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Working internationally without leaving Australia has suited Robert Mammone, being able to balance his family life with his work, he tells Andrew L. Urban – but that may soon change, as he jets off to Hollywood for meetings with powerful players, just as his latest film The Caterpillar Wish - an Australian production - is released on DVD.

On the eve of the DVD release of his latest Australian film, The Caterpillar Wish, Robert Mammone put off going to Los Angeles for “interesting” meetings about future work by a week, to stay at home for his third son’s first birthday party. Delaying the trip is a good example of his priorities (to balance family life with work), and the trip is a good example of the nature of his career: he works more internationally than locally – yet he does it all in Australia, thanks to the raft of offshore production coming through the country, either at Fox Studios in Sydney or the Warner Bros studio on the Gold Coast.

“In the past 10 years I’ve worked on many more US productions than Australian ones,” he says. He has played roles in a dozen TV episodes, ranging from Salem’s Lot (2004, from a Steven King novel, with Rob Lowe, Donald Sutherland and James Cromwell) to this year’s mini series, Nightmares and Dreamscapes (another Steven King inspired project). In between, he’s worked on a slate of projects including The Matrix franchise, the US TV drama, Future Tense, the action horror movie, Man-Thing, and a gig as Professor Campbell in Suspicion, an episode of The Lost World, the TV series based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s work.

Before The Caterpillar Wish, his last Australian feature film role was in The Pact (2002). Days before our interview, Mammone had just finished shooting a US action thriller, The Condemned, playing Ian Breckel, a reality tv show producer; it was shot in Queensland.

We joke about his range of roles, as we sip coffees (his is a long, mean looking black) on the Fox Studio lot in Sydney; in Heaven’s Burning (1997), opposite Russell Crowe, he played Mahood, a ruthless killer; in The Caterpillar Wish he plays Stephen, a gentle, broken soul. (Speaking of Crowe, Mammone co-starred with Crowe in their first movie as lead actors, The Crossing, [1990].)

It’s the last weak blast of winter and Mammone’s wearing a simple zip-up top, with a peak cap that is emblazoned with ‘Wright Penn Shakespeare’ – which turns out to be a sponsor of a car racing team, not a new theatre company playing puns with writing and pens … It’s a gift from a friend in the racing team: “I’m more into bikes myself,” he says.

'I relied on instinct, which suits me fine"

Proud of his working class background, Mammone is at once “quietly confident” about his craft and keen to progress to a level where he can pick and choose projects. “It’s great to be able to work on what and with whom you want,” he says, citing Crowe’s success. “But of course there is a price to pay, in terms of loss of privacy…” he also wants to direct some day, although he still has “a lot of things to achieve as an actor.”

Working on The Caterpillar Wish was rewarding, he says, and even though he only had 10 days “from testing to shooting, so no time for intense research, I relied on instinct, which suits me fine. I went with my gut instincts and relied on (writer/director) Sandra Sciberras a lot.”

The film is set in a small coastal town in Victoria, where 17 year old Emily (Victoria Thaine) is anxious to find out who was her father. Her single mum, Susan (Susie Porter), wants to keep the past closed off, and maintains he was a "tom cat"; a tourist who came through the town one summer and never returned. She hasn't spoken to her parents since she fell pregnant at fifteen and refused to name the father. Local boatman Stephen (Robert Mammone), however, is haunted by the past in the form of memories of his deceased wife and daughter. Carl (Philip Quast), the town policeman, is hiding the past (as well as some of the present) from his wife Elizabeth (Wendy Hughes), who has her suspicions, while their older son Joel (Khan Chittenden) has a secret affair with Emily, which has explosive connotations.

Stephen’s character was well formed on the page, but the role also came at a time when he was going through some personal emotional upheaval. “I don’t know if it’s just me or a man thing, but I do struggle with that emotional shut down whenever things get too tense in my life… so I really could relate to Stephen.”

Mammone enjoyed working with Sciberras, who he says is “a writer and director who appreciates actors’ input – she’s a joy to work with.” He praises the entire cats, and was especially thrilled to be working for the first time with co-star Susie Porter, “who just doesn’t know how NOT to give … it’s all there, from the top of her cute head to her little toes.”

They’d known each other for years, but never had a chance to work together. “We met on the set of Welcome to Woop Woop in Alice Springs, when I had a three week break from shooting Heaven’s Burning and I went up to visit my partner, Wizzy, who was doing Susie’s make up on the film …”

Never formally trained as an actor, Mammone says he “sometimes … no, every time, I get panicked, but I learn to live with that. I tend personally to over-analyse so it’s better if I don’t do that at work.”

"I often see myself as a tradesman proud of his work"

Needless to say, he hates everything he does, and can’t stand watching himself on screen; “I cringe…And before, I get nerves, I get butterflies, of course … but basically I think I’m OK at it. I often see myself as a tradesman proud of his work … an efficient tradesman, crafting some item of value …and I love it. About 75% of the time I’m happier on set than off it.”

Published October 19, 2006

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Robert Mammone in The Caterpillar Wish


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