Based on the best-selling novel by John Marsden, ”Tomorrow When The War Began” tells of a group of plucky teenagers who, after discovering their town has been overtaken by an invading army, must band together to fight but mainly, survive.
Writer/director Stuart Beattie has assembled a superlative throw of young Australian performers for the film, including former ”Neighbours” star Caitlin Stasey (who plays Ellie) and promising newcomer Chris Pang (who plays Lee). CLINT MORRIS caught up with the cordial couple in Melbourne recently to chat up what’s indubitably the film that’s going to rocket them into the stratosphere.
Good film. I hadn’t read the book….
Chris : Hi-Five, man! Glad to see someone coming in fresh and enjoying it! Yes!
I think the only reason I hadn’t read the book is because it didn’t become a part of the school curriculum – it mightn’t have even been published at the time? – until a couple of years after I’d finished high school. I graduated in 1993.
Caitlin : I think it was around at that time, but it probably wasn’t…
Chris :.. part of the school curriculum yet.
No. It’s a very popular book though. I’ve spoken to some much younger friends about it – who all read it in school – and they’re very excited about the movie.
Chris : But you’ll read it after this right? (Laughs)
The books? Maybe! I am intrigued to know what happens next, that’s for sure. My wife has been looking for a new book series to read…
Caitlin : Yeah! Give her a good Australian book series!
It’s time she gave the vampires a rest…
Caitlin : Yeah enough of that… enough of the vampires and werewolves [Laughs].
Its due time she read about Aussies taking on invading armies… I’ve been telling her that for years now!
Caitlin : You’re funny! And yeah, she should! [Laughs]
How did you get involved in this one? Straight-up audition?
Caitlin : Yeah, a friend of mine.. actually a few friends of mine… had heard about the audition. I went in for it. Met with Stuart. And we went from there.
Chris : For me, I heard about the audition just by chance. I really wanted to be in it. I was overseas at the time and didn’t have an agent at the time to chase it up for me, so I had to pester the production company with my CV and photos via email. It wasn’t until much later on that they got in touch with me – in fact, I found out I got the role about a week-and-a-half before rehearsals started.
Lucky man. And where was the shoot?
Caitlin : It was shot in the Hunter Valley.
It’s amazing that it’s actually a real place – particularly ‘Hell’ – because it looks so scrumptiously ‘movie like’ that one might even be fooled into thinking they’ve dreamt and constructed this little town up for the movie.
Caitlin : Oh yeah, it’s a real town… though some of the things were added, of course, like store fronts. We also did a lot of helicopter shots in other spots.
That’s another thing – the helicopter was obviously a real helicopter, most of the effects were practical… in today’s day and age, it’s rare for a filmmaker to not just resort to the luxuries of whatever sfx concocting program he has loaded up on his iMac. I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to watch a film that hasn’t overindulged in CGI, let alone used 3D.
Caitlin : I know! It’s great – especially the no-3D thing. I really enjoyed doing this movie; it was such a different experience to everything I’d done before. At the same time, there was also a lot more pressure on me this time around. As opposed to Neighbours, where I was part of a large ensemble, I was the female lead here, but also, I had to dedicate a lot more time to the film – not just in terms of how long it was going to shoot but in how prepared and ready I was by the time we started filming. The people that are coming to see this film really want to see it, so I had to make sure I gave it everything I’ve got.
And talking of commitment, there’s several books in this series – does that mean you’ve signed up to star in a bunch of sequels?
Chris : There’s nothing official yet, but there’s talk of doing a film trilogy and then telling the rest of the story in the form of a TV series. Suppose it depends on how well this does?
I think you’re in for a surprise because the buzz out there for this film is increasing by the day. Heck, you’ve even got the critics – and look that’s surprising… and maybe only because it’s a film that, for many of us, wasn’t on our radar?
Chris : Yeah, Australia doesn’t usually make these types of movies.
Exactly, Australia isn’t known for making these popcorn blockbusters. At the same time, should we be surprised that the film is good? I mean, this is Stuart Beattie – he has been involved in enough good movies to know what makes a good one!
Caitlin : And there was as much riding on Stuart as there was the rest of us – being that he hadn’t directed before.
This wasn’t originally supposed to be your big movie break though Caitlin. Weren’t you going to do the Wonder Boy film?
Caitlin : Oh, I don’t even know if that was a real project. It was this thing I had been asked to provide the voice for – based on the video game. It wasn’t the live-action one they’ve been talking about. It didn’t get very far. Not sure it was even a real idea.
Uh-huh. Now there’s a scene in ”’Tomorrow When The War Bega’n that I absolutely love, it’s where the kids all pull out their cell phones to see if they’ve got any kind of signal…
Caitlin : Yeah, people love that!
Because it’s so true! And was there any cellular coverage up there in the country towns where you shot the film?
Chris : It was quite bad, but you always had at least one bar.
If you were in the position that these kids are in the movie, would the cell phone be the one thing you’d want to have on you?
Caitlin : Yeah, if even in the hope that there was some sort of slight reception bouncing off the telephone poles.
Chris : But the thing is, these phones now you have to charge them every night.
Caitlin : But that’s if you’ve got a blackberry like you. Hell, I don’t even have a phone!
That moment in the film, when they realize they’re cut off from the rest of the world, is frightening
Caitlin : It is. Some people, when they saw the trailer, said “That’s shit! They’ve got mobile phones! That’s really easy!” And I was like, “Um, dude, where’s the reception going to come from!?” I’m flabbergasted by some people sometimes. It gets to me how some people can be so negative about a movie before they’ve even see it. We haven’t murdered the book – the book will always be there. We haven’t ripped the book off the shelf and taken it to a book burning somewhere.
Chris : What’s good though is that those same people are now coming out of watching the movie and have nothing but praise for it.
Caitlin : I love that these people are so dedicated and so fond of the book but it gets a bit much sometimes when they feel they have to pick apart some parts of the film.
They do that with ”Twilight” too though. It’s unavoidable. But I don’t think you have any need to worry… this will be one of the big films of the year. Believe me.
Caitlin : Thank you for saying that. I think just based on the production quality – it’s shot on film – it does have a shot.
Chris : Based on from what I’ve read on the net, people say it looks as good as any Hollywood film.
Caitlin : This reminds me a lot of District 9 in that they didn’t have a lot of money and they had an unknown cast but they had a story that everyone around the world could enjoy. That wasn’t necessarily a South African story; this isn’t necessarily an Australian story.