Interview : Tom Budge

Clint Morris talks to the “Freo” star


And they say a Spork has many uses. In his relatively short career – he is, after all only 23-years old – Australian actor Tom Budge has proved he’s indeed fulfilled the requirements needed to be the picture-man alongside the dictionary description of the word ‘versatile’.

Since his television debut on the children’s series “Round the Twist”, Budge has done everything from TV soap (like most actors starting out, he did a turn on “Neighbours”), cable comedy series’ (the short-lived but much-loved “Shock Jock”), big-screen drama (starring opposite Nathan Phillips in the acclaimed “Australian Rules”), the western (“The Proposition”), the war film (“Kokoda”) and most notably, more than a few out-and-out Australian comedies – including “The Night We Called it a Day” (2003), “Take Away” (2003), and “The Honourable Wally Norman” (2003). It’s his more meatier, meekly more complex characters – for instance that of the seedy Schumann in the recent release, “Candy” – that has caught the attention of Mr and Mrs producer though. Not to mention, the interest of a former ass-flashing TV fave.

It was through a chance meeting that Budge got involved in Jeremy Sims’ (yep, the former TV Week poster boy from “Chances”) “Last Train to Freo”, as he explains to CLINT MORRIS.

“My girlfriend-at-the-time and I were walking down Bondi Beach, and Jeremy just happened to be there – he had been working out, so he was all sweaty – and approached us. He grabbed me, and told me how great I was. This kind of buttered me up somewhat. As he went away, I realised who he was. I remember saying to my girlfriend ‘Oh, that’s that weird dude from those Television shows’.

Little did Budge know, Sims had a movie in the works.

“He sent me a script – I think he’d already been considering me for the role, even before meeting me on the beach – but I hated it. I just hated it. The first draft just wasn’t very tight at all – so I passed.

The script, customarily, was rewritten and rewritten. “They sent me another draft, and this one was really great. The energy was better in it. And as you’d know, it’s all about the energy in a film – if the pace drops at some point during the movie, then people walk out of the theatre. We know what the film is, we know what it’s about, and, well, we know basically everything there is to know about the film – if it starts to lag, we’re like ‘Oh, stuff this, we’re outta there’. I’m a firm believer in walking out of movies if they’re crap. So the main thing of this movie was keeping the pace right. This version seemed to be able to do that.

Complex is again a word best describe Budge’s character in the new low-budget Australian drama. In it, he plays one of two boisterous ex-cons – in fact, he’s probably the more boisterous, even hyper – who board a late-night train, bound for Fremantle, and insist on mixing it up with the few passengers on board.

For inspiration, Budge said he watched a lot of people in Perth – the folks on the streets, for instance – in the lead up to the shoot. “There were a lot of people in Perth that I watched. They put me up in a place called Northridge – which is like ‘the cross’ times four. It’s like no other red light district that I’ve been to. Every type of gang that you could conjure up in your mind all hang out on this one particular street. I met quite a few characters.

“But, in order to do the character, I already had to have an idea of who this guy was – and I did. I’ve known some weird guys in my time, and some pretty rough guys, too, so I used what I know to make a character based on every pitied-by-society thug that I’ve ever met.

Not that his character is just a straight-up thug.

“He’s got some balls on him, sure, but he’s also very much the number two of the guys. He’s totally in awe of the tall thug, and his stories, and the weight his words have, I guess you’d say. A lot of him is a filtered version of the tall thug. If he likes what the guy is saying, he’ll question him, to get more out of him. I don’t even think he’s from like a low-class family or anything, but more so just a guy from a middle-class family that has kind of being led down the wrong road. He was probably a bit more white collar before he went into jail – which I think he was in there for speed – but it all changed for him once he got in there.

“We talked about it before shooting, and came to the conclusion that the Tall Thug and my character were probably cell mates, and Steve’s character probably saved his life at point – because you can just imagine how that little puny guy would go in Jail…. He’d be man-meat!

This role ranks just below one that he played last year.

“It’s probably second from the top. I love the Proposition. He’s the weirdest character I’ve played. I mean, he’d have to be – raping and killing people – that tops the list.

That film, a western from writer Nick Cave, really opened doors for Budge.

“There’s lots of opportunities for me now. I don’t have to do every role that I’m offered now”, he says, remarking on his ability to handpick the roles he wants to do because of that film’s success. “It’s hard for anyone to do that – especially in Australia – and if you’ve got kids or something, you can’t, you have to work, but I’ve been lucky. Sure, I’ve gone hungry, but as a result of waiting for the right roles, the work I’ve done is reasonably credible. And now, thanks to The Proposition, it’s a little easier.

One role that he has said yes to of late is a U.S production.

“The Americans love The Proposition. I’m going over to do a movie over there as a result of one guy seeing that.

While he remains tight-lipped about the project, he does state that it’s a supernatural film in the vein of a William Friedkin’s classic “The Exorcist”.

“It’s called Damned. It’s in the same vein as The Exorcist. It’s pretty outrageous, there’s going to be people picketing out of the front of the cinema, that’s for sure.

Budge is amazed at how different Australians and Americans operate, when it comes to casting films.

“It’s amazing how they work out there – they have the utmost trust and confidence, despite not knowing you, or having you audition over and over like you do here, they simply just pick up the phone and ask you ‘do you wanna do this?’ On the other end of the scale, I recently had to do three auditions for a film here, with a guy I know really well, for a role I was just born to play.”

A role he was born to play? Surely the ‘weird guy’ role, right?

Too easy an assumption, he says. One that people constantly pin to him.

They say, “I’m all about the weird guy roles. People can be so small-minded. It’s laughable”.

- CLINT MORRIS

LAST TRAIN TO FREO is now showing