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DUNCAN PETER: Passion

PETER DOES PERCY
Passionate pianist Percy Grainger comes to life as the eccentric, sado masochistic, mother loving son of a gun he was, in the form of actor Richard Roxburgh and at the hands of director Peter Duncan, who explains to ANDREW L. URBAN how he wanted the audience to fall for Percy.

Perhaps you havenít heard much of Percy Grainger, Australiaís brilliant pianist, advanced philosopher, sado-masochistÖ.. And that was shortly after the turn of the century, when S&M was not yet fashionable among the middle classes. Whether you know of Grainger or not, Peter Duncanís new film, Passion, provides the sort of insight that Amadeus gave to Mozart: unpredictable.

"a contradictory and complex individual" on Grainger

The biopic is a leap of genres for Duncan, whose first film was the fact-defying, star-lined (Judy Davis, Sam Neill, F. Murray Abraham) Children of the Revolution, a handsome film and a clever premise (only compromised by a sense of caution in the second half). Then he made a smaller, even more bizarre comedy, A Little Bit of Soul.

Now this, an ambitious exploration of a really fascinating man.

Richard Roxburgh plays Grainger, Barbara Hershey plays his mother Rose and Emily Woof plays his lover Karen.

"the final result in all the musical scenes is astonishing" on Roxburgh's performance

"I didnít want the film to fall into the trap of a traditional biopic," says Duncan, "which I think is best told over six glorious Sunday nights on tv. Weíve done a good job in showing Graingerís essence in the course of about a year. Itís hard to summarise him, a contradictory and complex individual. In the tussle between the love for his mother versus love for other people and things, he was always going to choose his mother Ė that was the essential drama of his life."

Roxburgh, who cannot play the piano, had to learn how to look like a concert pianist. "To have an intense scene AND play a Greig piano concerto is a challenge," says Duncan. He was coached to play accurate notes for some hand shots, and the final result in all the musical scenes is astonishing. The preparation paid off.

"one of the most 'bonkers' things sheís ever done in her life" Woof on the private whipping

That was nothing, though, compared to the preparation required for the S&M scenes, where Grainger whips himself, and later, shares whipping duty with Karen (Woof).

They were both given a private whipping by professional S&M mistress to give them a sense of whatís involved. Woof admits it was one of the most "bonkers" things sheís ever done in her life. But it also gave her a real high Ė afterwards.

The question in Duncanís mind was not whether to show the whippings ("it was such a fundamental part of his life") but when. "My view was not to show it in the first half. I tried to give the audience their own relationship with Percy; you see him, this wonderful talent. Then you meet the man and his mother, and think, gawd, this could be difficult, do I want this? But then youíve fallen for him and thatís about when Karen has and thatís when we show the whipping, so as an audience, we can decide whether to go with him."

Duncan came onto the project late in the piece, after it had been greenlit; "Itís my first job as a hired director (he wrote both his first films) and there was an existing script and a director, but that didnít pan out," he says discreetly.

"I felt there were aspects of Graingerís life and his nature that needed to be included, so there was a major rewrite."

"to cover it all would have made the film very episodic."

There was much discussion about what aspects of Graingerís life were to be included, but Duncan felt "to cover it all would have made the film very episodic." The film ends even before Graingerís marriage, at a point Duncan regards as "the dramatic turning point of his life."

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