“True Blood” star Ryan Kwanten is the star if the upcoming Australian film “Not Suitable For Children”, where he plays a young single guy who finds out he’ll be infertile after having treatment for testicular cancer. So, naturally, he starts a frantic search for a potential mate, to father the child he never thought he wanted, until now.
It’s directed by Peter Templeman, who got an Oscar nod for his short film “Saviour”, back in 2007. “Not Suitable For Children” is his first full-length feature, which he pulls off with a lot of laughs, a really engaging storyline and incredibly likeable characters.
Moviehole’s Hugh Humphreys spoke with Peter to talk about cancer, Aussie accents and being a dad.
So Peter, what brought on this film for you?
Well Michael [Lucas, co-writer] and I have been writing together for some time on other projects, so we’ve got a pretty tight partnership in that regard. But this one, Mike came up with the concept way back when we were in film school, because he had a tiny lump on his very own testicle, and it freaked him out. Only for about 3 days after which he found it was all clear, but during that time he thought, “what If I want to be a dad, what would I do, who would I call?” – and then was given the all clear and thought – maybe there’s a movie in this! So thank God for that benign cyst!
And then he wrote a couple of drafts of that and then I came on board and we developed it from there. And even though the story and characters have hanged completely since then, we loved that initial concept of a young guy with a fertility challenge desperate to be a dad, with his body clock ticking; we thought there was something inherently comic about it, and it felt fresh to me. And then when we both started working on it, we became more interested in the idea of two really interesting character journeys playing in tandem- the guy and a girl who is completely indifferent to having kids but discovers her maternal side.
Normally these films about babies and body clocks tend to be focussed on women, but this focussing on a male makes it something different?
Yeah, exactly. For the first three years Mike would write a draft, and then I’d do one, and then plan for the next draft. And then in the last couple of years we started working on it more intimately, and doing the last 2 or 3 drafts on the script together, putting in the hard yards! But in saying that, we never worked for more than 3 months on it at one time. That’s our rule, you can’t work full time on the same project without it getting stale. Until we began production and it was crazy – full time hours for over a year, from the beginning of casting to the very end of post production.
Being your first full length feature [after getting an Oscar nomination for his short film “Saviour” in 2007] , what was that experience like for you?
Well, it was great. You know, it was awesome. Everything I had hoped it would be. I had an awesome time during the shoot, and post production I always love that, sitting in a room with one of my best mates and editing the film. And then the music, I got most of my first choices for the songs, and working with another one of my mates composing on the soundtrack. So process-wise, it was great. But I suppose it was longer than I was expecting, and required different tenacities I wasn’t predicting, just being in it for so long. But in saying that, stepping away from it was like ripping my arm off! It was hard to leave; I’ve certainly felt a loss since wrapping it up these last 3 months.
Yeah, you get so caught up in it.
Absolutely. And it took stamina staying with it, with a schedule and everything – compared to working on a script when you work on your own schedule! But it was a different experience to making television, which I’ve always done – not just in the money spent but also in the time spent on it. With this, having the time to conceptualise it and develop it more, we were really able to craft it, and that was the thrill and a pleasure to be afforded that on something that you care about.
I wanted to ask you about the characters – with Ryan Kwanten in that lead character of Jonah, he portrays that Aussie bloke so well. He’s just a guy hanging out in his 20s, having a good time, and then this disaster happens. What was he like to direct?
Oh Ryan’s great. Very professional and does such a brilliant job of that character. And I mean, it’s such n accomplishment because Jonah is very different to what Ryan is like. He’s a very focussed guy, and I mean, Jonah is all over the shop. And we changed it a lot over time too, he started very differently. He began a lot more highly strung and a more capable character, and his name was Will back then too. But then we made him more hedonistic and in the moment, more absent minded; and we took more of a big leap at that point because it was just funnier seeing a guy with no money, or sense of responsibility who’s terrible with kids, doing that. And Ryan does that really well. He has that core truth, that sense of what is true and honest- so you really believe he did desperately want to be a dad despite not having any of the facilities to be one; and can portray that blinkered tunnel vision which can get him in all sorts of trouble.
And it was nice to hear an Australian accent from him as well, he’s been doing such big things overseas too.
Yeah, and I had to pull him up a couple of times, because he would say “you-toob” and “attitood”; he’s been over there so long now! But other than that it was really easy for him. But we had to shake those out of him!
And his character has a lot of themes to cover, it’s not just cancer and having a kid, it’s falling in love and having to grow up dramatically in such a short period of time. It’s a lot to pull together.
And I thought he did a great job with that. I guess that is Ryan’s job – but we also had 3 weeks of full-time rehearsal once pre-production ended, which I made sure we got. So everyone had the time to jam together and find new things about the material, and that was a big part of it. And we Skyped a lot before pre-production, so we talked through stuff and had a chat about things too. But he brings so much; he’s so professional and explores the character himself too.
I know it’s being marketed as a romantic comedy, but do you see it as that?
No way, it’s more of a coming of age story, with love being the major currency that emerges at the end. I didn’t feel it was a romantic comedy. It was more of him learning about himself, as opposed to traditional romantic elements. And it’s not structured the same way as a romantic comedy; you don’t get the two romantic leads at the start. And hopefully the tone and style is a bit different to the shiny and sterile stuff that comes out of Hollywood like that. Not that our actors aren’t beautiful people, but they’re very authentic!
I agree, and a big part of that for me was Sarah Snook’s performance. She’s got such a strength playing that cynicism and brains and wit – she blew me away.
Yeah, me too. She’s an extraordinary actor, just that detail and nuance, and her brilliant comic timing. One of the things that made me want to cast her – and it was a long process of casting for that role – but one of the things that got me, was looking back on her audition tapes. Obviously Ryan wasn’t there, but just through her reactions to Jonah you could tell what type of guy he was. So she was not just immersed in her character but in Jonah as well, that you could tell so much about him and that was brilliant the way she did that.
And Ryan Corr, he’s just hilarious. I know we see a lot of him on TV in Australia [Channel 7’s “Packed to the Rafters”], but he really completed the trio.
Yeah, he’s probably the guy I had the most fun with through the rehearsal process, jamming on that character was so much fun. He’s got a very similar sense of humour to me, and he’s brilliant. There was one scene where we did with the two “mates” helping out with his party business, and it was entirely improvised. I just let them do stuff in the background while everyone was getting ready, and the banter was hilarious. I let Ryan go for about 7 minutes, this enormous scene, and it was just so awesome. It was my favourite scene but unfortunately we couldn’t get it in in the end! We tried it everywhere, but couldn’t get it in without it sticking out as an obviously improvised scene, which was a bit devastating.
Maybe a DVD extra?
Yeah for sure, it’ll be there!
What about the relationship between all three characters? They all seemed very natural, was that chemistry easy to foster?
Yeah, really easy. It was helped by the amount of time they could spend together beforehand, and it’s there in the script as well. But they brought a lot from getting on really well as people as well, they were a great gang just themselves.
I’ve read that you want it to be am Australian film we can be proud of, what did you mean by that?
Just one that’s good! I didn’t mean anything beyond that actually. Just something good! I wanted t to be an authentic representation of Sydney’s Inner West, the area is so cinematic and vibrant and is begging to be in movies! And to convey those house-sharing years, they were a really important part of my 20s and to show those parties and the vulnerability that goes along with that is really important. I also wanted to show the strength and bonds that can form from good times in shared space, those surrogate families that form when you live with your mates. And I suppose ultimately, that the film says something. Without giving too much away, the people who are most important are the ones around us all the time.
“Not Suitable For Children” opens in Australian cinemas Thursday, July 12.
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