MONAHAN, CRAIG – PEACHES
Craig Monahan credits his star, Hugo Weaving, for helping to make his latest film, Peaches, work on many levels, he tells Andrew L. Urban.
There’s a scene near the end of Craig Monahan’s second feature, Peaches, that has been “in and out of the film like a yo yo,” the filmmaker says, placing his styrene cup of tea on the table between us. The radio plays softly in the background, and his Sydney hotel room boasts French doors that open onto a small courtyard with a fountain splashing fitfully.
“It’s a scene between Alan (Hugo Weaving) and Jude (Jacqueline McKenzie),” he continues. “Jude has lost pretty well everything through no fault of her own, and Alan’s lost nearly everything and it’s pretty well all his own fault. The idea that he would come up and be seeking redemption was to me unlikely …. I was convinced they’d never talk to each other. So for a long time I saw it as a parody of narrative drama, if you like. But whenever we had screenings without it, or whenever I said I’m taking it out, all the women around the film rose up in anger... ‘What are you doing!? You can’t take that out!’ All that sort of stuff … and there were tears... it was fascinating shit, I tell you! It was great.”
"it’s all about perception"
The scene stayed in. “So it’s all about perception; the women really identified with that scene and wanted it kept, and me as a man was convinced they would never talk to each other again. I’m glad it’s in the film because it makes it richer, but in fact what makes it work is Hugo. If Hugo was another actor … he can’t find the words, because what he’s trying to do is say “I’m sorry and are you OK…it shouldn’t have happened…” or whatever the words are that he can’t find. It’s his caring side; but if you think about everything that he’s done or been part of, Hugo’s managed to turn his character almost into a victim. ‘Feel sorry for me, I didn’t mean to do that…sorry…’ You wouldn’t get that with another actor. You’d have just another stupid man who can’t communicate, a macho guy who couldn’t find the words….a very different resonance. Hugo makes it work wonderfully.”
Of course Monahan is a Hugo Weaving fan: Weaving was the star in his first film, the outstanding drama, The Interview, with Tony Martin as the cop interviewing Weaving’s Eddie, the ambiguously played innocent – or not.
Monahan wanted to find very different material for his second feature, so as to avoid being categorised. When he was given Sue Smith’s screenplay, he felt drawn to the subject – and also challenged. “Can I do this, I thought?”
Peaches (at once a reference to the peach cannery town where the action is set, and perhaps a metaphor for the emotional terrain), is the story of Stephanie (Emma Lung), born during a car accident that killed both her parents, who has been raised by her late mother’s loving but over-protective and life-worn best friend Jude (Jacqueline McKenzie). She starts work under the watchful eyes of Alan Taylor (Hugo Weaving) manager at the local peach cannery, and she is given her late mother's locked diary. Steph immerses herself in the intriguing world of the diary, and finds herself romantically pursuing Alan, knowing that he and Jude had been lovers at the time of her birth. As Steph learns more about her late mother, Jass (Sam Healy) and Vietnamese father, Johnny (Tyson Contor), she also sees, through Jass’ eyes, a vibrant, risk-taking, fun-loving Jude she has never known - and begins to uncover secrets that no one is prepared for.
Emma Lung makes a notable debut as Steph, a determined young woman who begins to find her own feet just at the age that life is becoming horribly complicated. Hugo Weaving uses his power of stillness to build a tormented character who has weaknesses and regrets yet his compassion redeems him. And Jacqueline McKenzie shows the enormity of her talent, which we first glimpsed in Romper
"the film works on more than one level"
Despite the anecdote about that special scene between Alan and Jude, Monahan never saw the film as gender-driven. “I never drew a gender line on it… I never approached it as gender specific. They’re all just people. In fact Sue (Smith, writer) wanted more bonking in it, so that as never an issue,” he adds gamely. “There’re different journeys for different people; I spent a lot of time making that a reality. Men over 40 will go with Hugo’s journey; I find women around 30 plus will go with Jacqui; younger people go with Emma, but young men don’t go with the film at all…I’ve seen it in three countries [at festivals and previews] with many different audiences and I do find there are different journeys for different people. I like that; it means the film works on more than one level.”
Monahan is reluctant to go into details, but the film’s delayed release in Australia was caused by financial problems: not in production, but the original sales agent who had the world rights (excluding Australia) could not deliver payment. The producers spent the best part of a year chasing it and even had to go to court - where they won their case to release the contract, and they now have a new sales agent and Australian distribution through leading independent company, Hopscotch.
No regrets, although he would have preferred to have avoided the delays, and like any filmmaker, would have preferred a bigger budget. “We had $5 million, The Interview was $2.7 million – if we had $7 million Peaches would be a different film again. That is reality. You can spend longer shooting, spend longer editing, you can just do more … and have more choices. But I wouldn’t change the cast.”
[Peaches opens in Australia on June 9, 2005.]
Published June 9, 2005
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PREVIOUS CRAIG MONAHAN INTERVIEWS:
THE INTERVIEW - 1998
THE INTERVIEW DVD RELEASE - 2001