Interview : Rod Hardy

Director of the new film “December Boys”


Rod Hardy isn’t going to beat around bush – he knows what it takes to get a movie made, and that doesn’t always mean a good script – though that definitely helps. In his case, it was the magical contribution of a Hogwarts’ student that fuelled the ”December Boys”’ engine.

”December Boys” tells of four boys, all orphans, who are shipped off – they were picked over the other orphans because this month, December, is their birthday – to stay in a beautiful seaside retreat. It’s there that they all fight to stay on as permanent members of the community.

A film based on book ”December Boys” had been mooted for years, but it wasn’t until British actor Daniel Radcliffe, better known as cinema’s Harry Potter, agreed to do the movie that it finally showed signs of life.

Melbourne-based Hardy, who made his feature directing debut with 1979’s ”Thirst”, says he snagged Radcliffe unintentionally. He had actually offered another young British actor, Freddie Highmore, star of Tim Burton’s ”Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, a role in the film when he got wind of the Radcliffe possibility.

“The way I found Daniel is – I’d seen a film called Finding Neverland, with Johnny Depp and young Freddie Highmore; I really liked Freddie. I thought ‘there’s an up and coming young actor who could bring a lot of heart to the film. His mother is a big agent in London, she read the screenplay and loved it. She became very interested in the project. Then, as months progressed, she said ‘How would you feel about having Daniel Radcliffe in your picture?’, and I was a bit surprised – he wasn’t my first choice, but only because I didn’t think we had a chance – but I agreed to let her pass the script onto [Radcliffe’s] parents. They then passed it onto him. Within 48 hours there was a response back saying ‘they all love it!’. So for a while there we had both Freddie Highmore and Daniel Radcliffe.”

Highmore’s grandmother became ill and unfortunately passed away so he couldn’t take on the role. Thankfully for Hardy, Radcliffe remained on the project.

It’s probably a good thing that Highmore didn’t remain on the picture, because there wasn’t a lot of money to pay two big-name actors, let alone one. Hardy says Radcliffe took a sizeable pay cut to play the film’s oldest December Boy.

“We certainly didn’t have any money. He just loved the product – and he wanted to do something between Harry Potter’s 4 and 5. What he liked about the film was its ‘simplicity’. And he was fantastic! His parents came out with him – his father stayed most of the time, as his chaperone – as did a tutor, because he was in a very important year school-wise back home, but he was wonderful; he got on so well with the other boys.”

The ‘other boys’ were local actors.

In addition to Radcliffe’s attachment, it also helped that the book of ”December Boys” was produced by the same chap that produced the classic horror hit, ”Village of the Damned”. But, that was “some forty years ago – or more”, says Hardy. “Even then, people were confused – why wasn’t this science fiction? What’s with all the heart in it? – by it, so it sat in the United States for many, many years.”

Years later, a Disney executive by the name of Jay Sanders, one of the producers on the film, took the project with him when he left the house of Mouse. He decided Hardy, whose remake of ”The Yearling” he felt embodied what he wanted ”December Boys” to encompass, would be the perfect director.

The first step, says Hardy, was tweaking the script. Originally, the main characters in it were all “8 or 9 years old” so he wanted to change it from “being a children’s story, to being more of a coming-of-age story. If anything, people in the United States compare it to Stand By Me – story about teenagers but from an adult’s perspective.”

Near every actor Hardy took the script too, wanted in – including the legendary Jack Thompson.

Hardy knows ”December Boys” is going to be a hard sell – because all audiences want to see these days are “big-budget high-action drama. They’ll take a big-budget American movie with Tom Cruise over this, any day – just because it’s a big-budget American movie with Tom Cruise, doesn’t matter whether it’s any good or not.”

Hardy, who says his bread and butter is directing episodic American television (he’s directed episodes of such shows as ”Battlestar Galactica” and ”Burn Notice”), is also aware that ”December Boys” isn’t the type of film Australian filmmakers usually make anymore – but he feels there’s a place for it just as much as the movies that fix on “the lowest socio-economic level – and by the way, these people are part of our society, and we need to see everything, but there has to be a point to these movies too, and some hope, otherwise I can just walk down any back alley in Melbourne on any given day and see these people for free – and I might be criticised because of how simple my movie is. I’m not saying my movie has any kind of major point [to make] but it’s a search for family and a search for self and I think that’ll work for a number of people.”

Hardy, who says his favourite genre is the Western (he’s directed such westerns as the ”High Noon ”remake, and worked second unit on ”Monte Walsh”, among others), is trying to get another film up at the moment – with his good friend Tom Skerrit (star of ”Top Gun” and TVs ”Picket Fences”) but in the meantime is flying back to Vancouver to shoot another episode of the ground-breaking television series ”Battelstar Galactica”.

“It’s great. They fly me there. I then cut in L.A for a week. And then I’m back home. It couldn’t be sweeter”.

And neither could his new film.

DECEMBER BOYS commences September 19 across Australia

- CLINT MORRIS