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"Stewart, a decent but repressed man, probably never had sex in his life, he's an aunty's boy"  -Jane Campion on the character played by Sam Neill in The Piano
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday July 28, 2020 

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Kiss or Kill opens in Australia after a succession of successful festival screenings; on other pages we talk to director Bill Bennett and Frances O’Connor; here, ANDREW L. URBAN takes verbal snapshots of co-star Matt Day and the film’s entire high calibre supporting cast.

"Al is a street wise city boy from a dysfunctional family, who spent his youth in trouble with the law," says Matt Day of his character in Kiss or Kill. "He has a short fuse and a temper he can’t control. Nikki (Frances O’Connor) is the most important and stable thing in his life - and the way to normality. They’ve known each other for a decade or more."

With Kiss or Kill, Matt takes a giant leap forward in his already blossoming career, playing a serious adult lead role, after a succession of teenagers beginning with Brice, the goofy boyfriend in P.J. Hogan’s international hit, Muriel’s Wedding. Even before Muriel’s Wedding, Matt was in demand for television, including productions such as A Country Practice, as well as for stage work with companies like St Martin’s Youth Theatre, The Playbox Theatre and the Sydney Theatre Company, where he appeared in Six Degrees of Separation.

He again scored international acclaim in the low budget, high energy, Love and Other Catastrophes, director Emma Kate Croghan’s impressive debut feature.

His next role, immediately before shooting Kiss or Kill, was that of the starry eyed teenager, Ralph, in Doing Time for Patsy Kline, from writer/director Chris Kennedy.

And as soon as he finished shooting Kiss or Kill, Matt was preparing for his next film, The Sugar Factory, directed by Robert Carter.

"We banked on Matt being able to do something different," says Jennifer Cluff, creative consultant on the film. "And that’s proved to be the case."

Working on Kiss or Kill with Bill Bennett has been "the hardest acting I’ve ever done," says Matt. "And everything I’ve wanted out of acting. What this has done for me is build up confidence that your ideas are valid and worthwhile," he says of Bill’s improvisational method, "especially in highly charged emotional scenes.

"I turn up knowing what my action is - unplanned. So it feels much fresher. Spontaneous."

Although extraordinarily challenging, Matt found working with Bill gratifying. "You get to put a lot more of yourself into it, and everyone brings so much more to it, reacting in real ways." Above all, he says, it’s made him a lot more responsible. "I feel I’ve got to do the best and take it really seriously…stuff I’ve never done before. Until now I’d take short cuts and played characters I knew since I was a kid."

"There is nothing about it in the script," says Chris about his character’s name, "so I figured it’s a nickname, because whenever he’s deep in thought, he hums …. Beethoven and other pieces out of copyright," he adds with a laugh. Hummer comes from the major crime squad in the city, "but I think he’s done an FBI course and was an educated, well informed detective. After talking to Bill about him, I made him very black and white, and you only ever see him in a suit, even in the desert. Of he and his partner Crean, Hummer’s the quieter, Crean the more flamboyant, but Hummer’s deadlier."

Haywood, who also acted as the unofficial entertainments officer for the cast and crew, has a dedication to his work rarely seen. He not only drove three days in his 4WD from Sydney to South Australia, he arranged product placements that were both practical and welcome, persuading Petaluma to provide wines, and West End to stock the set with beer. Ever thoughtful, he also arranged for Mt Lofty mineral water to be on hand.

His enthusiasm is partly fuelled by his admiration for Bill Bennett’s film making skills. "I got a call from my agent," he recalls, "who said they have a script for me from Bill. Oh, I said, I don’t even have to read it. For Bill, I would’ve done it for a walk on part.

"He’s an extraordinary film maker. He’s always treading new ground."

Chris Haywood is himself extraordinary, his career spanning more than 20 years, during which he has appeared in over 50 top rating television series, and close to 30 films, including most of Paul Cox’s, playing diverse roles. His film credits include Shine, Muriels’ Wedding, Malcolm, Breaker Morant, Newsfront, The Removalist and The Cars That Ate Paris.

Chris’ trademark is research: he persuaded the local police to let him research their records in detail. He wanted to get inside their interviewing style. He went to great lengths, often spending hours at a time with local detectives around Ceduna, to develop his character, "and this was crucial because it helped me portray a character that is unlike the stereotypes usually seen on screen," he says.

His list of awards includes the 1995 Silver Logie for his role in the tv series, The Gates of Janus; AFI Awards for roles in A Street to Die, Aya, Emerald City, Island, Newsfront and Strikebound.

"The beauty of this film was that you made it up…when we started, Bill said I could do good things with this guy, so something existed in his mind," says Andrew Gilbert of his role in Kiss or Kill. "I was trusted with this character, and as we’re a duo, with Chris Haywood’s Hummer, we defined each other. The story unfolds to him as it does to the audience, which is how it stays fresh and unpredictable. I’ve learnt more about the character after each scene - and that freedom to be in the moment makes you do what’s required of you."

One of Andrew’s first professional jobs after leaving the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (1987), was on Bill Bennett’s film, Mortgage. "We got on well, but it was exhausting, I remember that. It’s been a benchmark for me ever since."

Andrew has played a lot of cops over the past few years, smaller parts mostly, in tv shows such as Cody, Police Rescue, Rafferty’s Rules, Water rats, and the feature film Deadly. "Often the person didn’t come through; but in Kiss or Kill, the person has really come through," he says beaming with satisfaction.

"The whole thing’s been very zen…"

"Adler’s a mysterious element in the film," says Barry Otto about his role in Kiss or Kill, "and although it’s not a big role, I thought the whole script was really good, a good thriller with a raw edge. On paper, Adler was an ambiguous character, which appealed to me. So I didn’t try to work him out too much, I went with what Bill had given me. He’s weird and a bit scary at first, then he seems just weird - and then… strewth!" But the surprise is for audiences to find out, Barry says.

It is a testament to both Barry’s stature and confidence as one of Australia’s most respected actors, and to Bill Bennett’s standing as a film maker that Barry accepted the role of Adler Jones - not much more than a cameo, yet crucial to the film’s plotline.

"I’ve known Bill’s work over the years and admired his docu-dramas, especially Malpractice. When he asked me, he said he wanted actors who’d make it their own…and I felt I could give him that something. It didn’t worry me that it was a small role; I wanted to work with Bill."

Barry recalls one scene in particular, when "Bill told the actors to forget the dialogue…you know the actions. So it suddenly frees it up completely.

"At the risk of giving the plot away," quips Max Cullen of his role in Kiss or Kill, "I don’t get kissed." Max plays Stan, the bizarre motel manager who comes into the lives of the two young crims on the run when they stop for the night at his isolated motor inn. As the only guests, he joins them for a fiery fondue….

"I last worked with Bill Bennett on Spider and Rose," says Max, "and what I liked about working with him was rich characters, excellent dialogue, an inspired wardrobe and production design.

"He allows the actors to contribute creatively; it becomes a collaboration or a controlled accident where you feel secure with the director supervising the chaos.

"He’s an action painter and zen master. I worked for three months on my ad libs," he quips, "researching caves on the Nullarbor and observing behaviour to the point of mania."

"Bill wanted to know if I knew anything about tracking," says John Clarke of his audition for the role of Possum Harry in Kiss or Kill. "Yeah, I said, around these parts…I have a lot of relations around here, and know it well."

He described Possum Harry as "a cunning old bastard…he knows what he’s doing. He laughs at modern police bush techniques and baffles the cops. While they look for the obvious, Harry picks up the less obvious and effectively solves the crime. And yet he’s never in a hurry…he’s a typical black from the bush."

John, of the Adnymathanaha group of Aborigines from the Northern Flinders Rangers, is Adelaide born, and got into acting in 1985 by accident. The film The Time Guardian was being shot, and they were looking for a didgeridoo player; a friend of mine heard about it, and in I went…"

"Zipper’s used to adulation, being an ex-Carlton footballer and a bit of a legend," says Barry Langrishe of his character Zipper Doyle in Kiss or Kill. "He’s a forceful character who runs a successful gym in Adelaide, does sponsorships - and likes young boys. I figure that’s happened later in his life," Barry adds. "I did some research into it…I don’t think he feels particularly guilty about it. He justifies it in his own mind, and believes he’d be misunderstood: he’s angry at the intrusion into his life when it threatens every aspect of it. So he has to stop them."

English-born, Barry was a fashion photographer and photojournalist in London before coming to Australia in 1981, and changing his course to the theatre. In Sydney he played Thenardier in Trevor Nunn’s Les Miserables - and did a photo essay on backstage life. He even worked with Chris Haywood once before, although never in the same scene, in the dramatisation of Cyclone Tracy, playing a corrupt Darwin detective.

"He’s suave, enigmatic, a regular at Royal Commissions and very much the bent lawyer," says Don Chapman of his role as Lindsay Klein in Kiss or Kill. "I think his middle name is Doc - as in the fixer. But if you put it together, it’s Lindsay D. Klein…get it? His redeeming qualities are his eloquence - and maybe he loved his mother."

Don’s immediate last role before Kiss or Kill was, coincidentally, also that of a lawyer, in the Film Australia production for ABC TV, Sun on the Stubble, one of many tv credits to his name, ranging from Rafferty’s Rules through Crimestoppers, where he played a payroll robber, and The Right Stuff, where he was Minister for Transport.

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Matt Day and Frances O'Connor



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