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It’s an enquiring, well read mind that led Greg Read to make his debut feature about teenage psychopaths, which has already opened doors for him in Los Angeles, he tells Andrew L. Urban.

You could say that Gregory J. Read (Greg to all, Gregory to his mum when she’s angry) has an enquiring mind; he’s made documentaries ranging in subject from photographers to Sydney’s Luna Park and the men behind it. His next subject was to be psychopaths: what are they like as teenagers? How do they grow up?

“When I began the research, I discovered in a US study that 4% of the population are sociopathic and a further 1% are psychopathic. It’s taboo,” he adds as an aside, “to refer to anyone under 18 as a psychopath … but still, 5% of the population have this condition.”

It was the idea of Gestalt psychology that underpins the switch from doco to drama; “Gestalt means that the whole is bigger than the sum of the parts. It is usually used in psychology for the good, not the bad, when groups of people come together to create something bigger. But when psychopaths come together, they may create something unwanted. Two people who are pretty well incapable of doing it by themselves, between the two of them, one manipulating the other, suddenly find themselves able to kill.”

"an engaging, haunting film"

Encouraged to make his feature debut with this project, Read buried himself in research. “As a documentarian I was very careful in my research so that everything is a truthful representation of the real condition.” He read everything from university papers to library archives. His mum loves the result on film; “She says it gives her an insight into this particular condition and the people it affects.”

But Like Minds is no scientific exploration: it’s an engaging, haunting film. After the accidental death of his best friend, Josh (Jon Overton), privileged English public school student Alex Bennett (Eddie Redmayne) is charged with the shotgun death of his one time room-mate, the enigmatic and intense Nigel Colby (Tom Sturridge). Detective Martin McKenzie (Richard Roxburgh) has no hard evidence and is under pressure from Alex’s father, (Patrick Malahide), who is also headmaster at Alex’s school, to have the charges dropped. McKenzie calls in forensic psychologist Sally Rowe (Toni Collette), hoping she can determine Alex’s guilt. Delving into the bizarre world of medieval history and deadly mind games that Nigel set in train, she discovers that though dead, Nigel’s psychological effect on Alex is far from diminished.

Nigel, says Read, is the dark obsessive one who always sees conspiracies. Alex is rather different, more outgoing. It’s the combination of the two characters that produces the right conditions for the tumultuous events that unfold. “Alex triggers in Nigel this creature, this monster that was pretty well bent on destroying everything around him. Without Alex I don’t believe Nigel would have ever gone on to hurt anybody.”

The extensive casting process delivered two outstanding young British actors in Eddie Redmayne and Tom Sturridge, after testing some 120 boys. “I picked 20 of each character,” says Read, “and mixed and matched them in a tiny room in Soho. When these two came in, the energy lifted noticeably.” The film owes much to both; as it does to established Australians Toni Collette and Richard Roxburgh. “It’s exciting to to direct actors of that calibre,” he says. As a first time director, his only concern was how much respect he could command, but he feels his intimate knowledge of the subject and his extensive preparation paid off.

“I showed them my storyboards and all the rteferences to other films, like Road to Perdition, and David Lean and Hitchcock, to show them what can be done with a frame. In some scenes I just wanted to do it with one shot … but it wasn’t until the rushes started coming back it gave everyone confidence…”

Conscious that psychopaths tend to be defined by their obsessions Read set out to find his leads a convincing set. “That obsession could be something as strange as eating your victim, but for Nigel and Alex I wanted to find something that spoke of a truth or a horror that existed once before. I looked to history.”

Read recognised what he was searching for in the morbid mythology of the Maraclea. This is a Knight’s Templar fable from thirteenth century France which when seized on by the adolescent protagonists of Like Minds leads to murder and trophy-ism. As the fable goes, Maraclea was betrothed to a Knight Templar but died before they could wed. The Knight was so tormented by his loss he opened her grave and made love to her body. Exactly nine months later he was summoned to the grave. On opening her coffin he found her remains had been moved, her head had been placed below her pelvis to sit on top of her thigh-bones which had been crossed. A voice told him to guard the skull as it would be the ‘bringer of all power.’ The knight took the skull and found, with the skull in a grail cup, he could defeat and slay all enemies.

"a very exciting time"

“The idea was that the skull can possess a lot of power, but there has to be a certain process to obtain that skull. I felt this mythology would be of great interest to my psychopaths,” says Read.

Like Minds has already created interest in Read from the big end of filmmaking; on the eve of the film’s Australian release (it’s an Australian/UK co-production), Read returned from Los Angeles with a representation contract with mighty ICM, with a sheaf of projects to mull over for 2007. “I met some fascinating people over there and it’s a very exciting time for me.”

Published November 9, 2006

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Gregory J. Read

.... on set

Like Minds Australian release: November 9, 2006

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