Interview : Nathan Phillips

The Australian star of “Snakes on a Plane”


Since the success of the low-budget Australian chiller “Wolf Creek”, local boy Nathan Phillips has seen his star rise considerably. It’s been less than twelve months since the release of the hit Australian film, and already Phillips is starring in his first Hollywood outing: the much-hyped “Snakes on a Plane”, with Oscar Winner Samuel L. Jackson.

How’s it feel mate? First big one out of the gate!
First Hollywood film, yeah. I’ve been enjoying the ride. I actually get to say ‘wow, I just worked with Samuel L.Jackson on a big film’. I was just happy to have the experience. The director [David Ellis] and I are now very close mates – I’m going to his daughter’s wedding – we’re like-minded people.

David is a nice guy. I hear he’s also quite a good director?
He’s a great director. Typical of his background – he has worked in the industry all his life, working on stunts – he has come up with a film that is heavy on action, heavy on stunts, and is lots of fun. The film just delivers – it delivers, it really does.

Did you just basically go in and audition?
Nope, didn’t even have to audition. Thanks to Wolf Creek.

So “Wolf Creek” was your friggin’ showreel?!
Well, moy showreel was more sitting down with David and having a one on one talk. We just got on really well – both surfers, both have an appreciation for the environment, and mutual family values – which was terrific.

So tell me about meeting Sam the Man for the first time?
Sam the Man – wow…yeah. A lot of life, wisdom, and experience behind that man – both on and off camera. Because he is such an interesting person off camera, he’s so amazing on-camera. And he’s a guy that has learnt from his mistakes – like we all should, and some ultimately do – and now pays greater attention to his film choices. Bottom line: He’s not just about golf now! [Laughs] He’s a very relaxed man. He’s just doing his thing. He’s had a very blessed life – and he shares it.

Are you playing an American in the film?
Yep…. An American…Hawaiian…. guy. Being in L.A, all I do is go for American parts, which is more fun because you really feel like you’re acting. It is much harder to do an accent when you’re hung over, so it’s something that takes a lot more discipline too.

So you do go home with the accent too? Live and sleep the role?
No. I did it once when I was a kid, actually. I went on a holiday with my parents to America and when I came back I had an accent. My school card that year said ‘don’t do that again’. I learnt very early on. So no, I found that I could snap fairly easily in and out of it. I can see why some actors do it though – it would make things so much easier, just to stay in that mindset. Not that I don’t sometimes find myself saying something with an American twang – but it just comes out naturally. Hanging around Americans all the time, and having spent four years on and off there, it’s bound to happen. I’ve been told I’m starting to sound more American – but I think that’s just from people who haven’t spoken to me in a while.

Last time I was speaking to you, you had just passed on a soapie over there in the states. In retrospect, that was a great decision.
Yeah. My manager, who I have had since Australian Rules, has been so loyal and forthright and he’s looked after my career – I like to think of him as a business partner – a lot. Much like my agent, who came with me on my very first trip to the states, who now deals with my American counterparts on an everyday basis, and makes sure my journey is the best one possible for me. So if it’s not right, I don’t do it. It’s great that he has said no, on my behalf, to certain jobs and remained strong – without being too pretentious or too fragile, because we all need to put food on the table – because I don’t know whether I would’ve been able to. It’s great to have two guys like that, who have been there since the beginning, looking after me – and I think they like it that I haven’t turned into some kind of big wanker yet, too! [Laughs]

No?
No [Laughs]. My father and brother would kill me if I did!

Why “Snakes on a Plane”, then?
Much like Greg McLean’s vision for Wolf Creek, when it was pitched at me, I just totally saw the filmmaker’s vision for it. Granted, the script was horrible, but the director had such a vision for it, and knew what he was talking about, that – surprisingly – it didn’t seem to be a problem.

Totally understand. The script is something that can be fixed later; the director’s vision is likely to remain unchanged.
Exactly. At the same time, I was about to juggle a good-paying job like that with a film I did last year in Sydney called West – which is something on the other end of the scale. Totally opposite. I essentially wanted to do it because it starred such strong actors as David Field – who I worked with on Australian Rules – Khan Chittenden and Michael Dorman, people I would’ve killed to work with. It was amazing to work with these people – Tony Hayes is also in it, and that was just…. Wow!.
To have done that film, the same year as Snakes on a Plane, I know what I’ve done and I know what rewards I’ve been given through this.
Unfortunately, I’ve just done another glossy American action film called Redline, so it doesn’t look as if I’ve been as versatile as what I have been of late, but I have.

How did “Redline” go?
It was the big Hollywood story of late – we had Billy Zane directing it, and then he dropped out, and basically it just became this big Lost in La Mancha kinda thing, except this is just…well, Lost. It was a fun experience; I’ll admit that, I just don’t know what to think of the film. I think I feel so nervy about it because there was so much disruption and the filmmaking experience just wasn’t the way I know it, and like it to be. It was the complete opposite – and I was in the middle of this kinda of, storm.

Are you a lead in it?
Yeah, I’m the lead. All I became in the end was an action hero. I went to so much trouble to look the part – I trained with weapons and all that stuff – so I just hope some of that transpires to the screen. I just don’t know what to think of it yet. The film does have one thing going for it – and that’s the fact that it’s using cars all these prestigious….. Actually, two things – it has this hot, hot lead actress in it named Nadia Bjorlin.

The girl they’re talking about for Wonder Woman?
Yeah, and for sure, she’d be the perfect choice for Wonder Woman. She would be perfect for Wonder Woman. She looks like Wonder Woman. I hope she gets it, because she is amazing…. An amazing, beautiful, woman – who is actually a great singer, opera-trained, but people probably don’t know that – that has a lot to offer to the world.

How was it being an action hero in “Redline”?
Man I had to take on all these guys at once – it was insane. I put so many guys in hospital, because when you’re using that much energy, you just can’t pull back a punch. I’d be so shaken up after it. I think I ended up buying about four slabs of beer throughout filming, to give to the stunt guys, just to say thank you.

How are you finding L.A, anyway?
Love it…. And why not, I’m there; I might as well enjoy it! In some respects I’m not really based there – I still spend a lot of time here in Australia, and I’m always away somewhere, for instance I just got back from a couple of weeks in Bali – but it’s good to have a retreat there. Now I can finally stop going home and messing up Mum and Dad’s house!

So were you scared shitless of those Snakes on the Plane?
Nah, I’m use to them, the Tigers and them, because of living here. I use to take the heads off them in the backyard as a youngster. We use to go hunting as kids, and find the odd little one under a rock, and give it a bit of a jump. But they [the snakes in this film] were all non-venomous, and the rest were CGI.

What about the plane itself?
It was amazing, the whole plane was made. You walked on an actual plane – it was amazing.

So what do you hope people get out of “Snakes on a Plane”?
[Laughs] if you want to see Da Vinci Code, see that, but if you want to munch on some popcorn and have a good time watching some action and having some laughs, then see this. I can tell you honestly, I was surprised. It’s very good.

CLINT MORRIS