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When a promising new filmmaker takes the reins of his first feature film and it’s a black comedy gangster film with a supernatural subplot, ANDREW L. URBAN can’t resist the invitation to visit the set.

The man looks very unwell indeed: the deathly pallor of his face is punctuated by the puncture marks of something that is eroding his flesh, leaving flakey bits and reddish residue of blood. His eyes stare straight ahead. Not well, as I say. But his hair is okay, brown, plenty of it. I check my call sheet and am a bit taken aback to discover that this is the actor Steve Vidler, who is playing a character simply called The Man.

I soon learn that The Man is an unusual element in Two Hands, a crime story – or as writer director Gregor Jordan puts it, "a black comedy gangster film with a supernatural subplot…so we’re mixing the genres."

Jordan, a nice looking young man who you would not imagine to be into walking zombies, is relaxed and almost casual as we stand around the specially built half laundry. It’s a fake laundry in a building that was once a warehouse but is now a studio (not far from the REAL studio that Fox has built in Sydney).

"The film will not linger on dirty laundry for very long..."

He is watching cinematographer Malcolm McCulloch light the next scene, in which The Man simply stares at a laundry basket.

Like most scenes being filmed, this is misleading; the film will not linger on dirty laundry for very long. The other part of the scene has just been shot.

Dave Field has walked into frame carrying a baseball bat in one hand and a large handgun in the other. He stood by the shelves of his laundry – nice clean washer and drier hired for the day – and found the bullet he was looking to load into the gun.

Field plays Acko, a character he describes as "a smiling assassin who’s been cursed by one of his past victims." That explains The Man.

Two Hands is Jordan’s first feature film, and it is being touted as something special. He comes to this after a fast trajectory in short film making: Swinger, which won the Tropicana Short Film Festival prize also won the Jury Prize at Cannes in 1995, and has screened at half a dozen other festivals. His second short, Stitched, was nominated for a Best Screenplay AFI award. So has a track record – and he also directed The Confident Man in the Twisted Tales series produced by Bryan Brown. . . whom Jordan has now cast as his leading villain, Pando, in Two Hands.

"It’s a fun role, a nice change of pace from the romantic lead in Dear Claudia"

"Pando is one of the kings of the crims," explains Brown, "and he’s into girls and rackets, worked his way up as a crim…" It’s a fun role, a nice change of pace from the romantic lead in Dear Claudia on Brampton Island, which he completed just prior to starting on Two Hands in Sydney’s sleazy suburb of Kings Cross.

But Brown was attracted by more than the chance to show another side: "The scenes have a sense irony about them…they’re not literal. So taking that into account, I had a fairly good idea of the tone of the film. It’s definitely a love story, but he sets them in a destructive area, if they stay there, but eventually they flee it, but the way they flee it is a rather interesting way that Gregor goes about telling the story…"

In other words, it’s the inventiveness of how the filmmaker tells the story that makes the difference.

Two Hands follows the misadventures of 18 year old Jimmy (Heath Ledger) a would-be hooligan and crim, who loses $10,000 of Pando’s money. Unless he finds a way to repay Pando, he’s dead meat. Robbing a bank sounds like the best way….

Jimmy’s love interest is played by Rose Byrne, and Susie Porter rounds out the main cast.

"...getting off your arse and doing something with your life"

"The title," says Jordan, "is quite thematic – a metaphor for the theme that is the main character’s journey, but it’s actually used in dialogue; as in ‘getting something done with your own two hand’. Or getting off your arse and doing something with your life. It also refers to the idea of being good with your hands and fixing things. So it’s a positive message."

Jordan has a telling message for writers: "I didn’t start out to write anything except a feature script, with a few vague ideas in my head. What I wanted to say became apparent only after I’d written it. If things are passionately felt, they’ll come out in the writing. I think it’s a mistake to start out with a message – it’ll end up very issue-y and contrived. In a lot of theatre I see, it’s obvious that they started out with an issue, and thoiught up groups of characters to show the different sides – and contrived the story last. To me, the best stories are those where the issues come out of the characters."

"It’s got this whole other level"

Other than the Film Finance Organisation which provides substantial funding, Beyond Films has the biggest stake in Two Hands, and its head of sales, gary Hamilton, "has always shown great faith in the production," says producer Marian Macgowan. The script has attracted several positive comments, not the least – of course – from her. "I like the fact that it’s funny – but it’s got this whole other level to it. It’s a comedy crime story but not a crime story like Australians have ever done before. Gregor Jordan has added a surreal chorus to make it a moral tale…"

Macgowan continues to produce even while several months pregnant: "pregnancy hormones are very calming," she says sweetly with a grin. "It’s like having natural tranquilisers." But, she hastens to add, there have been no major hassles on the shoot, despite the fact that it’s set in the middle of summer and shot in autumn/winter. "But the sun came through whenever it came to the crunch," says Macgowan.

Note: Two Hands will be completed in late 1998 for release in 1999.

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Rose Byrne and director Gregor Jordan

Heath Ledger and Bryan Brown on set

Heath Ledger and Rose Byrne

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