PHILLIPS, NATHAN: TAKE AWAY
After starring in Australian Rules last year, Nathan Phillips has made an American fantasy film in China, a drama about the rave scene, a surfing movie and the Australian comedy Take Away. Here is a young actor who has a roadmap planned for the future. And acting isn’t the only road on the map, he tells Louise Keller.
Nathan Phillips is reclining on a chaise longue in a suite at Sydney’s W Hotel in what he describes as “rock star mode”, with spiky streaked hair, goatie beard and bare feet. ‘I hope you don’t mind….” he begins, but the 23 year old actor is clearly relishing every moment of the publicity tour.
"a comedy is such a different kettle of fish"
Dave, his character in Take Away, is anything but rock star-like. “He’s innocent. That was basically the key to the character,” he says. “Firstly, a comedy is such a different kettle of fish to a drama, and I hadn’t done a comedy before.”
After small roles in television series (Neighbours, Something In The Air, Saddle Club), Phillips hit the big screen in 2002 playing the lead role of Blacky, in Paul Goldman’s drama, Australian Rules, a moving story about small town life, a football final and racial prejudice. “There was a deep story arc and I had to discover the character, find the roots. They’re the layers of this person you’ve created,” he recalls.
“But as for Dave… I mean Dave is Dave – there is no arc. You look into the script and there is no back-story. What I learned about comedy is that it’s essentially not about the exploration of a character; it’s about exploration of relationships.”
As for similarities between Phillips and Dave, there was one: “I could deliver the line ‘I love fish ‘n chips’ very easily,’ he smiles. ‘There was no method behind the madness there. That was me, and that was probably the extent of it. I don’t think I’m that naďve, innocent, easy going or laid back. And I don’t think I could be content with just working in a fish and chips shop. Or I’d never have my hair like that either…” He pauses and laughs, realising that his hair is not very different to how it was in the film.
"in China, shooting Warriors of Virtue II"
Phillips found out that he had been offered the role of Dave when he was in China, shooting Warriors of Virtue II with New Zealand actor, the late Kevin Smith, who died tragically after finishing the film. “I had been in China working six days a week, speaking Chinese (or trying to), playing an American, doing stunt fighting, wire work, martials arts, having real fire balls thrown at me and eating God know what I was eating some days…”
He pauses and shakes his head, still shocked from the death of Smith, who he considered a really dear friend. “He was an amazing actor, a humble giant among men,” he says. “I got off the plane from China, and within 24 hours had my hair dyed and was on the set of Take Away.”
“It was a weird experience. Here I am getting catered for, eating food that I was once very familiar with, speaking to Stephen Currie - the guy from the Castle; speaking to Vince Colossimo - the guy from the Wog Boy; speaking to Rose Byrne – who’s not only a real hottie, but the chick from Two Hands. I thought – I know you guys, but you guys don’t know me.”
Phillips really enjoyed the experience and sharing laughs with “a whole group of beautiful people.”
“I was fully aware I might only see these people for these 8 weeks of my life. So I wanted to enjoy that. Soak it up. Because that’s the beautiful thing about the job. To go to an emotional place that’s very unfamiliar, but with people who are doing the same thing as you. And essentially, they’re all as courageous as each other, because they are all doing a job that is so competitive, confronting, challenging and bearing of the soul.”
He pauses, looks around the room and out at the view over Woolloomoolloo Wharf with a wave of his hand. “I mean, look at me now. I’m sitting in this wicked hotel. And it’s all because of what I’ve chosen to do. But at the same time I’m not going to forget the hardness and reality and that next week I’m back at Uni in Brisbane living in a garage.”
"I never went looking for America"
After the success of Australian Rules at Sundance, Phillips went to LA. “I never went looking for America. It kinda came to me really quickly. I was auditioning over there, and lived there last year for 3 months…” where he found the audition process “so different.”
“There is so much production going on there. So many actors. It’s crazy. Everyone’s an actor, or an aspiring actor, as he remembers his first audition.
“It was on camera. And I go ok. Ready now. I thought it was just a read through. Then they said ‘ok see you later’…. What? No I’m ready now. No, that was it! That’s how quick and ruthless it is! But that’s fine. It’s just part of the process and a learning curve. I don’t care if I never get another job in America or make it but just being there and being part of it to say I’ve done that is buzz enough.”
As soon as we start to talk about his next project, One Perfect Day, Phillips sits up and his body language changes completely. One Perfect Day, directed by Paul Currie and written by Currie and Chip Richards, is a story of self-discovery set in the modern rave culture, and also stars Dan Spielman, Leanna Walsman, Kerry Armstrong and Abbie Cornish.
“I’m very proud and excited about that film. I’d rate it up there with Australian Rules in terms of the craft, what I got out of it, and for what I learned. It was a different style of filmmaking than I’d ever worked on. It was guerrilla shooting.
“It would have been easy to play a dark type of drug person, but I’d like to think that everyone has a bit of beauty in them. I managed to find some magic in this guy called Trig, who became a vivacious, energetic ball of craziness. I lived it, and just loved it. I really took it on. Paul Currie, the director is amazing. Passion. That’s the thing. When you have someone at the helm who is passionate, who believes in the story and believes in what they’re doing, it’s infectious. And it caught on.”
"One Perfect Day: It’s going to rock"
With its release date currently scheduled for October/November 2003, Phillips is looking forward to having it seen by an Australian audience. “It’s going to rock,” he says. “It’s never been done before - a musical set in the rave scene. It’s essentially a story about love, death, anger, revenge, hate. All those essential key emotions. They are tough places to be, but the story is like a page of music. You hit the notes and that’s how the film goes. It’s like an orchestra. Every piece is playing magically.”
Currently in post-production is Phillips next project, a film about surfing called Under the Radar, directed by Evan Clarrie, in which Phillips stars alongside Steady Eddy, Clayton Watson and Chloe Maxwell. Phillips plays an ignorant young wanna-be superstar; “I’m addicted to surfing now – the hair, the constant tan… I’m very fit. I worked out for the role.”
After that, it looks as though there is another comedy on the cards, says Phillips. “I wasn’t sure about doing a comedy again because I didn’t get the rewards that I got from Australian Rules. I’d walk home after a day on the set of Australian Rules and I’d know what the day’s work was, and I had worked hard for one day’s pay. Take Away, after seeing it for the first time last week in Brisbane, I can see now that the rewards are the laughs. Like in theatre, when you walk on stage, you know if you’re stinking or not, and that’s what comedy’s all about. If you missed that beat, or you know if you hit that line perfectly, that’s the beauty of comedy.
“I wanted to be a footy player. …that was hardest part of Australian Rules – I was a bad footy player in the film. My mates just loved that… It was just like how I wanted to kiss Rose Byrnes in Take Away. That didn’t happen either. Pretty funny eh? First thing I asked when I read the script - do I kiss Rose Byrnes? No…” He shrugs.
“But she’s beautiful. How can you not love a job where you meet someone like that? She’s one of the boys. I call her Rambling Rose…she’s beautiful and so funny and she can do everything.”
"a road map that’s written and all mapped out"
But beyond that, Phillips has a road map that’s written and all mapped out.
“That’s not just on an acting level – that’s on the huge scale of taking on the world….” He says. “I am keen to do lots of travelling and I want to learn a lot of languages. I can speak Japanese quite well and a few other languages a bit, but I want to see the world and get to know as much of the world as possible.”
Phillips pauses and almost speaks to himself. “Half the game is finding something you enjoy; the other half is finding someone to enjoy it with.”
And has he found someone? For the first time Phillips loses the confident brashness and becomes almost shy. “Yes. She’s saving money to come travelling with me next year. She’s a bit of everything. She’s an artist. Basically she makes trees smile at me. She’s got that magic. She’s beautiful. And she designs clothes. She’s one of those people who can do anything.”
They met in Byron Bay about seven months ago. “I’m very young I know, but these things can’t be helped. I didn’t think I’d ever be in a relationship, actually. (laughs) But this has happened. It was only supposed to be a summer romance – we were both aware of that. But you can’t control these things. I wrote her a song and my friends performed it for her. She has definitely made me a romantic, yeah! I just saw Amelie with her and was so inspired.”
Phillips has plenty of aspirations and directing is one of them. He has just produced his own short film The Opposite of Velocity starring Tom Budge which will be seen at all the upcoming short film festivals.
But now, after a quick publicity tour in Melbourne for Take Away, Phillips heads back to Brisbane for the final three months of his arts degree at the University of Queensland. He may even teach literature or drama one day.
"I feel as though I’m earning my stripes"
“If someone asks what I do? I don’t call myself an actor. I call myself a student. If they ask of what, I say ‘of life’. Which is a probably a bit tossy, but I’m now warming to the idea of calling myself an actor because I feel as though I’m earning my stripes. I really love what I do and I believe in what I do.”
But for now Phillips is keen to meet Jason Biggs, who is just down the hall doing interviews for American Pie: The Wedding. “How cool is that?” he muses, as he jumps to his feet and heads for the door.
Published August 14, 2003
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Nathan Phillips in Take Away
Under The Radar interview
... as Trig in One Perfect Day
... with in Luke Carroll in Australian Rules
... as Dave in Take Away
... with Rose Byrne in Take Away