Nindigully, Queensland - mid-morning,
Tuesday March 10, 1998:
There is a buzz in the air, but I manage to shoo away the pesky
flies long enough to take in the amazing view of the oversized
Boomerang Café, its peeling blue walls standing firm in the red
dust of outback Queensland, its roof proudly holding up three
large, decorated wire boomerangs. Fairy lights flicker at night
along the wires, I’m told.
The building stands alone in the dirt, opposite the
‘Lucktown Pub’ (actually the Nindigully Pub), a rustic
establishment but with a beer garden straight out of suburban
Sydney. I’ve come round the corner to catch the Café
through the wings of a biplane that is standing in the middle of
what must be the high street of Nindigully. It’s just a
field of dirt, actually. Behind the bushes to my right, camels
laze in the heat. Strange place, Nindigully, and remote. Also
damn hot today: around 38 degrees and a trifle humid.
It seems odd that two giant lights blaze towards the windows
of the café, made to look puny by the sun, but it is a reminder
that the crew fussing around here are making their own reality
inside the Boomerang Café: the reality of Paperback Hero.
While admiring the Café for its authenticity – circa
1956 – I am attracted to the bi-plane, which in the film
belongs to Ruby, who is by day a crop duster pilot, running her
café at night. I am introduced to its real pilot, 70 year old
Bruce McGarvie, his leathery face matched by his 16 year old
leather hat. He does the flying, except for the really fancy
trick stuff at the end (which I am not going to tell you about so
you can get the full effect of the surprise). His beloved
biplane,a Tiger Moth more than half his age (built 1943), is his job: he
flies joy flights on the Gold Coast in it and in several others
From inside the café, I hear the unmistakable sound of
snooker balls kissing and ricocheting; I’m going to check
this out and then file the second half of this report, by noon
Nindigully – Noon:
Somewhat hotter but wiser, I can report that the snooker balls I
heard were not my imagination. They are shooting a scene in the
Café with Jack and Ruby playing pool. Jack chases Ruby round the
table and around the Café, while Suzie (played by Antony’s
wife Jeanie Drynan, who you may remember as Muriel’s sad mum
in Muriel's Wedding) tries to calm them down.
Bowman, looking tanned, thinner in the face and clearly
energised, is relishing the moment. He had time for a quick chat
while cinematographer David Burr re-set the lighting for the next
"I can’t tell you how good these actors are,"
he says with a serious grin. "They’ve made the
characters their own – all of them. Now I’m just
guiding them through."
Claudia and Hugh look terrific together: she’s feisty and
independent, an impish grin always at the ready, but her deeper
side is also accessible. Hugh, tall and every inch of him leading
man material, has an intelligence and warmth that mix with a
masculinity that is highlighted in these conditions, his singlet
stained with the sweat of his work.
"The best part of it
is that Antony wrote this character specially for me," Jeanie Drynan
I ask about casting Jeanie, his wife, and he laughs.
"When she first read it, she said ‘I hope you
don’t want me to play another defeated
housewife…." Thinking of her role in Muriel’s
Wedding. "She is a downtrodden housewife - but at least
Suzie, her character, does have hope – and besides, Jeanie
is fun to have on set."
Jeanie sneaks out for a break and I ask her about it:
"The best part of it is that Antony wrote this character
specially for me," she says. She is in her pink Café
uniform, her hair permed. And she looks as relaxed as everyone
else. Bowman is calm, too, except when he gets excited by the
scene, like a kid in a toy box, his enthusiasm firing everyone on
Incidentally, it’s a quite a crew: David Burr’s
camera operator is Richard Merryman, who does all of Kevin
Costner’s camera work. Burr, often likened to John Seale for
both the quality of his work and his can-do attitude, has already
done quite a bit in Hollywood. (He came over to me with a grin
and said he was missing having access to Urban Cinefile; the
satellite dish on the roof of the Café is fake.)
Costume designer is Louise Wakefield, who designed the
costumes on Shine, Doing Time for Patsy Cline, and assisted on
Production Designer is Jon Dowding, who has worked on many
good looking films, from Mad Max to Diana & Me.
"It’s a very
Aussie thing and that’s what I connected with." Hugh Jackman on his character
It’s a late start today, as the shoot will go into the
night, planned to wrap around 11.30pm. So now it’s almost
noon and breakfast is served – not in the Café but a barn
beside the pub. Bacon and eggs roll, or roast chicken diced up in
a roll, with salad. Before they start up again, I take Hugh
Jackman and Claudia Karvan aside:
For Hugh, this is a big leap from the theatre, but he is
relishing it. "Jack is coming to terms with who he really
is, his feelings and emotions. It’s a very Aussie thing and
that’s what I connected with. He’s very comfortable
with who he is at the start, but unbenkown to him, his life has
to change. It’s not like some burning ambition of his. And
he has a great sense of humour."
feeds us all." Claudia
Karvan on Antony Bowman
As soon as Hugh finsihes this shoot, he is going straight back
to theatre, playing Curly in Oklahoma at London’s National
Theatre with director Trevor Nunn. It’s the biggest gig of
his stage career to date, back to back with this starring role.
Hugh is doing OK.
Claudia describes Ruby as "a fiery country chick"
who is independent and strong. She is enjoying working with
Antony, "because he is so open and so encouraging. He lets
us make suggestions, which is rare for a writer/director. And his
enthusiasm feeds us all."
Australians used to be before they were urbanised." Tony Bowman
Also on set are producers Lance Reynolds and John Winter,
co-producer Dani Rogers, and some of the support cast: Angie
Milliken, who plays Ziggy, the publisher’s publicist, who
comes to Lucktown to convince Ruby to come to Sydney; Andrew
Gilbert, who plays Hamish, the likeable vet hoping to marry Ruby;
and I caught sight of a wild version of Barry Rugles, and was
told he was in make up: he plays Mad Pete.
Paperback Hero, says Antony, is a romantic comedy but one
which he wants to be "truthful" and real. "I was
born in Sydney but I lived in the country until I was 13 and I am
very aware of the truth you find in country people. It’s
like Australians used to be before they were urbanised. I like
the idea of a truck driver - which may sound like a cliché,
unless he’s writing a romance novel. And I like the idea of
a strong young woman. So it’s a story set in an old
fashioned romantic comedy structure but with modern people. And
it has some serious twists."
Now I have to go and file this report: the film will be ready
later this year, and will be distributed in Australia through
PolyGram sometime in 1999. International sales are through Beyond
Films, who will launch it to the world in early 1999.