“Wish You Were Here” is one of the most incredible films I’ve ever seen. It’s so thrilling, so breathtakingly real and the characters are so flawed they leap to life from the screen. Starring Felicity Price, Joel Edgerton, Teresa Palmer and Antony Starr, it tells the incredble story of four travellers who go to Cambodia but only three come home.
It was one of Clint’s 25 Most Anticipated films of 2012, and opened Sundance Festival earlier this year. It’s now finally getting a wide release date tomorrow April 25.
I sat down with lead actor Felicity Price – who’s also one of the film’s writers – and had a chat about the hard slog it was making, acting and creating the film.
What I loved about “Wish You Were Here”, was that everything about it was so real – nothing seemed set up in regards to the story, was that something important for you to capture?
Oh absolutely. We wanted to make a very real film. I was interested in creating a film about us, and our friends and the people we were hanging out with, and our kind of world. And I felt like I hadn’t seen that in an Australian film before. But the aesthetic and goal was always for complete reality. We wanted people to feel like it could be them. It could be you going to South East Asia, and you’d done something and this had kind of unfolded, and oh-my-goodness how tragic, and you’ve come back and your whole life’s thrown into turmoil because of something you did, or experienced…
The things that happen along the way.
Yeah. So we always wanted people to feel “it could have been me”.
I think that’s what really draws you in. It’s not something that’s too unbelievable or beyond incredible that it could never happen. It seems like, “shit, this could actually happen to anyone”!
Yeah, exactly! [laughs]
And you being co-writer, how did you enjoy collaborating with Kieran [Darcy-Smith]?
With hubby? You know, collaborations can something work brilliantly and some can be a bit negative. But this collaboration worked brilliantly. Being married meant we could have a real shorthand. You know, we could be driving to a family barbecue and be talking about it the whole way there. It meant that we could wash up and be talking about it, and we had two children in the writing of this. We could be changing nappies and be doing really domestic things and talking about it! It was great to get out of that domestic space and talk about something creative. And we were pretty passionate about it – I was about to say obsessive but changed my mind to passionate –
There’s a fine line!
Yeah, and we were really talking about it ALL the time. It just was our world, it was our life. And then were the times we were actually sitting at our computers writing, but all the “around” discussion, all the brainstorming that happened in the ins and outs of daily life really assisted that sitting and writing time. It created a shorthand between us, probably expedited the writing process because we were kind of just doing it with each other all the time, we didn’t have to make an appointment to see each other!
It means you have a lot invested in the film. You’ve thrown so much of yourself and your own time into it, how does it feel to see it come to life the way it has?
You know? I feel so lucky. Not that I even imagined the release of the film in the writing of it- we were just creating the story. But the fact we went to Sundance, and opened the festival, and it created a huge buzz while we were over in the States, that it sold there. All those things. And then coming back here and having a real excitement about it, it’s just so exciting and really gratifying. And what I now hope is people go and see the film and on a more personal level, they get something out of it and enjoy it.
What do you hope people get out of it? If you could pick one thing, what would you like to portray the most?
There are kind of two things with that experience. One is the experience while you’re sitting in the cinema, which is kind of a thrilling ride, and you’re on the edge of your seat and want to think who did what, what’s going on, and how does that piece together and really challenge the audience member. But ultimately when people come out I want them to be fighting for the family and the relationships and want them to stay together. To come out of there feeling a warmth of the importance of hanging in there and fighting for the people you love. It all comes down to the people you love and how that means so much more than anything else and how you should fight until the end for the people you love.
Well, the film covers a lot of ground with themes and gets very heavy. It felt VERY much like a film for adults.
Yes! It’s a grown up film.
It doesn’t cut corners and isn’t afraid to get stuck in to the big issues.
Yeah, and in the writing we always wanted to do that. We were kind of influenced in part by some Danish film, like “After the Wedding” and “Open Hearts”, and they go there those films. There’re huge issues they’re dealing with. They kind of go dramatic and put their characters through hell, and their actors GO there. I really appreciate and love that kind of stuff. We weren’t holding back, we really wanted to create high stakes and a situation that challenged each one. And we also wanted each character to do things that were bad, and acting rottenly. Even my character Alice, who doesn’t act too badly on the particular night when things go wrong in Cambodia, in the aftermath she is doing wrong thing after wrong thing. Things she never thought she would do, and to even harm one of her children. She’s a great mother when the film starts, and she’s happy and pregnant again. But then to go SO far, for the film to push her so far that she might hurt one of her kids is something she would never want to do. And we wanted to challenge the audience with that too.
How did you enjoy that challenge as an actor – bringing those characters to life?
I think by the time I’d spent 3 years writing the character, I knew and loved the situation and Alice so much and knew her so intimately, that I then loved the freedom of not having to worry about the writing. I loved taking off that writer’s hat where you’re constantly worrying about the film as a whole. But I liked then pulling out my little piece which was Alice and focussing on her, and kind of live in the character. After all, when I started writing it, I had the intention of kind of living inside someone. Then I became the writer and was thinking about everyone, but part of the impetus of making the film was to have this character. So it was a joy to remove all that pressure and know her so well, in all her flaws. It was really great fun to just go there and bring to life the scenes we’d been writing all that time.
What was the most challenging part of creating the story?
I think it was balancing the two elements of the story, being the mystery and the disappearance and what really happened and who did what; and the story of a relationship and family disintegrating under the pressure of the secrets being held about that mystery. Some people who read it love relationship dramas and want to watch that, and others love mystery and wanted to watch that. So we had to balance that out ourselves. And then within that, we had to balance the characters of Alice and Dave, because one sort of tells one part of the story, and the other the emotional heart of the story.
Alice is in the dark almost the whole time!
Yes, but so is the audience. We’re with Alice in terms of what she knows, and she knows there’s more to the story. So it was a real balance.
Alice has such a broad spectrum of emotions – there’s so much to play! How fun was it getting in that headspace of that?
It was lots of fun. Kieran and I were like actors writing, we wanted to push ourselves so far, to get kind of almost ugly emotion. And that’s where we went, and it’s fun as an actor to live in those really fucked up situations and think – as if – and put yourself in that position. And working with Joel [Edgerton] who’s so incredible, having that exchange, that was really fun. There was one particular scene where we’re having an argument, and it’s one shot. We must have done that in about 14 different takes, because Kieran was so particular about what he wanted! [laughs] But we were doing it in one take, and it was quite a long scene with quite a bit of dialogue, but it was fun mucking around and slogging it out, and it was awesome.
That was my next question – what is it like working opposite Joel?
He’s just so good, so reliable. He’s never not going to give 110%. He’s a great actor, he’s always emotionally there, and I always remember going “thank you so much for investing so much in our film”, because he just goes there and I really, really love that. I admire him so much as an actor and it was lots of fun being opposite him. He’s always looking you in the eye and giving you what you need.
And Cambodia – how did you like filming there?
Well, it was amazing, so exotic. I just love South East Asia and when you get off the plane and the moisture, you’re kind of in a different world. I had the 2 kids with me, and Kieran was super busy every day, like 21 out of 24 hours a day. And I was on set so much but we had the 2 little kids. But you know, it was wild and wonderful because I couldn’t’ believed it was real. We were making our film! We’d got the finance, we were up and running, I was almost waiting for a lightning bolt to strike the whole thing closed, but it was great. Very challenging, we all got really sick, and shooting on the fly the whole time, but that was ultimately part of the fun.