re just trying to fill in the gaps.
“There are moments when people are going to say we’ll that’s just not true, but for instance, it’s apparently true that Joe Byrne got dressed up in a dress to go and shoot his best friend, Aaron Sherritt. And it was a documented fact that Steve Hart ran into an old school friend while robbing the bank in Euroa. There’s these things that seem like they’re bullshit but they’re actually true”.
Jordan says it was hard trying to condense 25 years of a man’s life into a 2-hour movie. “The trick was how to condense it so it doesn’t feel like fragmented pieces, but to have ti flow. This involved defining events, defining characters, and trying to smooth it all out. [Ironically] we’d keep going back to what happened historically at the end of the day, rather than making anything up though. At the end of the day that was more interesting”.
With backing from a major US Studio, was there any pressure on Jordan to make “Ned Kelly” more Hollywood? “When a company puts a ton of money into a film they want to get their money back and based on experiences, they go ‘put this in, put that in, take that out’, but history’s shown us that that plus that plus that does not always equal x amount of box office”, says Jordan. “At the end of the day you make compromises, they make compromises and hopefully come out with something everybody’s happy with”.
“We tried to avoid being a Western. The American studio read the script and said ‘Guys on horses with Guns’ equals ‘Western’, but I think the politics of Australia were vastly different to the Colonial era of America. This is not going to look like a Western, I concluded. Sure, it’ll fit in that genre basket, but it’ll still be uniquely Australia”
One financial decision involved filming the movie in the You Yang’s, about 45 minutes outside of Melbourne, rather than in the actual locations that Ned Kelly lived and breathed. “It’s cheaper if you don’t go way out, so you can have the cast housed in Melbourne”, says Jordan. “And have you seen Glenrowan lately? There’s a 30 foot statue of Ned Kelly in the main street and Euroa has a K-Mart and a McDonalds”, he laughs. “So we built our own Glenrowan and Euroa”.
Whilst many of the cast were Australian, it was decided that casting some purebred Irishmen would be beneficial to the film. “If we cast all Aussies doing accents it could’ve drifted off and got a bit dodgy”, says Jordan, adding that Ledger, and the rest of the Australian cast, were required to train with a dialect coach to get their accents down pat.
Next up for Jordan is the film “Buffalo Soldiers”, which has been awaiting a release for over twelve months. “The subject matter is so of delicate, it’s a movie a bit like M.A.S.H that’s not directly derogatory of the US military but it shows a side to it. After September 11 it would have just been the wrong time to release it. Everyone was so traumatized they didn’t want to see anything about their over-glorified Military”, explains Jordan. “But now, in turn of recent events, the film’s become even more topical than when we first made it. We don’t know how it’s going to go, but I hope it’ll work the same way M.A.S.H did in the Vietnam War and provoke a bit of thought and create a bit of controversy”.
And although he hasn’t decided on a new project yet, Jordan says it’s a great time to be working in the Australian Film Industry, which such big stars quite willing to come to their native Australia to make movies. “It’s such an exciting time for the Australian film industry”, he says. “And Ned [Kelly] is sort of a test case for bigger Australian films. It’s not just Australia as a backlot for big Hollywood blockbusters, but Australian movies with Australian casts telling Australian stories to an international marketplace”.
NED KELLY Commences in Cinemas Thursday March 27th