Andrew Bovell has moved his family (three young children) to the solitude of southern
South Australia from metro Melbourne, a year before Lantana makes its commercial debut on
Australian screens. The move to a more remote place geographically, ironically coincides
with Bovell’s rising fame and profile as a writer, both here and internationally.
As he takes the phone for our interview, his keyboard is treading water, waiting for
him to return to it to continue the task of adapting the great Arthur Miller’s 1950s
play, A View from the Bridge, into a screenplay. The task is challenging, but he says
"Miller’s very supportive of what we’re trying to do, namely to loosen it
up and give it a contemporary sensibility."
Bovell can thank Lantana for the chance of working on this – and in particular,
Lantana star Anthony LaPaglia, who is the man responsible for introducing him to the
project. LaPaglia – as he himself explains in our INTERVIEW
a couple of weeks prior – was so impressed with Bovell’s Lantana script, he
made the introduction.
the outcome is cataclysmic
Latent sexual obsession, paranoia, envy, and even homophobia swirl about in
Miller’s play (also made into an opera) and the outcome is cataclysmic for everyone
involved. Not really like Lantana at all, although there is a fair amount of
"emotional transaction" between the characters, which is the stuff that really
interests Bovell. As you would know if you’ve seen Head On, directed by Ana Kokinos
and starring Alex Dimitriades.
In Lantana, like in all his work, Bovell explores "men and how they deal with
relationships. . . it’s fuelled not by direct personal experience, but anyone
who’s been married has asked those same questions; how do you sustain a relationship,
etc. All around me, people were asking the big questions – not only about their
relationships, but about their life. How do I survive this event emotionally . . . "
The play (called Speaking in Tongues) preceded the screenplay; it began with a simple
urban myth about a woman whose car breaks down and she calls her husband. The machine
answers and she leaves a series of messages. She tries to hitch a ride. "Then I began
to think about the man who gives her a lift…and then perhaps he discovers that
she’s left a shoe in his van. . ." And slowly, Bovell built a complex set of
people and relationships, and what started to look like a thriller.
He was never in doubt that the material was strong; "it’s about emotion,
though, and I didn’t know how Australians would respond. It’s also dialogue
driven and so I anticipated some resistance. But I always felt it was a strong, compelling
story- that’s what drove it, in the stage play and through to the film script."
Could it work as a film? It wasn’t hard to convince director Ray Lawrence, who
returned to see the play four times. Producer Jan Chapman took longer to get enthused, but
not much longer. She asked to see a treatment, which convinced her.
emotional transaction between men and women
"My interest is in the emotional transaction between men and women," says
Bovell. "What if we fuck it up; how do we go on; what do we learn. And I’ve
always been interested in the multi-narrative structure, ever since I first saw Robert
Altman’s work. The form is now more common, and it’s very satisfying to write
– but very hard to balance. I wanted it to be an ensemble film where we can explore
other characters deeply, not just have them as tools for the leads and the action."
When shooting began, director Ray Lawrence made it clear that Bovell was very welcome
on set. The two had already exchanged trust: "one of the things Lantana is about is
trust, so I had to understand that in giving it over to ray. And ray had to trust me in
the writing. So I did go on set for a while, but there came a point where I felt a bit
useless. I also wanted to give Ray some breathing room. I needed to step away so he could
become the central force of creative authority."
But Bovell did come back at editing stage, "where we did a lot of restructuring
and Ray was very open about things."
Like many writers do, Bovell headed straight back to writing well before Lantana was
completed. He wrote Holy Day, dealing with the relationship between white and black
Australia. Following a successful Adelaide season, the play opened in Melbourne just a
couple of weeks before Lantana opened across Australia.
He is also developing another screenplay with director Ana Kokinos, to be produced by
Al Clark (executive producer, Chopper, producer Priscilla…and others), based on The
Book of Revelation by Rupert Thompson. Clark describes it as a large budget erotic horror
story "with a spiritual ancestor in last Tango in Paris," says Clark.
"It’s an account of sexual obsession prompted by emotional trauma."
the mystery is love...
Meanwhile, Lantana has already played to warm receptions at the opening of the Sydney
Film Festival and other fests. The central character of Leon (LaPaglia) is a detective;
but we can read that metaphorically. The mystery is love, which could be compared to that
troublesome Australian weed, lantana camara, with its dense, spiky undergrowth, and
colourful, aromatic flowers above. . .
Published October 4, 2001