With a new house in Hollywood and a boyfriend (Australian, living in Los Angeles) of
three years, Radha Mitchell is enjoying a more structured, almost normal life than she did
as an actress just three years ago, "Although," she says, "I miss the
freedom of when it was just free ….living like a gypsy." And she's in a pretty
good position, "meeting all the significant directors at the moment…"
"the wardrobe is far from demure or girlish"
Smaller than you imagine her - especially after her latest and biggest film, Pitch
Black, Mitchell has the innocent blue eyes of an angel and the clear-skinned freshness of
a youth worker. But the wardrobe is far from demure or girlish.
A red scoop neck top over leg hugging multicoloured tights give her a slinky look, her
short blonde hair accenting her attractive square face. Bathed in the late afternoon sun,
which is slipping below the Sydney Harbour horizon outside the window of the hotel where
we meet, she is more gamin -like than her action adventure character, Caroline Fry.
As Docking Captain Fry, Mitchell gets to play the Sigourney Weaver role (if this was
Alien); "people want to you to say, 'oh I did this because I chose it…' But
often it's a matter of what chooses you. I was lucky enough to get it. I like to choose
what I audition for and so whatever comes out of that is the result - and that effects my
life," she says with a little wry smile. "Why did I decide to audition for it?
Well, it's an interesting script, great character, shot in Australia, get to go home, you
know, a whole range of reasons. And because I guess it's not something I would often have
the opportunity to do; it's a genre piece and I felt it was an opportunity to learn."
"we had pressure…but it was also exciting"
Nor should we underestimate the attraction of the big pay packet which a film of this
size delivers. The Hollywood house was not bought on arthouse film roles. But it was
physically challenging, "freezing a lot of the time. . .and it was like introduction
to adulthood, 'cause everyone was very serious," says the 27 year old. "I'd
never had three producers on set, watching, the whole time. So we had pressure…but it
was also exciting."
Mitchell sees David Twohy as reserved. "He wrote the script so he's close to it,
but he didn't give you a barrage of comments all the time. So I felt like we negotiated a
lot of it on set between us as actors and he'd come in and mediate. It was fairly free.
And (co-star) Vin Diesel brings a lot of energy…he's very positive, very focused on
making the film a success, not cynical at all."
She went from the heavy action demands of the space thriller to the sweet romantic
comedy of Cowboys and Angles, directed by Gregory C. Haynes and the noirish drama,
Everything Put Together, before making a black comedy, Anasazi Moon, with Gary Oldman,
Skeet Ulrich and Mary Steenburgen - none of which yet have Australian release secured. But
it is evidence of her strong presence in the American filmmaking world, which she first
encountered with High Art, Lisa Cholodenko's much acclaimed 1998 film that launched
Mitchell internationally - made just 18 months after Love and Other Catastrophes. And it
was getting an agent at Cannes on the strength of Love and Other Catastrophes that led her
to Los Angeles, an agent who understood her desire to work in quality, independent film,
and the coveted role in High Art.
But there are also a lot of things she has said she isn't going to do. "It's hard
to say no - especially when you first say no, because as an actor there's so much
insecurity about doing anything, to say no it feels like you're saying no to an
opportunity. But I've learned to do that and when you do that you start to feel
empowered!" What sort of things has she said no to? "Lots of independent stuff
I've said no to because I feel it's not saying anything independent . . .or it's not that
"I've made myself very available to my career"
There's no set rules, no subjects or themes that are taboo: "I just don't do crap
films," she says with a sweet smile. She admits to having put a lot of energy, focus
and even making a few sacrifices for her career to date. "I've made myself very
available to my career. And I've had to give up pieces of Australia."
Shortly after our interview, Mitchell heads back to Palmerston North in New Zealand,
where she is shooting the thriller, Shearer's Breakfast, written and directed by New
Zealander, Scott Reynolds.
In Shearer's Breakfast she play a waitress (American) in a diner where a man flees,
claiming he's being chased by murderers. But the gang have a different story. Mitchell was
offered the script by Beyond Film's Gary Hamilton (who was the sales agent for her first
film, Love and Other catastrophes) and then met Reynolds in Los Angeles. She was cast even
before the money was secured, "so they didn't know whether it was going to be
Australian or American…" In the end, Sony Classics came up with distribution
guarantees - and Mitchell was back to an American accent.
Mitchell co-stars with Josh Lucas, the up and coming young American actor who, she
promises, will go places. Australian audiences will see him first in American Psycho.
"What's great about this is the voice of the director…it's the work of a real
auteur, and he has an interesting, unique style. Kind of post modernist, non traditional
narrative, yet he is working within the thriller genre - yet it's wicked…."
"it's a chance to learn"
There was a similar playing with the genre in Pitch Black, and Mitchell enjoyed the
character of Fry; "how can you be both good and bad. I think it's complicated that
way and that interesting about the character. How do you make her likeable when she's a
bitch in the beginning?" They got the right gal for that one.
As for acting, she sometimes wonders why she does it. But she feels it's a chance to
learn, "it makes you more mature about your identity. You have to put up with a lot
of crap and you have to know why you bother."
It was at the insistence of the casting consultants that David Twohy agreed to a call back
for Radha Mitchell, largely unaware she was Australian. "But in fact," he says,
"Radha views herself as a child of the world, rather than just Australian." It
was at the second screen test that Twohy saw "the many subtle elements" of
Mitchell's talent, he says.
Having chosen the barren, supposedly hot and arid desert around Coober Pedy for the
location of the alien planet, Twohy learnt a few things about Australia and Australians:
first was that in June, Coober Pedy is not hot and arid. "It's bloody
freezing…" The second was that Australian actors don't much like being called by
their character name. "In America that's a sign of respect…it's how we work. But
not the Australians. They got insulted," he says good naturedly.
"Australians embrace technology as we do"
The third thing, though, was what really irked him: "The crew wanted to start
early so they could watch this big football game, and they explained to me it was like the
Super Bowl…so I said I understand. Then they did it again the following week, and the
week after that, and I said, look, there is only ONE Super Bowl game a year! But then they
explained to me that these games were like qualifiers…I sorta understand, though I
still don't understand football!"
On the other hand, Twohy was delighted with the crews on a professional level:
"Australians embrace technology as we do in the US, so these guys are all up to
Twohy, who has several awards from science fiction film festivals, traces his interest
in the genre to his fascination for astronomy. "I may still get back to it….
either if I'm enormously successful or an enormous failure…" he jokes. "I
love the big ideas in science fiction, and I love creating worlds, playing god,
perhaps…." Nor surprisingly, perhaps, he also believes there is extraterrestrial
life in space - "and much of it. Just mathematically it's entirely probable….but
like many great astronomers, I don't believe we have seen any…I don't susbcsribe to
the UFO theories."
"a three picture deal with Miramax"
As soon as Twohy finishes his promotional tour for Pitch Black, he begins work on a
three picture deal with Miramax, which includes two sci-fi pictures. If any of them are
set on remote planets, he might be back on Australian locations - but he'll probably avoid
the end of the footy season.