Husband-and-wife team Bryan Brown and Rachel Ward – who fell in love on the set of way back in – reunite for the amazing new Australian film, “Beautiful Kate”. Ward directs Brown in the story of a forlorn writer (Ben Mendelsohn) who is asked to return to the family home to say goodbye to his dying father (Brown). The trip home is a tumultuous one and stirs up all kinds of emotions, and memories – largely those concerning a taboo relationship with the man’s late sister (newcomer Sophie Lowe).
In this exclusive interview with Clint Morris, the multi-skilled powerhouse duo talk about the challenges of bringing Newton Thornburg’s book to the big screen.
How long ago did you discover the book?
Rachel : A long time ago now – but Bryan and I go back-and-forwards on when it exactly was. A production company in New York had the rights to the book, and were planning to make it into a movie, but they just never got it up. I’d wanted to direct a film, and thought it might work. But because it’s an American book (Set in the South), I knew it would be a challenge. But I didn’t want to just do it as it is – if only because I didn’t want to do a movie in America, or a movie in England, I wanted to a movie here in Australia. Not to say I wanted to do an Australian story, I wanted to do something universal.
Ben [Mendelson] was saying he started reading the book, but put it down because it was just so different from the screenplay.
Rachel : Yeah, well, the backdrop is different…
Bryan : … and the ending is a bit different too.
Rachel : Yes, the ending is. But the general themes, and structure, are the same.
Bryan : The book was always there as a reference. It was always on the desk.
Was Bryan always going to be Bruce?
Rachel : Yeah. It was a no-brainer. Who else [would I get]? I think Bruce really needs to have that sort of type of authority – he’s a man who had great ambition, he’s a very proud man… and I thought it’d be interesting to see Bryan play that character. [Bryan] was a different man by the end.
Bryan : It was good to play. I’ve said it a few times, I never pictured myself playing that. But Rachel was determined I do it. I almost expected her to say, just before the shoot, â€˜Ya know what, we’ll get Jack [Thompson]’. She never did. And then rehearsals started. Thing is, until that first day when they call â€˜action!’ you’re not really sure who’s going to come crawling out of you. It was playing someone that was very different to what I play. This is someone who is coming to the end of their life, they had no control over it, and they were gonna die. But I’m no longer a 40-year-old, I’m a 60-year-old, and the next twenty years is that era of finality, so I was thrust into having to recognize what I relate to in there… in coming to terms with the bloke… so it was just trying to find who that bloke was. Once I opened my mouth, and the stuff came out, I was able to run with it and enjoy every second. The first thing I actually did was a scene, almost at the end of the movie, where Ben pushes me on the wheelchair up the hill. That was the first thing I did.
Rachel : The curious thing too is that actors don’t sometimes recognize what they’re capable of, or don’t know what roles they’re right for. It was the same for Sophie [Lowe] – she was perfect for Kate, but she didn’t recognize that.
There’s some very touching themes in the movie – for me, the whole father-and-son relationship really hit home.
Bryan : I think it will be hard to be a father, or a son, and not be able to relate to it.
What it made me think about was that my son, Joe, who is 16. Is there anything I need to give him, or let him know about, before I fade out? I don’t necessarily think about my father and I, but my son and I. I think that’s a sign of the story getting to ya.
Rachel : There’s a part of the story in here that a lot of people won’t be able to relate to, of course, but there’s a lot of things in the story that’s very common… that a lot of people will be able to relate to.
Bryan : It made me think about those hard younger years again. When you’re a young man. You’re starting to think about girls – tits aren’t just something that your mum had – and going through all these changes. You’re at sea with it, but it’s innocent.. it’s fiercely strong. I can look at that, not many years ago, and remember that territory was such a difficult territory. It was scary and exciting. And then there were the parameters – the family, the community, the values… be it church or what have you. Bounce, Bounce, Bounce.
Rachel : People have made all sorts of mistakes – and they’ve had to pay for it, sometimes for the rest of their lives. But I think this is a very hopeful film – there is salvation, there can be redemption… they can be forgiven; maybe not always, but I think in a situation like this, there is a sliding scale. For me, this was a transgression, they’re not bad, they just stepped outside the moral parameters. Kate’s ideas were a little off-skew – maybe because of her isolation? I mean, she lost her mother.
Bryan : But we don’t know what’s right or wrong.
Rachel : I think we need to be much more compassionate. Yes they have stepped over the line, but lets look at the circumstances.
Ben and I were just saying, you know, every Australian film doesn’t have to be “You and Your Stupid Mate” – it’s good that there’s one about something.
Rachel : Yeah. For me, I thought there was no romance going on – and I don’t mean, as in romantic things going on, I mean, romance in telling Australian stories that show our characters as complex, lyrical, poetic, smart, romantic, sexy.. I think we’re a little bit nervous about getting â€˜romantic’ here.
Bryan : You could go into that forever, but it all goes back to how the country started. It’s about not trusting too. You build a toughness about you. You’re a product of a lot of people before you.
Rachel : When I look at movies like Doctor Zhivago, Butch Cassidy.. it’s somewhat amazing to discover that they were all directed by men.
Bryan : Yeah, but they were â€˜romances’.
Rachel : Well, not Butch Cassidy and…
Bryan :… Yeah, Katharine Ross and…
Rachel : Well yeah, but you know what I mean. I just miss the big â€˜romance’ we use to see in films.
But Bryan you did an Australian movie a few years back that some might consider romantic – “Sweet Talker”.
Bryan : I always liked that movie. That was another flawed person – someone in the Elmer Gantry/Rainmaker-style that was taking advantage, playing a game, and then coming to the conclusion that that’s not what it’s all about. That was an enjoyable character to play. But yeah, that was romantic. But quite truthfully, I’ve done two real romances – Thorn Birds and A Town Like Alice.
You’ve died on screen before right, Bryan?
Bryan : Oh god yeah. What film don’t I die in? [Laughs] My kids use to hate watching anything in that their Dad died in.
The suicide scene in “Cocktail” must have been a hard-one.
Bryan : Yeah. That was a toughie. It was originally going to play out a lot more brutal. You see, the film is based on this book, which was all about the dirty underbelly of celebrity and so on, but once Tom [Cruise] came onboard everything changed. In the scene where my character kills himself, there was supposed to a bit where I beat the shit out of Tom – like really bash him up – but the studio didn’t allow it. They cut it out. Nobody beats up Tom. The script was very different from the book. Very different. The film was much lighter.