BROWN, BRYAN & CAESAR, DAVID – DIRTY DEEDS
Over a couple of beers at a bar on the Fox Studios lot, Bryan Brown (star and producer) and David Caesar (writer and director) discuss their latest film with Andrew L. Urban, revealing how they work together on the script - “like wrestling” - and how Brown plays a killer who’s just a bloke.
ALU: [lifting full glass with right hand while holding microphone with left, to show off multiskill media training] Well, cheers and good luck for the film’s release.
BB & DC: Cheers, thanks, mate. [all drink]
ALU: I’m curious: did you intend the film to be a sort of crime thriller, black comedy, period drama all rolled into one?
DC: Well, yes, we always intended it to be larger than life … and a new genre, in a way, with reference to the Choppers and Two Hands of this world as well. It was always meant to have that bright, loud, brash tone. To me that tension between the darkness and the humour is something I respond well to in other films…
ALU: How far had you got with the idea when you popped it to Bryan at the Toronto Film Festival in 1996? [cheese plate arrives]
DC: I’d thought about it but I hadn’t put a single word on paper. I had a photo I showed him – which he knew of. It was that notorious photo of (the late Sydney identity) Lenny McPherson and the two gangsters in the outback with the dead pig and the machine guns and high powered rifles. That was where we started.
ALU: So there seems to be quite a bit of detail in the film based on fact.
DC: There is a fair bit…but not necessarily from that one story. Various stories from the 40s, 50s and 60s and some stuff that happened in the 70s and 80s. I jammed it all into this one story.
BB: There was definitely a lot of research done.
ALU: But where and why was young Sam Worthington’s character Darcy, inserted into the story?
DC: Darcy was always a main character in the story; about half way through, that’s about two years into the writing, we made him a Vietnam vet.
ALU: Bryan, did you have any input into the script as producer?
BB: Yeah. A Fair bit. When we decided to do it, David went away and put it down into a script. The way David works, he gives you a lot to comment on. It’s all very there and very physical. It’d blaze! Then he’d get an idea or he’d hear a story and he’d be off with that and we’d look at the direction that was taking us and so we’ll do that or maybe say, we’ll start the movie with it. Then he’d go away, and the spirit of what I’m saying is a problem and he’d think about how he’d rectify it in his own way. So the way he writes a script is almost like f’kin wrestling. Or like panel beating – you’ve got to bash it and push it into shape. And he always goes for life. Get some life into that bloody thing. Then let’s shape the thing into a story that has structure, that has characters who have a journey, all that sort of stuff. He’s really good to work with ‘cause there’s always stuff to comment on. And then later comes the subtle stuff – and he’s a very subtle writer. I’d get worried and want half a page on something, and he’d just write one line, and it’d work.
DC: A lot of the time I’m saying ‘this is good enough,’ but Bryan’d be saying pretty good is not good enough. Especially the last third of the script; it was like bashing my head against the wall.
BB: And yet we had it but didn’t realise…
DC: Yeah, we had the ending, but we didn’t have any other flashbacks happening at that stage. There was a lot of other stuff, including scenes in Chicago…and it was all very problematic. We had a great action chase scene at the end with explosions and so on and it seemed like it had all been done before. And it was going to be very difficult to shoot.
ALU: How conscious were you of the effect that elements in the film would have on an audience? The nuances and details?
DC: Well, on this, more than on any other of my films I was thinking about the audience. We talked a lot of about the characters arcs – about characters being given a dilemma at the beginning of the film. In Barry’s case it’s ‘is he going to lose his empire?’ In Darcy’s case, ‘would he sell his soul?’ We wanted to make sure people could identify with the different characters and their different dilemmas.
ALU: What about working with John Goodman? Do you have any anecdotes from the shoot about him?
BB: The biggest thing we remember about John Goodman is that September 11 happened during the shoot. It was the second evening of shooting and we were sitting around [a Kings Cross location] on the set of the film’s Roosevelt Club, and we wandered around the corner for a snack and the tv was on and we saw it on television.
DC: The process of filming became very difficult and in fact the stuff we shot that night had to be re-shot. It didn’t work. The crew was in shock….and for John Goodman, he’d just been in New York for six months doing a play. Yet he never said anything …
BB: He never laid any of that on us. He’s a very emotional and sensitive man. He’s got family in America and the number of people he must’ve known in New York. So it says a lot about him …you can work out what that is …but a lot of people would’ve said “I’ve got to go back to America tomorrow,” and you would have had to agree. Or take a day off work the next day…but nothing like that. We all said we were sorry about what had happened in his country and he thanked us…. but he just got on with it. It says a lot for his professionalism. But he did say at the end as he was leaving, “I’m going back to a different America to the one I left.”
ALU: Bryan, with your character, Barry, we always know where we are: he’s a bad bastard but in other respects he’s just an ordinary guy…
BB: …which is the case with those blokes. You’ve only got to talk to the old ladies who grew up in East Sydney near Woolloomooloo, around people like Abe [Saffron] or Perce Gallea…” oh no, don’t you go talking’ about them…if Mrs Jones didn’t have enough to pay the rent, they’d always make sure they were taken care of…” The community they lived in didn’t really want to know the other stuff because they were actually nice people in the community.
DC: And the other thing was, if you didn’t want anything to do with it you didn’t have to. It wasn’t like your house was getting broken into for drug money. It was all ‘over there’ – in the gambling, the drugs and the prostitutes and so on. And if you didn’t want any part of it, nobody would try and force you.
ALU: And you must have had to think about how to handle those scenes where the reality is tough: people getting shot. How did you approach that, in terms of this being meant to be a comedy, really?
DC: Look we did, but the point is, these guys were all probably entertaining guys to have a beer with. You’d probably have a good laugh with them….they were
BB: …charismatic bastards. The fact is, people don’t hang around them because they put a gun to their head and say “you’re going to be in my gang”. They hang around them because they’re leaders. It’s just that they’re far more interesting than bank managers to tell stories about. And talking about the effect on the audience, that’s part of David’s vision, of the movie he wants to give to people. From my point of view, I work on the story, or working on character. And as an actor, I’m just playing it straight. But because of what David lays down there – and I think every one of the actors will tell you – I see it as a naturalistic, straight piece. But somehow, you walk into a tone…you don’t say ‘I must play this way’. Somehow the tone just develops naturally. We just took it on…but it’s real people and real emotions, the lot.
DC: Part of the relationship between the violence and the humour is like Darcy’s reasons for being part of it all: it’s fun! Hang around with the guys, have a few beers, go to the pub and there’s a band on…drive round in cars, you know, and knowing you’re in a position of power in the community…you tell the coppers to fuck off and they go away! Until, of course, he gets to the point where he confronts what he sees as cold blooded murder, and he makes a moral choice, on his own behalf. The audience has to be horrified the way that he’s horrified. It’s fun up till then, but this is all part of the deal…
BB: See, I never thought twice about a scene where we’re all standing around having fun and whatever…I never thought ‘how much fun we’re supposed to have’. It’s just like, OK, this guy’s out of line so I’ll have to kill him. It’s not about should I play it this way or that way…the bloke’s out of line, so I have to kill him. It wasn’t a question of ‘how should I play this’….it was just a case of this is the scene and f’kin’ play it.
[Andrew turns off tape machine, skulls undrunk beer. Bryan and David finish the last mouthful of theirs, shake hands, ‘see ya later, mate’ and head off into the night.]
URBAN CINEFILE READERS were invited to email questions for Bryan (but not to the bar). We’ve selected three of them:
Margaret Craike: What appeals to you about playing a baddie character?
BB: Other people see this character I play, Barry, as a bad guy, but I’ve got to play him like a bloke. Just happens that he kills people. It appeals because he was a really colourful character. There’s stuff going on around him, betrayals, invaders from the mob and so on, so you’ve got a bloke who’s going through stuff. I think the answer to the question being asked is that these are positive blokes. They don’t muck around about their decisions. I quite all that. I like playing the decisive rather than the indecisive [characters].
Alan Clark: Why did you decide to wear a Newcastle Breakers shirt as Pando in the film Two Hands? (Good on you for doing so, BTW)
BB: Because [director] Gregor Jordan told me to.
Sean Monaghan: Many people view Bryan Brown as one of the biggest supporters of the
Australian film industry; it would be interesting to get his thoughts on where he sees the industry evolving to over the next decade given the huge leaps the domestic industry has made over the past decade or so. Also what are the barriers to the potential development, ie where could we slip up?
BB: I think, first of all, people have to remember that 30 years ago the Australians really made the world community sit up and take notice when people like Peter Weir, Bruce Beresford and Fred Schepisi and Gillian Armstrong made films. I guess we’ve extended our range of stories and we’ve taken on new style of storytelling. And we’ve actually taken on genres, which I don’t think we had before. I reckon there is probably a kid out there going to film school that loves science fiction. He’s going to come out and find his way to do it. Or some other genre. I’m always incredibly positive; we’ve been doing this for 30 years and it’s really hard but it just keeps going and people continue to make movies. I always see us as an independent filmmaking community. I don’t think we have to be in competitio with f’kin’ Hollywood or any of that bullshit. If we want to tell our stories we’ll have an industry in another 30 years … and another 300.
Published July 18, 2002
Email this article
David Caesar & Bryan Brown
REVIEWS SOUNDTRACK REVIEW
Sydney 1969: Barry (Bryan Brown) is a Mr Big, milking illegal poker machines, running girls, clubbing clubs…He has Detective Ray (Sam Neill) on the payroll and a mistress, Margaret (Kestie Morassi), on the side. But his smarter-than-she-looks wife (Toni Collette) has his number. When his nephew Darcy (Sam Worthington) returns from a tour of duty in Vietnam, it coincides with the arrival of a couple of Chicago mobsters (John Goodman, Felix Williamson) who want in on Barry’s action. The Yanks soon discover what an unfair go looks like. Meanwhile, Darcy and Margaret get together behind Barry’s back – as do some of his ‘loyal’ henchmen.