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Taking his acting cue from the dog on the set of his latest film, Unfinished Sky, William McInnes likes the minimalist approach, he tells Andrew L. Urban.

Milo the dog, who plays Elvis the dog in Unfinished Sky, set the style of acting emulated and admired by William McInnes. “Watching rushes, he was inspirational,” say William. “He was the star. He was just being the dog. Actors like to act, you know, strain a facial muscle or stand like Paul Newman in Hud … whatever. But all you have to do is just BE. Milo gave me that,” he says only half joking.

"I’m a bit of a plank of a man"

William had just finished reading the biography of the late British actor Alec Guinness, who could convey a lot with just his eyes. “I’m a bit of a plank of a man, but it’s important to try and have something going on behind the eyes. I’m not suggesting that I’m in that class at all,” he says, “but if anything, that’s what I get the most pleasure from as an actor, those subtle things, things that often go straight through to the keeper….”

But people do notice, as critical and popular reaction to William’s work proves, for roles ranging from TV dramas like Sea Change to films like Look Both Ways. In Unfinished Sky, he plays John Woldring (William McInnes), who finds a distraught, bruised & bloodied woman scrambling on his outback Queensland property. He has no option but to tend for her – even though he doesn’t understand a word she says. She seems terrified of some locals. Within the next few days he learns her name is Tahmeena (Monic Hendrickx) and on a map, she indicates she’s from Afghanistan. In town, John gets suspicious of the publican (Bille Brown), who is asking about one of their ‘cleaners’ having made a run for it. John keeps Tahmeena hidden at his house, teaching her English and soon learns she fled Afghanistan in search of her daughter, who had replaced a dead girl in a refugee family. When he offers her clothes from a cupboard, Tahmeena discovers secrets from John’s past. But the publican comes looking for her and local cop Carl (David Field) also catches up with her.

“The bloke I play is a farmer, a man who in a sense is the end of a line,” explains William. “He comes from a family that’s worked the land and worked in a manner which has created a great deal of wealth, but the glory days are behind them. He’s a very detached man, he doesn’t really engage in life and he functions well enough to keep the farm ticking over, but you have to look at how he keeps this marvellous home he had – it is not so much a home now, it is almost a mausoleum of past glories and of his own emotional life, a life he’s put on hold; and it is what happens in the film which reawakens his acceptance of life and so it’s a story of redemption.”

His is a real grief, says William, “and it is a detached, nihilistic view of the world, which is very interesting to play…because if you act that you can look like Bela Lugosi who needs coffee, it’s a really bad thing to actively try and play, so you’ve really got to sit on it a lot and invite the audience in; you can’t comment on what you’re doing, you just have to ‘be’…”

"a self effacing manner"

He has a self effacing manner and jokes about how actors are just a small cog in the filmmaking wheel. He recalls that when his wife the filmmaker Sarah Watt was editing Look Both Ways, he’d hear screams and swearing from the edit room; “I figured they were swearing at the actors so I’d just leave the cut lunch outside the door.”

William’s approach to acting is not complicated. “I dunno, I just have a crack at it … Well, I do prepare of course, but you also have to be able to throw it away, otherwise you burn yourself up.”

As for his co-star, Dutch actress Monic Hendrickx, he knew about Monic “and her reputation as a really terrific actor, and she is – she’s the hamburger with the lot – she’s fantastic. She’s a really lovely person and she can really burn up the camera, so that’s great. And shooting something in Queensland which is where I grew up, it’s terrific that the script of this quality can be shot here in Queensland. I think it is important to share the production of Australian films around the country so that was a big plus.”

Asked about working with director Peter Duncan, William says, “he wears silly hats and is very polite. He’s a very gentle man. He casts the actors and largely leaves you to get on with it. But he knows what he wants.

"approach to acting is not complicated"

Appropriately enough, Unfinished Sky opened the 2008 Dungog Film Festival two weeks prior to its Australian commercial release on June 19; appropriately because as a joke, William used to include in his CV several fake credits for fun – like the film he starred in called The Man From Dungog.

Published June 19, 2008


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William McInnes


... on the set with director Peter Duncan

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