It’s typical Melbourne weather the day Roadshow Films invites Moviehole down to the set of “I Love You Too” in Williamstown (just outside of the city of Melbourne) – the sun is shining, the birds are tweeting, but the winds speeding up like a Noble Park hoon and the clouds are getting Billy Dee Williams-dark. It’s safe to say, the long-sleeved T-Shirt I’m wearing won’t be enough – especially considering we’re set-up next to the nippy, beautifully-browned Yarra River.
Written, co-produced and starring Aussie comic Peter Helliar, “I Love You Too” is a romantic comedy about a commitment-phobe (Brendan Cowell) and a New Ager (Peter Dinklage) buddy-up to win over the women (Yvonne Strahovski and Megan Gale, respectively) of their respective dreams. It’s shooting largely in central Melbourne.
Today, the production – led by director Daina Reid – is shooting at the Williamstown Sailing Club – a swish little sailor’s union floating on the bed of the river. They’re shooting a sequence set a senior citizen’s dance. Of the main cast present are TV fave Brendan Cowell (“Beneath Hill 60”) and American actor Peter Dinklage (“Death at a Funeral”) – both of whom seem refreshed, energized and ready to dive back into a film they’re ostensibly (a smile says it all, right?) enjoying making.
It’s a relaxed set – director Reid seems at ease; the core cast and extras (consisting of largely older actors, today) seem jovial but fixated on the job at hand; and the film’s producers and publicists are ostensibly so happy with how it’s all going, they’re pretty much happy to give us an invisible ‘All Access’ pass.
An hour into the set visit, the film’s brainchild, Helliar, who isn’t shooting today but is happy to come to the set and meet-up with the media, arrives… beseeching the coffee cart.
“Nobody expects me before lunchtime, Clint”, laughs Helliar, removing the sunglasses he likely needed for the drive-up, but – judging by the weather – won’t be required for the trip back home later. “Scheduling a film is a real nightmare – if I’m in it”.
Helliar, now sipping on a warm brew, continues, “You’d think it’d be one of the big stars you’d have to work around, but in this case, it’s me. As you know mate, I do Breakfast radio, and I have to shoot Rove, so I just can’t be here all the time – but I get here when I can, and as soon as I can. I love being on set”.
And he’s not bullshitting – you can tell Helliar’s as excited as a pig in mud about the flick, and not just because he’s been watching it slowly inch forward for the better part of five or six years.
“I first told the media about this film about 3 or 4 years ago”, explains Helliar, best known for his role as Rove McManus’s sidekick on the late variety show. “I thought I’d waited long enough before announcing it. Thing is, it wasn’t ready to go, so I kinda jumped the gun – hell, it wasn’t even financed!”
Helliar, who says his co-producer credit on the film is essentially just a bone-throw enabling him to have a bit of “creative say”, admits if it had’ve been financed at that stage, and if they’d have gone then, “I Love You Too” wouldn’t have turned out half as well as it has.
“[Producers Laura Waters and Yael Bergman] really pushed me hard on the script – they pushed me to places I didn’t know I could go. If I had just handed in that second draft, and said ‘Okay, let’s go’, it would’ve turned out anywhere near as good as it’s going to. Yes, it was frustrating having to wait all these years for it to happen, but it’s so worth it. I’m really happy with how it’s going, mate.”
Just as he’s sure the film wouldn’t have been as good as it is now if they’d have filmed that second draft, Helliar’s also certain they wouldn’t have been able to attract the cast they ultimately did – a line-up that includes internationally-recognized actor Peter Dinklage (who Helliar says was attached to the script very early on), supermodel Megan Gale, and a who’s who of the Australian film and TV world – prior to his insisted polish.
“Yvonne Strahovski, for instance, loved the current version of the script so much that she packed up her life in L.A and moved back here for two months just to do it.”
Not that Helliar was familiar with Yvonne Strahovski (aka ‘The Hot Chick from Chuck’ – as Google knows her best) prior to her name coming up in a meeting.
“I usually keep my ear to the ground when it comes to new TV shows, but Chuck had escaped me – I hadn’t heard of it, thus I didn’t know Yvonne. When I saw her photo I didn’t think she was right anyway – she was hot, sure, but I didn’t think she was right for this, not based on her look and age.
“You see, I always envisioned the film being about people in their thirties – because that’s the age when you really have to decide whether you’re going to grow up or not”, the 35-year-old says. “Yvonne was in her early twenties at that stage, and I didn’t think the film would work as well with someone in her twenties. But then I started to watch her in Chuck, and I realized that she has sort of like an ‘older personality’ – and that she could play older. I immediately went ‘Yeah, that’s her!’.”
Strahovski filmed a screen-test with her prospective co-star Brendan Cowell, Helliar’s choice for the male lead, in Los Angeles (Cowell had been shopping his mug around Hollywood at the time).
“They did a great screen test; they had terrific chemistry. It was just great”, says Helliar, adding that she’s since become “good mates” with the popular TV star.
“When Yvonne arrived in Australia I was actually taken back by how normal and down-to-earth she was. You make films in the states Clint, so it’s a bit harder for you, but I’d like a ‘no asshole’ policy on all the films I make – and I got that”, he laughs, “[Yvonne] was just amazing. She’s so great. She’s one of the funniest girls I’ve ever met – she’s hilarious. And I think she’s going to be a massive star”.
The multi-tasker says Strahovski, Cowell, and Dinklage are absolutely astonishing in the movie, “And I just loved watching them say my lines. They really brought these characters to life”.
Helliar was involved in every aspect of casting, including filling the smaller slots in the flick – and he had a mighty case of deja vu watching the actors read into a Nikon.
“I had a call from [Filmmaker] Sarah Watts a year or so ago, she wanted to me to audition for her movie [My Year Without Sex]. She thought I’d be great for the role, so I thought ‘Why not!?’ And it went pretty well – I got a couple of call-backs, and got pretty close to getting the part. Ultimately, it went to Matt Day, but the thing is, I learnt so much about casting and the audition process by going through all that myself that I think it helped when we were casting this”.
For his “supporting” role in the film, Helliar (as viewers of “Rove” would’ve seen whilst he was filming the flick) has grown a beard. He says he didn’t want to look like the same-old ‘Peter Helliar from Rove’ in the film, so everyone got together and brainstormed over how they could tweak his look – and one of those ideas included facial-hair.
“At one stage we considered a wig; we thought my character might work with long hair. We did a few tests though, and it just didn’t look right. We thought it might take people out of the movie. And I didn’t want to be in the cinema, watching it for the first time, going ‘Why the fuck did I wear a wig!? So then I thought, ‘maybe I could grow a beard?'”.
“So I grew it”, Helliar says of his burgundy face accomplice, “and everybody seemed to have positive feedback – including my wife… rather surprisingly. Actually, I think the only reason my wife likes it is because it makes her feel like she’s having an affair. I like it too; I think I look rather wise with it – in fact, on my radio show we had people call-in and ask me anything they wanted to know, me being ‘wise’ now.”
Just as he didn’t want to look like he does on “Rove”, Helliar also didn’t think it’d be a good idea to have his Logie Winning co-star play a part in the movie.
“I didn’t want it to be Rove : The Movie – which is probably what a few people will be expecting. There’s a couple of cameos in the movie – friends who’ve worked on Rove – but Rove himself isn’t in it. And he totally gets it. He’s very supportive.”
Helliar, who counts filmmakers Alexander Payne and Wes Anderson as two of his favourite filmmakers, says he’s got the best team anyone could hope for on “I Love You Too” – and that includes Village Roadshow.
“They are the best. They’re the best people to be making movies with in Australia. We consulted with them about casting and so forth, and they haven’t given the thumbs down to anything we’ve wanted to do – they’ve been one-hundred percent supportive. It’s an honor to be in business with them, because they do all the best pictures here – I really hope we all do well with this at the box office”.
I LOVE YOU TOO commences Thursday May 6