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Australians really are everywhere – even at Deauville, the town in Normandy where each year the Americans launch their French cinematic invasion, reports Helen Barlow. This year, Hugh Jackman and Heath Ledger led for Australia.

Situated on the windswept coast of Normandy, The Deauville Festival of American Cinema serves as the launchpad for US films into France. Numerous movies are shared with the Venice Festival, which runs simultaneously, and film-makers and actors head for the more relaxed environs of France after a more hectic time under the Venetian spotlight. This year, however, the festivals shared only Steven Spielberg's Artificial Intelligence (with Haley Joel Osment on the publicity trail after visiting Australia) and Larry Clarke's Bully (the director and his female stars, Rachel Miner and Bijou Phillips, came to Deauville).

The astounding thing though was Deauville's Australian flavour, as one journalist noted: "Australians are everywhere" at the moment in international film-making. Still, Heath Ledger and Hugh Jackman are not just anyone, and the two Australian stars added much needed glamour to the event. It became clear to the French (many of whom had not realised Jackman was an Ozzie) that Australian actors, including Russ the Gladiator, have captured the imagination as fully fledged hero material in American movies.

“Everyone trained hard as actors... I dressed up in a koala suit...”

Jackman, who looks even better in the flesh than on screen, told the assembled crowd at the Swordfish press conference: "The last time I answered this question I got into a lot of trouble, I got my ass kicked, because I was asked about the virility of Australian men and I trolloped out some answer about the outdoor lifestyle and that quote was translated to the Sydney Morning Herald which commented saying that Hugh Jackman was talking absolute bollocks about the most urbanised country in the world. And I thought touche. Who knows? I think really in Australia it's a small business. Everyone trained hard as actors, and got a job doing whatever they could. I myself did a lot of musicals I dressed up in a koala suit, for crying out loud. I think in a small country you have to be adaptable and that's where Hollywood and Australia work well together, because in any one day in Hollywood you can be a priest and a pimp--you can audition being anything."

Halle Berry piped in: "That's bullshit - they're just so cute. All of 'em." A round of applause ensued for the virtues of our home-grown stars.

The ever-charming Heath Ledger, presenting A Knight's Tale, looked the epitome of an Australian surfer, and made lighter of the Australian male conundrum. "I think it has something to do with the government investing quite a bit of money into this actors' factory in Australia. It's a special microchip they've implanted in the back of our brain as well as a microphone, which is handy, so they don't have to mike us up. We're diverse actors so we can play all those things. That's my only theory," he says with a chuckle. "Bill Gates is onto that and he's going to load up Hollywood anytime now." A pause. "I really don't know, it's such a hard question to answer, but I seriously I think it's the same thing about any foreigner playing an American role. They're playing an American character but underneath that is all the sense of humour, sensibility, the characteristics of the country where they're from. The Americans are just curious about THAT smuggled under the American accent, but I really don't know. I really don't know."

“… acting is reacting. The reaction is real”

The most significant event for Australian cinema in Deauville was the world premiere of Tempted, directed by Bill Bennett. Using the same improvisational technique he employed in Kiss Or Kill (starring Frances O'Connor and Matt Day) he gave Burt Reynolds and Saffron Burrows a one page scenario and had them improvise their scenes. In Deauville a surprisingly sprightly, tall and imposing Reynolds presented the film at its premiere, and in what was a career tribute, he also spoke about his trials and tribulations-and there have been many throughout his career. Clearly, he and Burrows had a wonderful experience making Tempted, as Reynolds now appears with her in Hotel, directed by her boyfriend-partner and constant collaborator, Mike Figgis. Burroughs appreciates that like Figgis, Bennet comes from a documentary background. "We didn't rehearse, so we wouldn't know what the next moment would be," she says.

Adds Reynolds: "When I was under contract a hundred years ago I spent a lot of time watching Spencer Tracey making Inherit The Wind, and he never ever said a line exactly the same way. The reason was not to throw the other actor, it was a gift, because acting is reacting. The reaction is real. It's not fake because he doesn't know it's coming. So in that sense it was thrilling. The big problem with Tempted was to have the other actors stay with the story, stay with everybody, because obviously, no offence, but I wouldn't have wanted Robin Williams in the middle of the scene."

“There are those Australians again”

Tempted had those tell-tale Bennett trademarks: a thriller with multiple twists, a female protagonist, a rural setting, scenes in moving cars and frequent visual flourishes. The response among the attending press was mixed, but everyone agreed that the performances were more than convincing. Set in a murky New Orleans environment surrounded by swampland, the story tells of Reynolds' wealthy, terminally-ill husband, who offers a young man (Peter Facinelli) $50,000 if he can convince his wife to sleep with him. The rest of the story should not be told but suffice it to say that Reynolds gets the chance to play nasty (as we love him) and Burroughs is smart and sexy as always (like in the upcoming Enigma and previously in Deep Blue Sea).

Also world premiering at the Festival was World Traveller, by Bart Freundlich, who previously directed The Myth of Fingerprints, and whose partner, Julianne Moore, takes a supporting role. The film stars Billy Crudup as a confused, wondering soul, a man who has commitment anxiety and flees his family, and it's not completely dissimilar to Crudup's previous turn in Jesus's Son, directed by one-time Sydney resident, New Zealander, Alison Maclean. Crudup has since appeared in Gillian Armstrong's screen adaptation of Sebastian Faulks's novel, Charlotte Gray, alongside Cate Blanchett. There are those Australians again. It even seems that the film is being positioned in America to be released in time for the Oscars—and after the birth of Blanchett's baby.

Published September 13, 2001

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Hugh Jackman
(photo courtesy David Morgan)

Heath Ledger

Billy Crudup

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