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Filmmakers know the importance of story – but character is just as important, as Joel Edgerton, his co-writer Matthew Dabner and producer of The Square, Louise Smith explain.

In the seven years since Joel Edgerton first started the script of The Square, the story and the characters have evolved and undergone as Joel says ”a great deal of surgery”. The main character of Ray was one that both writers Joel and Matthew spent a great deal of time on to make sure he was the everyman that he needed to be for the storyline to feel realistic.

"an ordinary bloke"

Married construction supervisor Ray (David Roberts) is having an affair with Carla (Claire Van Der Boom), who is married to petty crim Greg ‘Smithy’ Smith (Anthony Hayes), living together in a working class Sydney suburb. When an opportunity presents itself for the illicit lovers to get their hands on a pile of cash, Carla sees it as the big chance for them to get away together. Reluctantly, Ray agrees and hires arsonist Billy (Joel Edgerton), to do the dirty work. But one small glitch leads to a series of bigger glitches and misunderstandings with tragic consequences for all.

In the early drafts Ray was a darker, more selfish and less likable character; however, when Matthew Dabner came on board he realised that he needed to change that dynamic. Dabner explains: “The question for Ray as a character has always been why do we like him why do we care and certainly when I came onto the project I thought, here is an ordinary bloke who does extraordinary things and even though he does all these terrible things, hopefully at the end of the journey we will still like him”

Joel continues “Tuning the levels in Ray was difficult because if Ray was too much of a square then why would he be admired and loved by this woman and seen as a saviour to her and if he were too strong and heroic then the drama would suffer.”

As Matthew says “we really had to find a way to love the character and find the balance between his good intent and his bad behaviour.”

The casting process for the right person to play Ray was an arduous one as Nash explains; “ looked for a long time to find the right guy to play Ray and I was trying to find someone that one wouldn’t have a preconceived notion of what he was going to do.”

Producer Louise Smith brought everyone’s attention to David Roberts, an actor she had previously worked with as she says; “One of the things that Joel had said early on was that he wanted the story to be about an ordinary man who does something completely out of his own sphere, a decision that leads him on a path of destruction.

"some pretty dark things"

What came through in all of our screen tests was David has a sense of vulnerability. Ray does some pretty dark things so we needed an audience from the very beginning to go there with him.” As Matthew Dabner elaborates “David just had this quality that meant you had a natural empathy towards him”

When David Roberts first got the script he was excited on two counts.

“Firstly, the thing that struck me most was The Square has such a strong narrative, and a tremendous drive to it with its thriller qualities. It just powers through so I just kept turning those pages and because I was reading the character of Ray I was delighted to see how large a character it was and just what a brilliant emotional journey he had.”

The character of Ray is an ordinary suburban middle class man, who works in the building trade as a construction site manager. He’s a dissatisfied man in his late forties in an essentially loveless marriage to Martha. At the verge of a midlife crisis, Ray feels his life lacks relevance and meaning and wants to be loved and needed.

When David read that his character Ray had a love affair with the beautiful 24-year-old Carla he was pleasantly surprised: “There’s a certain time in your life where women in their early twenties look straight through you. They’re not trying to be rude but they just don’t look at you the same way as they do when you’re a 30 something man. It happens to every man, so I was reading the script and thinking “oh okay this young woman is what... attracted to this man? Physically or… surely not… there must be something more that just doesn’t happen …well it happens but it’s rare”

As the affair develops, Carla brings him a bag of money that she has found in her attic and suggests running away together. Ray’s better judgement is fogged by the delirium of new love and from that moment on, Ray is in a downward spiral that goes out of control.

"what can go wrong does goes wrong"

David “Sometimes I think that the film should not be called The Square but Murphy’s Law – what can go wrong does goes wrong. Ray is very much just playing catch-up Footy the whole time. It is essentially a suburban nightmare, a suburban disaster movie. I don’t think Ray ever loses his decency but morally he gets severely tested because of the things that happen.”

Published July 31, 2008

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