Mick Molloy, Gary Eck, Bob Franklin & Wayne Hope
Mick Molloy – now going strictly by ‘Michael’ – sits aloft in a studded throne chair, next to a burning fire at one of Melbourne’s most high-end hotels. His hair is slicked back, his mouth is resting a thin Belomorkanal cigarette, and his eyes guarded by a pair of pitch-black sunglasses. He rolls up his sleeves on his glittery white designer suit, to mutter – Brando-esque – something about the ‘ambiance of heat that’s generated by a burning log fire’.
Ah heck. Who am I kidding?
He may have had quite the year, and might have started to make the transition into some dramatic roles, but the eminent and straight-thinking Aussie comedian ‘Mick’ is still exactly that – a down to earth funny man without a pretentious bone in his body. Though after his bravura – surprisingly fear-provoking – turn in Geoffrey Wright’s recent thriller Macbeth, one might expect to have seen Molloy go from VB-spruiking funny man to serious artiste. Not so, as the comics’ latest film, BoyTown so obviously projects.
“But, if people don’t get a laugh out of it, I will just tell them it’s a drama”, smiles Molloy, sitting comfortably – sans glasses and glittery white suit – in a cushy chair at Melbourne’s Crown Towers Hotel.
BoyTown is based on an idea that Molloy had had for several years – the story of five middle aged men, once pop superstars, who decide to take another crack at the ARIA chart – in fact, I recall him telling me about it over a beer in Queensland back in 2003. “Yeah, and it stayed an idea for about a year”, says Molloy, who was coming off the success of his 2002 comedy Crackerjack, when he generated the new thought. “We would go off it, on it, off it, and on it. We knew if we made it, it was going to be a fairly broad comedy – and not much else, and we just had to decide whether he wanted to spend two years fine-tuning that or not. The idea just kept making us laugh though, and as I said; we kept going back to it, so we decided to go for it. The fact that nobody had done anything like this before – a spoof on boy bands – was a great inducement and secondly, it was a great excuse to get five comedians together. So, it seemed like a fun project, and a good excuse to get some of our favourite people together and knock out some old style comedy”.
The world isn’t totally devoid of boy-band spoofs though, but by and large, nobody has seen it done to this degree. “Apparently there’s a doco, or mockumentary, in Denmark or somewhere [that tackled the same subject] and of course, there’s been a few sketches. The problem with sketches is that they all seem to centre on a bunch of dicks, who can’t sing, and them being manipulated by a manager – if you take that tact, there’s a problem, because there’s another 87 minutes to fill in”, explains Molloy, who wrote the script for the film with his brother Richard. “There were two kind-of breakthroughs with this movie: The first thing was coming up with a story about a boy band making a comeback – that idea seemed to have a fair bit of currency to it, and when we decided they should be singing songs for people their own age, it opened up an avenue for more comedy.”
Garnering research material for the film was quite an embarrassing exercise, recalls Molloy. “The worst thing is going up to the counter at JB HI-FI, and having to tell them that it’s “research for a film!” – I remember one guy goes “Present, I’m hoping?” – they really have a go at you!” he laughs. “But yeah, we got lots of DVDs and a lot of Teen magazines out – and even got some of my old stuff out, like the New Kids on the Block, to look at again. Out of all of them, New Kids on the Block were the best; they earned their ticket hard and fast.”
Molloy, who got his big break on ABC TV’s The Late Show (1993), rustled up quite the cast for the film, noting that if Glenn Robbins had flat turned him down; he may not have done the film at all.
“We wouldn’t have gone ahead if Glenn hadn’t of signed on, because he was essentially our first and only choice”, says Molloy, of the veteran TV comic whose best known these days for his role as Kal in Kath & Kim. “He put his hand up straight away, thank god!”.
Gary Eck, who plays ‘Corey’ in the film, says he met Molloy at the Arias – where the former was nominated for a comedy album that didn’t sell (except to the guy who writing this article). “He came up to me and said ‘G’day mate, I got this thing you might be interested in, I’ll send you a script’. And he said, ‘I’ll send it to you in a couple of months’”, says Eck, also an established writer himself. “Sixteen months later, he contacts me again. ‘Mate, mate, I got this film….’ It was like we hadn’t even had that first conversation. And then I had to audition for it anyway!’”
Mick says there’s a good reason for that – they didn’t initially want Eck in the role. “The only reason was because [80s pop icon] Jason Donovan might have been available and he might have wanted to do it. We wrote the part with Gary in mind, but people started telling us that there was too big an opportunity with that role and that because the film had to attract overseas sales and an international audience, so we started thinking about Jason”, he says. “Anyway, Jason did do a really good audition, so he was quite a find, but Gary was just better for it”.
Bob Franklin and Wayne Hope, playing Bobby and Carl, respectively in the film, recall having to meet Molloy at the pub to talk about the film for the first time.
“He invited me to the London, an inner-city pub, to shout me five pots and offer me a film”, says Franklin, who previously co-starred with Molloy in the 2003 comedy Bad Eggs. “They do all their business from the top of a pub”.
“I thought it was a great idea when he presented it to me”, says Hope, best known for his role in the comedy The Castle. “When you tell people it’s about a middle-aged boy band, they just smile”.
Franklin recalls the script being much more absurd when he was initially presented with it, though. “The next time I saw it, a lot of the absurd elements had been taken out. I guess they were making it a little bit more susceptible to the mainstream. Bit of a shame. I guess financers backers aren’t brave enough to take a risk on anything that’s a little out of little-field”, he says.
Another change came in the form of the character’s names. Initially, all the characters in the script were named after the actors that Molloy wanted in the part. “He ended up changing that though, so I decided to go with Carl”, says Hope. “The brief said he [my character] was a guy who was slightly confused over his sexuality, so I thought of Carl, because there’s something mildly ambiguous about that name.”
Molloy cast himself in the role of Tommy Boy – as he always planned. “Tommy Boy’s not exactly a stretch”, he laughs. “I’ve spent a lot of time on the couch. I’m not a chameleon, I think we’ve all realised that. I didn’t want to be front-and-centre again, because I wanted to have more fun and be able to absorb more of what was going on around me, so I decided to take a lesser role. Last time [on “Crackerjack”] I was so locked into everything, because I was in every scene, that I didn’t get to learn about any other aspect of the process, ya know? I thought I’d have one eye on everything else this time”.
“He’s very easy going”, says Franklin, of Molloy.
“There was a lot of freedom with the script”, adds Hope. “He’s constantly encouraging you to muck with the dialogue if you want, not that there’s ever any huge deviation or improvisation, but he’s happy for you to throw something in there if it works. At the same time, he’s also the oddest person to work with, because he’s the writer, producer… and yet he’s lying on a couch in the bus, belligerent about being called on to set”.
The cast were put through their paces on the film – forced to spend a month or two learning dance moves for the production.
“We did about six weeks of dance work – and we’d do it every day”, says Hope. “We won’t point the finger (looks at Bob Franklin) but some people did pick it up easier than others”.
Franklin admits that he did join the classes a little later in the game. “I was away on a soccer tour – and an end of season trip – and I came back in a bit of a state that’s associated with such trips. Also, the guys had already been working on their stuff, so I don’t think I ever really caught up.”
“I remember the choreographer trying to teach us the moves that New Kids on The Block use to do”, recalls Eck. “They made it look easy, but I can tell you it’s not!”
“You develop a respect for the work they [boy bands] did”, adds Franklin. “I mean, we were really just putting together these scrappy little 45-second segments – nothing compared to what they had to do”.
When it came to do the concert scenes for the film, the gang say there’s a “moment” where you feel like you are the real deal. “We came out, and the audience went nuts. You could feel the wave. You could feel the energy”, says Eck. “It was awesome – for a minute you thought you were a genuine boy band”.
“Standing up on stage at Festival Hall is a hoot! Who wouldn’t wanna try that on for a day?” says Hope, whose wife Robyn Butler, hosts a show with Molloy on Melbourne’s Triple M Radio Station.
Despite the fact that Molloy had some major success with Crackerjack, the likeable larrikin says it’s still hard to get moneymen to open their wallets to an Aussie film. “Obviously, it helps [having a successful film behind you], and now they know you so you can at least get through the front door, but at the end of the day, it’s still very hard to get a film funded in this country”, he admits. “Thankfully, Village [Roadshow] were pretty keen, and it was a lot easier than it was last time, but we did take some time finessing the arrangements than just trying to get it across the line this time.”
If BoyTown takes off – Franklin suspects critics “won’t think a lot of it” – Molloy says he’s got a couple of other ideas he’d like to try and get up as either films or telemovies. If all else fails, “A bit of street theatre is a possibly”.
BOYTOWN commences Thursday October 19
– CLINT MORRIS