When the description of a film involves the words “the town’s most formidable Ute driving team”, you know you’re in for something quintessentially Australian.
Directed by Marc Gracie and Tim Ferguson, based on a script by Tim Ferguson and Edwina Exton, “Spin Out” is set amidst the mayhem of a close-knit country town’s annual “Bachelors and Spinsters” party where Billy (Xavier Samuel) only has one night to wake up to his true feelings for his best friend Lucy (Morgan Griffin) – or lose her forever to the big city. Among the partygoers is their other friend Sparrow (Travis Jeffery), who goes on his own journey of self discovery and mud…discovery.
Mandy caught up the stars ahead of its Melbourne premiere to talk utes, near death experiences, taxidermy sparrows, mud fights and avoiding the stereotypical path of the way men and women are portrayed in film.
How the trio became as close in real life as they did in the film:
Xavier: After we finished shooting the film we went on a road trip. Well Trav couldn’t make it so, because his character is ‘Sparrow’ in the film, we went and got a taxidermy sparrow – which had died of natural causes! It was our little mascot on the trip and we gave it to Trav at the end. It was a great talking point – we met so many people because of it.
Morgan: Yes everyone was like ‘what’s up with that bird?’. We have a fun time together and hopefully that comes across in the film. We do have an awesome time together.
Trav and Xavier do go way back though…
Travis: I’d served Xavier a couple of times at the pub.
Xavier: Thanks Trav.
Travis: They put us all together when we were filming in Shepparton which was a smart idea because we all got super close. I just thought it was a coincidence, that they’d put us in the cheapest place possible [laughs]. After the film I was like ‘David, it was so good that we all stayed together, it worked out so well’, and he was like ‘yeah we’d been planning that since day one.’
Getting into the country spirit:
Morgan: It makes such a difference, the atmosphere, and we had a lot of Shepparton locals as extras, so they really lifted the mood.
Xavier: It was such a big part of the film as well. If you were going to recreate such a big part of Australian culture – as hilarious and stupid and fun as it is – then you have to go there and actually capture it. Shepparton was such a big part of the film, big character of the film, and a lot of locals are in it, so we want to celebrate it for real. You couldn’t recreate that in a studio.
The importance of being respectful to the locals:
Travis: We got to take the film to Shepparton last week, which is probably the biggest test, because it’s so easy to make fun of people, and we didn’t for a second want to do that. All the comedy from the film comes from the situation the characters find themselves in, not the characters. We took it to Shepparton and they loved it. It was either going to go one of two ways – either chase us out of town or get behind it.
Morgan: It’s a homage to that lifestyle.
But not just a country film:
Morgan: Even though the film is set in the country, the story’s still very relateable.
Travis: There’s common themes, you know love – not that that pops up in movies much [laughs]. The fear of change. There’s something for everyone.
Xavier: It’s not just a straight up romance. These two characters are best mates who are like ‘why do we feel this way?’ and it comes at a point in their life of ‘can we keep doing this forever, just partying and having fun?’. At what point do you take charge of your life – which I think gives the film a lot of pathos as well as all the funny moments.
Lucy is no pushover:
Morgan: Tim [Ferguson] and Edwina wrote her as a fierce character. She’s a pretty cool chick.
Xavier: Sometimes you have to fight for it a bit. Initially Billy is driving the ute at the very end, driving off into the sunset, and we switched it around so that Lucy was driving. Stuff like that – we’re at a point in cinema where you should be shaking things up and not treading the same stereotypical path of the way men and women are portrayed in film.
Morgan: The relationship between Billy and Lucy was inspired by old screwball comedies back in the forties – “His Girl Friday”, Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn, so that whole style of comedy is battle of the sexes, and it’s a power play between the female and male. So that was fun.
Xavier: You can’t shoot a film like this and have a character like Lucy on the sidelines cheering on the boys. She’s in the ring doing burn outs, so that’s good.
Their real life ute show experience:
Xavier: It was intense. It’s an amazing cultural event.
Morgan: It’s a big thing, there must have been about 20,000 people.
Xavier: It’s a big family event too. It’s like a fair. There’s all these driving competitions, and they’re very good at making the distinction between drinking and driving and not trying to perpetuate that sort of ill behaviour. I was really impressed by how conscious of that they were.
Travis: And how much respect they had as well.
Demonstrating commitment: doing their own stunts, near-death experiences, and trust in your fellow actors-turned-formidable-ute-driving-team
Xavier: We were talking about it last night, because Trav is hanging on at the back of the ute, and I realised I was driving while you were in the tray. That’s pretty crazy that they allowed us to do that.
Morgan: Trav’s just holding on for dear life at the back.
Morgan: They sent us to stunt school. I feel like I’m a better driver now for sure.
Xavier: We learnt how to do burn outs.
Travis: You guys did every routine, right?
Morgan: Yes. Russell Frost was our stunt coordinator, he was a legend.
Xavier: Clint and Terry did the stuff when we just couldn’t be bothered to. You know when the car just has to drive straight down the country road we were like ‘oh yeah we’ll let Clint do that’ [laughs]. But when we’re jumping out of cars and doing massive burn outs – that’s us.
Morgan: That actually was Xavier in the film jumping out of the moving car.
Travis [to Xavier]: Wasn’t there one point where you actually almost got run over?
Xavier: There was actually one point. When my character Billy jumps out of the car and it’s driving on its own, there was an invisible driver, a stunt guy crouched down in a balaclava driving the car in circles. But he was kind of doing burn outs and it was amazing. But you have to stand in the centre while the car does circles around you, and also playing to the crowd and showing off, and if you’re not paying attention then the car can basically run you over. And as the stunt goes wrong, as it does in the film, there was one moment where I fell and the car literally drove past me within an inch. And at the time I was like ‘hey, yeah, whatever’, and then when I went to bed that night I lay my head on the pillow and was like ‘huh’ and I could feel my leg crunching, and I was like…’too close’. But it was all in the spirit of the film! The things you do for art!
Xavier [to Travis]: Were there any moments when you felt unsafe in the back?
Travis: I felt very safe! There was once though, on the final day where I fell, but that was the only point, the rest was pretty good. The cow suit was good padding.
Xavier: Cut…and Travis is dead.
Travis: They ran it through with us really well. As long as you know the routines and which way you’re going, you can roll with it.
When life imitates art: Morgan’s now a ute owner
Morgan: I did, I bought a ute after we finished filming. It’s probably the silliest thing I’ve ever done.
Xavier: You’re a rev head mate!
Morgan: I was living in London and when I came back I intended to go back to London but I decided to stay in Sydney so I needed a car. So I bought a ute for laughs but I secretly love it. It’s helped when I’ve had to move to move house or other people need to move house.
Travis: Actually, I might need you to come and pick up a couch over the weekend.
Morgan: It’s good it has some use because driving a ute around the city is probably the least practical I’ve ever decided to do. But it’s fun.
Being able to film in Australia:
Morgan: It was great, I’d never been to Shepparton before. A lot of us had worked with the crew before, and so it’s comfortable and nice.
Travis: I grew up out in Healesville in the country so it was nice to do something in that environment, doing all the things on film that I did growing up.
Getting down and dirty…
Morgan: I was watching from the sidelines when they filmed the mud scene which I was quite happy about.
Xavier: [laughs] You were only taking the strong female character thing so far – ‘it’s good to have fierce female characters but I’m not getting in the mud’.
Travis: It was fun, but it was the kind of fun that wears off very quickly.
Xavier: At first it’s like ‘yeah, mudfight!’, and then it’s just cold and you can’t move. It was really hard to choreograph because you can’t move.
Travis: They tried to help us out, they set up this marquee full of hay and heaters and we all sat in there getting warm…and then it starts to dry. And it’s ripping all the hairs out of your legs. People pay a lot of money for that!
“Spin Out” is in Australian cinemas 15 September.