Paul Fenech is famous for writing, starring in, directing and producing outrageous and controversial Aussie comedy, mostly as the character Pauly Falzoni in “Pizza” and all its spinoff films and TV shows. Now he’s bringing his latest show “Housos” to the big screen in “Housos vs. Authority”.
His character Frank joined by felloe housing commission stars Shazza (Elle Dawe), Dazza (Jason “Jabba” Davis) and a massive cast of guests in what’s a bumpy ride through the Australian outback.
The film is loud and out there – and perfect for its target audience of young blokes out for a laugh.
Our Moviehole man Hugh Humphreys had a chat with Paul, Jabba and Elle where they set the record straight about the “real” housos.
HUGH: Your characters are pretty clearly defined by their costumes. How many costumes did you guys go through making the film?
PAUL: [laughs]. I’ll give you an analogy. I’m wearing a very tight G-string, and our budget is so tight we only have one. Our budget is tighter than this G-string! There’s one set, that’s it.
HUGH: One? Wow. So there are strict instructions not to break them?
ELLE: No, there are no instructions; we just tried our best not to break them! This guy [points at Jabba] has gone through his shirt a bit…
JABBA: It’s lasted one season, one movie and into a second season and it’s only JUST showing signs of disrepair. Which is really scary because Paul particularly likes the colour scheme…
ELLE: And 5 stage shows as well!
JABBA: Oh yeah, that too.
PAUL: It’s such a particular shade of green… It’s so complimentary to his eyes! You can’t complain about that.
HUGH: So talk me through the process of making this film. Was it fun?
JABBA: I had more fun watching it than making it.
PAUL: It was winter, and cold and I was wearing thongs and shorts in zero degree temperatures on a motorbike. That’s not fun, that’s bullshit!
ELLE: However, I was in ugg boots and tights and in a campervan watching Paul run around in winter for most of it. So for me it was really fun!
PAUL: Nah, it was fun. I mean, we’ve got dwarves, bikies – maybe they’re retarded, we don’t know [laughs].
JABBA: The end result is fun, making it is a bit of a hard work. For us it was a bit of a bludge, but for you…
PAUL: I’m a masochist. I enjoy the pain!
HUGH: Yeah, why did you choose to put yourself through the ringer – act, direct, produce… What possessed you to do that?
PAUL: If I delegate it out , they stuff it up! I am a control freak by virtue of the fact the other people can’t do the jobs as well as maybe I think I can. So if you translate that, I’m either a wanker or I’m right.
HUGH: Elle, Jabba – which is he?
ELLE: I’d rather not say! [laughs].
HUGH: Well the movie is lots of fun and it’s good to see the characters go to the big screen. What is it about these characters that keeps you coming back?
ELLE: Well for me, Shazza is really good fun. I mean, where else in life can you tell people exactly what you think of them without it coming back to hurt you in any way?
PAUL: Come on, you’re lying, it’s the sex scenes!
ELLE: Yeah, they definitely play a big part in me coming back! I don’t have to wash my hair or clothes or do anything to keep myself looking nice to play her! So all of those things… And the fact that when I meet people they say I’m exactly like their aunty, or their neighbour across the street or their ex-girlfriend.
HUGH: Everyone knows a Shazza!
ELLE: Exactly. But people kind of forget that I’m an actor and not Shazza sometimes…
HUGH: What about you, Jabba?
JABBA: I don’t know, really. I mean, when I started doing “Pizza” I was a massive stoner. So it was good fun, I used to smoke bongs on the show and they were sometimes real! But I’m reformed now, so I’ve got to go down a different channel to get inspiration. But it’s great fun to turn up and let it all hang out. And when we film I keep coming back to this one thing that Paul said right at the start. He said our version of that part of Australia that we film in is the Disneyland version. It is rough out there. A lot of people have no money; they’ve just got a roof over their heads. They choose between cigarettes or cheap bread and I like to think we champion that underdog nature rather than make fun of it. And that’s really fun for me, because I came from a middle class background and always wanted to be more working class. So I get to act that out in my flanno and socks and thongs, and when people cheer “Housos”, It’s like f*ckin’ oath, they get it!
HUGH: Paul, you’ve sometimes been criticised in the past for making the show the way it is, but everyone does know a Shazza or Dazza. People related to the characters, right?
PAUL: When you do comedy you need stupid characters and silly setting. My thing wasn’t to make fun of people in housing commission, I wanted to find a crazy place that comedy could come from. And some of the ways they roll is so funny. They do crazy stuff! They’re not as inhibited because they don’t have a lot of stuff, so their personal lives are all out there. And the truth of it is, a lot of Australia is like “Housos”. The majority of it is closer to “Housos” than people think. There’s like the 10% of people who don’t get it, and then there’s the rest. And I’m part of that “rest” because I get it. If you watch “Housos” and don’t get it, that’s the wanker-fest. If you do get it, you’re part of the modern evolving Australia
HUGH: I loved the guest cameos. So many great roles. Who was the most fun to work with?
JABBA: Hands down Chopper Read. I mean, what an icon? I love Eric Bana! [laughs]
PAUL: The funniest bit was filming the scene where Chopper’s got Jabba in a headlock. I just said “he’s your son, abuse him”. And he grabbed him in a headlock and was making these clicking noises, and I wasn’t actually sure if he was breaking his neck or not! And Jabba was freaking out!
ELLE: Yeah, when you’ve got a murderer’s arm around your neck, you’ve got to be in some kind of fear!
HUGH: I’ve met him before, he’s nuts. NUTS.
JABBA: A lot of time, when there are uncomfortable scenes you just go in and try and get out as quickly as you can. Like sex scenes and stuff, you go in and get it over and done with. But something like that, you don’t want to stop and then have to make him do it all again!!
HUGH: Yeah, nobody tells Chopper what to do twice, right?
JABBA: Yes! [laughs] But it was so good. I mean, the icon factor! Going “Dazza, you’re a wombat” it’s so menacing!
ELLE: I think having Barry McKenzie (Barry Crocker) as a Supreme Court judge was good as well.
PAUL: I think older Aussies watching will get it, seeing the original Aussie bogan as a judge. That’s the way I like to cameo, it helps the film and we reference other Aussies from previous eras and those kinds of things. Australia doesn’t reference its own legends enough.
HUGH: Where was the best place to film?
ELLE: I think we had some pretty fun times climbing that rock (Uluru)!
PAUL: Oh shut up, that wasn’t fun, that was terrible!
JABBA: It was pretty cool being taken to the top of Uluru in a chopper, that was pretty cool.
PAUL: I think the fun is when you’re in the scene and making some good comedy happen, the actual setup of it all is a pain in the balls! [laughs]
ELLE: Like having 6 people squeezed in a campervan for 6 hours and trying different camera angles to try and get the others out of the shot!
PAUL: I think people think the funny scenes like the sex scenes are a laugh for us to do. But we’re in really weird and uncomfortable positions and have to hold it! It’s pretty awful, you just want it to be over!
HUGH: Now did you guys do a swear count for the movie? There’s a lot!
ELLE: I reckon it’s Guinness Book of Records worthy!
HUGH: I think you’d come close, there’s an awful lot.
PAUL: It wasn’t like we consciously did it, you know? But I guess compared to “The Little Mermaid” there’s a lot of swearing!
HUGH: What do you want people to take from the movie when they watch it?
PAUL: It’s just a good, silly comedy. Just to forget about issues and life and laugh and stimulate that part of your body. That’s all it is – it’s a silly comedy, something people an have a laugh at. But I did want to make something that was relevant to lots of people in Australia. I mean, I’ll be straight. I’ve seen ads for “Kath and Kim” and “Mental” and I reckon that doesn’t relate to everyone. I’m just like the average stooge who goes to the movies, and I think as a cinema-goer, what am I going to watch it for? I mean, Toni Colette playing a kooky character or something, it’s not relative to the people who are in the cinema. But I think “Housos” is more relative, because people either ARE Shazzas or Dazzas, or know someone who is.
ELLE: Or hates someone who is! [laughs]
PAUL: I just want 15-25 year old guys (who I think I’m still one of!) to watch it and think that it was mad.
JABBA: I think Paul’s eating humble pie there. Because yes, the film is funny but it’s like a cultural snapshot. The whole premise of it being “versus authority”. It’s something we all deal with everyday. Whether it’s calling Telstra to get some service, or being on hold to Centelink or Medicare or whatever. There’s that kind of powerlessness, and this circle of people who have their own kind of power, there’s something a bit deeper about it. There’s more than the sex, the thonging, the swearing, etc. And that’s why it stands up as a film- it’s not just cartoony. I cried watching it when Shazza’s mum died, and then I cracked up laughing at us running around the courtroom two seconds later.
HUGH: And that was all filmed in the real Supreme Court?
PAUL: Absolutely mate! I don’t think any other film crew will be allowed back in there after us though!
HUGH: Any favourite scenes?
ELLE: Shazza would never admit it, but my favourite scene is of the cops in the car. Fighting over the chips or choosing not to chasing people because it’s too much paperwork. It’s just a classic.
PAUL: It’s like the very first films I ever made, when I was around 8 years old. I plugged a camera into a VHS and it was always me running away from some stooge, and having it all action like a fight. And I’ve made the same film ever since! [Laughs]
ELLE: Wearing the same shorts as you did back then too!
PAUL: Same t-shirt too! I can actually fit into the same t-shirt as I did when I was 15! [laughs]. Probably the action stuff, I like all that physical stuff the best. I don’t think there’s enough action comedy made in Australia. I take a little bit from the English tradition where the characters are really broad, and also the American style action comedy as well. And if you think this stuff is bullshit? We were filming the other week and sure enough, there goes some guy on a little bike through a park and you hear the cops coming, and it happens!
HUGH: How much was improvised and how much got cut?
PAUL: Generally around 35% is improvised. I like to write to a bit of a structure so they can ad lib. They’re great performers and that’s what I want, but also keeping the structure of the story to work. So we’ll have a piece of dialogue, set up a situation and then I let them loose. I know a lot of directors are very exact and stick to the script 100%, but I think there’s more to that with humour and I like to keep my radar open to new things.
ELLE: And it is a gift to be able to work like that. Then the comedy happens naturally and you’re not pretending to be in that funny space- it’s actually happening as it’s going on. So I’d prefer to have someone give me that freedom to be organic and make that character more real.
JABBA: I just watched that video of Michael Cera doing a scene with Judd Apatow directing, and Judd’s like “more energy, more energy” and Michael Cera’s like “I’M DOING IT HOW YOU SAID IT!” And I could not imagine something like that happening with Paul. We give him all these options and then he’s got something to work with.
HUGH: How have people responded to the film so far?
PAUL: Really positively. Advance screenings, which are all the keenest viewers – are all loving it. But I’ve sat in enough screenings to know which peopela re living it and hating it. And generally people like it, which means my mission is achieved! And now people can’t wait for the next TV show to come around.
HUGH: So that’s what’s next for the “Housos”?
PAUL: We’ve already started shooting the next series! We finished the film on Friday and started the next season on Monday! [laughs]
HUGH: You don’t get sick of each other?
ELLE: Hmmmm, we don’t get sick of each other, but there are some people who you do!
JABBA: When you go to work and are lucky enough to have people make you laugh all day, how can you not love it?
“Housos vs. Authority” opens in Australian cinemas Thursday November 1.