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Mullet is something of a historical mirror of David Caesar’s emotional innards, he tells Andrew L. Urban, and marks a major turning point for him.

David Caesar is a bloke. He’s on the large, tall side, and has a blokey face. The sort of face and build that comes from any country town in Australia. It’s weathered a few storms, and seen a few good times. It’s also been a pot of anger, but these days, with a baby son and a steady relationship, a new insight is lighting up his work.

“I think a lot about what I write,” he says as we settle into a corner table at Sydney’s Dendy bar and restaurant for yet another of our chats. (We’ve done this a few times now, each time about his career as a filmmaker. Not long ago, it was on camera for the ABC documentary Brilliant careers, celebrating the AFTRS’ 25th anniversary; Casear had been one of the students.) “It’s what I see as the dilemma of my generation. It’s about action and defining yourself. You’re angry at the world but really it’s just your own problems deep down inside you. That’s what interests me…”

“engaging, finely scripted and superbly performed”
His latest film, Mullet, is an engaging, finely scripted and superbly performed film about a young man (Ben Mendelsohn) returning to his little home town by the sea, after leaving it abruptly, in the middle of a relationship. His return ignites reactions and tensions, as it would. Mullet is a study of character – and not just the central one. The personal resonances made Mullet an important film for Caesar to make. “It was very important to me make this film before I made anything else. And I’m deeply glad I did. Yeah, I think it was cathartic…I am no longer angry and I think you should stop blaming outside factors, so then you can fix up your own problems. They’re mostly of my own doing, really,” he says, edging closer and closer to the confessional. . .

Mullet is “sort of autobiographical, in the sense that it’s about someone with overly romantic expectations about love and trying to become more realistic…”

He smiles. “This is a coming of age film for someone at 30, not 15. Bit tragic, but that’s the reality.”

“they both look intelligent on screen”
Caesar’s earlier films, like Idiot Box, are angrier and more violent. Mullet is more powerful. And also very funny in parts. He cast Ben Mendelsohn as Mullet “because he hankers for stuff with real meaning. He’s been handed the apple all his life,” says Caesar, “girls, parties, whatever….but they don’t amount to much. So he’s got that dilemma, the romantic star ideal, versus his own sensitivity and interest in big ideas. With Mullet I just had to put the camera on him and it was done.”

Playing Mullet’s ex-girlfriend, on the verge of marriage to Mullet’s best friend, (ex-friend), town copper Peter (Andrew Gilbert), is Susie Porter as Tully. “There’s something really honest about her; she can’t help her honesty – and they both look intelligent on screen.” After a short pause, Caesar smiles. “And in life, too!”

“I listen to the sounds of words”
As the script developed and changed, Caesar began to shape it more and more for his chosen cast, “pushing it towards their strengths as actors.”

As for the title (and the character name) it’s just a word thing. “I like the sound of it…I listen to the sounds of words. And some people think it’s great to eat (the fish) but others think it’s shit. Just like the characters in the film…”

“It’s got a comic tone and a fair bit of action”
Our chat is winding up, as Caesar is in pre-production on his next film, Dirty Deeds. “It’s a gangster pic set in Sydney in 1969 based on an incident when the Mafia tried to muscle in on a local gang. The central character is based on a real figure who died a few years ago…”

Produced and starring Bryan Brown, Dirty Deeds was seeded five years ago at the Toronto film festival. Brown was there with his film, Dead Heart (which he also produced and starred in) and Caesar was there with Idiot Box. “An ex girlfriend of mine had been a court reporter and I got intrigued by this story. We (Bryan and I) just had a natter and we agreed to do it. It’s got a comic tone and a fair bit of action . . .”

After the bitter sweet taste of Mullet, his palate yearns for a new taste sensation.

Published June 28, 2001

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