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Andrew L. Urban interviews (semi-successfuly) a parrott, and meets Oscar winning actor Jason Robards, on location in Brisbane.

It’s early afternoon in sunny Brisbane, and I’m taking notes from a parrot. A glorious bird with blue feathers in varying hues down his back, running into a glamorous tail almost a metre long. His chest is a warm golden colour. His real name is Tango, but I’m on the set of The Real Macaw, in which he plays the starring role of Mac, the 150 year old macaw who knows where treasure is buried, on a Pacific island. He knows, because when he was just a pipsqueak of a parrot, he was the shoulder holder of a Spanish pirate.

"Amazing how a parrot can make you feel inadequate." Andrew L. Urban on set of The Real Macaw

That also explains the Spanish accent. "Hellooooo…" he says teasingly. "Hello, Mac," I reply. Suddenly he squawks: "CUT!" Amazing how a parrot can make you feel inadequate.

Tango is sitting on the padded arm of Peter Gregg, his wrangler, and they exchange knowing looks. Peter reaches into a small jar and scoops out a dab of what looks like watered down peanut butter paste, and gives it to Tango. His mouth works at the paste, and voice man Danny Murphy * seizes the opportunity to give Tango some improvised lip-synching lines.

In the cages inside Peter’s van are three more macaws, all much younger. Named after the Marx Brothers, Chico, Groucho and Harpo are also starring as Mac: each aspect of Mac’s personality is drawn from a different parrot. How sensible is that!? Many directors wish they could do the same with actors, no doubt.

This director, Mario Andreacchio, has no such problems, having dealt with a whole cast of animals when he made Napoleon, the all-animal adventure released last year.

"I love this boy, Jamie, he’s a wonderful actor and a wonderful kid." actor, Jason Robards

This time, he also has kids (Jamie Croft and Petra ) and an Oscar winning actor - Jason Robards - to deal with. (Two Oscars: All The Presidents Men and Julia.)

"It’s not a problem," he says, "you just have to treat each of them for what they are."

Robards, with a salt and pepper beard, turns out to be a warm and interesting man whose first love is the theatre. He made a reputation in New York theatre with various roles in Eugene O’Neill plays (The Iceman Cometh, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, etc). Over a light lunch in his caravan, we talk about his long and successful career. Now he’s thinking about playing King Lear. As for Grandpa, he is enjoying the role, noting how many grandpas he’s played lately. "Just talking about this with my wife…I’ve got into the grandfathers, but they’re all different. Each script brings other things, and of course it depends who you’re playing with. I love this boy, Jamie, he’s a wonderful actor and a wonderful kid."

Robards like to rehearse if possible, but above all, "I just read it a lot, just keep reading the bloody thing until you know it…you KNOW it. You’re very familiar with it. Then the night before, I study my scenes in detail."

He chomps on his salad as we talk about his long, illustrious career. "The odd thing is," he says with a slight pause, "that I find the same mistakes I made when I started. I anticipate….you’d think the guy’d know this by now! So I go back and rethink it…"

  "Some people think that making family movies is just froth and bubble…" director, Mario Andreacchio

Shooting in Brisbane and Bali, The Real Macaw is a family adventure - but a comedy first. Robards plays Grandpa, who owns Mac; Grandpa lives in a grand old house, but is deeply in debt. The only solution is to sell up and move into a retirement home - where pets aren’t allowed.

Mac to the rescue! Revealing his long held secret (that he can really talk) he also reveals that there is buried treasure to be had. The adventure is off. Jamie Croft plays the 15 year old grandson, Sam, in whom Mac confides, and Deborra-Lee Furness plays Beth, Sam’s mother. John waters plays a baddie, Dr Hagan, and Joe Petruzzi plays Sam’s father, Rick.

Of course, where the treasure had been buried (after Mac and the pirate escaped his sinking ship) is no longer a remote island beach; it’s got a five star hotel foyer right above the gold.

"Drama, pathos, adventure and comedy…it’s rare for a script to have all those elements." producer Margot McDonald

Written by Bruce Hancock and Matthew Perry, the film is produced by REP and will be released in Australia around Christmas 1997.

Producer Margot McDonald says the script has "drama, pathos, adventure and comedy…it’s rare for a script to have all those elements."

And as Andreacchio says, "It’s a family genre film, and it’s adventure comedy, but it’s like the best of stories, it has not only a strong plot line but a strong thematic line: it’s something I’ve always felt really necessary in family genre films. Some people think that making family movies is just froth and bubble, and everyone has a good time and that’s it. Whereas if you look at the best examples, like ET or even Raiders, there is a strong thematic line that travels through the film. In this the plot is this boy goes out in search for this treasure; metaphorically, it’s actually the search for that elusive treasure we are all looking for. It raises the question ‘What is it to be rich?’ This film answers it by saying that true wealth is to be found in relationships. So we set up the plot of the story with the pirate treasure and the bird, but when you look at it the bird becomes like Jiminy Cricket, partly conscience, partly the character the boy would like to be like. The bird and Sam are like two character sides of the same coin."

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