Jack Thompson is a living legend in Australian cinema. He lost his legs fighting for Anakin’s mother in “Star Wars”, played father to Russel Crowe (“The Sum of Us”) Alicia Silverstone (“Excess Baggage”) and Joel Edgerton (“Star Wars”) and was the first Australian to win an acting gong at the Cannes Film Festival for “Breaker Morant. His film work spans four decades and more than 100 screen roles, and in this new Australian film “Blinder”, telling the story of an ex footballer embroiled in a scandal returning home to clear his name and reignite an old flame, Jack puts his coach uniform back on to deliver some inspirational speeches that would make Coach Taylor of “Friday Night Lights” proud.
On the eve of the film’s Australian release we spoke to Jack about the scrutiny placed on young people in the spotlight today, how to deliver an inspirational speech, working with Baz Lurhmann on “The Great Gatsby” and Australia’s fresh new talent.
Jack I have to admit that I was a bit worried about the film going in because I’m not a particularly sporty person but I absolutely enjoyed the film.
Jack: Oh great. I’m delighted to hear that. It’s interesting that a lot of the producers are AFL [Australian Football League] and ex AFL players and the whole film is privately financed but it’s not entirely about football. It sits in that world and there are some fantastic football scenes recreated in it but it’s really about those young people and their lives and what it means to be in the public eye and being a person at that time of your life.
Yes there was a very human element to it that I think a lot of people would relate to. I was thinking a big football star – very talented and with lots of adulation in a small community – might be very similar to a lot of young actors moving up in the world?
Jack: I’m sure that’s right. I’m sure Oliver Ackland and Josh Helman are confronted with the same sort of thing: people recognising them. And they are good looking young men there are going to be young women who want to be associated with them. One step in the wrong direction…I remember when I was a young fellow and I first started to lose my anonymity and people realised ‘Oh that’s Jack Thompson’ I remember finding myself in that situation and realising, you know, you go a party and have a couple of drinks and you stumble on your way out to the taxi, if you’re not known nobody even hears about it but if you’re recognisable it becomes ‘Oh he was out of it last night he was totally sloshed’. And when you’re first confronted with that it’s very hard. And that’s a really important element in the film it’s like ‘wow they went out and had a wild old time and no one actually got hurt. What really hurt is that it became a sensation in the local paper and it was in a country town. Everyone knows and you’ve got to leave, you’ve got to get out, it changes your life. I think it’s a great little love story too.
It was very realistic and I haven’t hung around at football games with the teams and in the locker rooms but the dialogue seemed so natural. I know you have had experience on the football field in a film before and I would have to say you have a lot inspirational speeches to do in the film.
Jack: Yes when I got the script from Richard Gray, I was stunned; I said ‘You want me to play a coach? 33 years ago I played a coach’ in “The Club”. How can I be the coach again?’ But once I saw it there was really something you could get your teeth into. There’s something more than just revving up the players as a coach. You’re there to inspire an attitude. And l love the speech about the mother and the child and the motivational speech in the final.
Yes that one would have worked on anyone whether you were a football player or not.
Jack: Oh great. Do you want to go and play the game?
Jack: It’s not just about playing football is it it’s about when you’re out there in whatever endeavour it is you reach for that extra in that we know we all have. That extraordinary reserve that I say in the speech as Chang. A mother will do that for her infant. And if you look for it you will find that extra reserve of energy and power in yourself.
It’s a great scene and for something like that – that is very powerful – how do you prepare yourself as an actor?
Jack: You make sure that you know what the words mean. You make those words your own. And you find it in your heart to make it what you want to say not what someone else is saying.
Ah good advice if I ever need to make an inspirational speech.
There’s a lot of new talent in the film, some actors that I didn’t really recognise, but across the board I thought they all did a really great job.
Jack: Yes there young actors are fantastic. Rose McIver and Anna Hutchison are just wonderful as the sisters and Oliver Ackland, Josh Helman, there’s a whole list of them I’ll be guilty of leaving them out but those two guys who play the guys who end up being rivals and then come together are incredible. I am just delighted. I’ve been in the business forever as you know I mean there wasn’t an Australian film industry when I started so I am part of the renaissance and to see these young actors and to know that this is the future of the actors in this country it is really encouraging and very exciting.
It definitely feels that way just from someone observing Australian cinema and how it’s going. A lot of them are going off to Hollywood and making their mark there.
Jack: Yeah we had to get Oliver to come back for the premiere! They’re working hard.
It’s great they’re having success. You quite famously when you hit international stardom with “Breaker Morant” particularly, supported Australian cinema and dedicated yourself to working here which was fantastic. You have done Hollywood work of course. With “Excess Baggage” “Broken Arrow” and “Star Wars”…
Jack: Oh yeah and “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” and the “Assassination of Richard Nixon” with Sean Penn. I’m about to go back and do a piece for Bruce Beresford who’s doing a piece for the History Channel on Bonnie and Clyde so I’m looking forward to that.
Do you find the process of Hollywood vs Australia very different?
Jack: Once the camera is rolling it is the same wherever you are. There are differences in the way things are organised but once you’re on set you’re there to make a movie and movies are made the same everywhere in the world. It’s really great.
You’ve worked as well with Baz Lurhman on “Australia” and now with “The Great Gatsby” coming up
Jack: Indeed it is about to be released in May I think.
Just from the trailers it looks really incredible – is there anything you can tease about working on the film?
Jack: All I can say is it was great to be working with Baz again. It was a very exciting project to be a part of. All of my scenes are with Tobey Maguire I don’t get to work with Leonardo but it was a joy to be a part of that picture. I think it’s going to be one of the great films of the year.
“Blinder” is in Australian cinemas 7 March 2013.