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P. J. Hogan found inspiration for Muriel Heslop in his own misery, he tells Andrew L. Urban, as his sensationally successful debut feature, Murielís Wedding, is released on a 10th Anniversary Collectors Edition DVD.

Unemployed and unappreciated, Paul J. Hogan was in a seriously 'down' period back in 1988, and he would sit forlornly at his favourite Melbourne coffee shop, pondering and introspecting. Across the road, a bridal wear shop had fresh faced young women coming and going: "I got fascinated by the girls going in and getting transformed into brides," he says, no longer feeling quite so depressed. "What if one was an imposter? I wondered. Unwanted, but wanting something ..."

"the trigger for Muriel's Wedding"

This was the trigger for Muriel's Wedding, in which Muriel (Toni Collette) does indeed impersonate a bride-to-be at several shops, by way of manufacturing the sensation of being wanted and loved.
"I wanted to put a character like Muriel on the screen...I'd had enough of the homogenised, beautiful leads characterised by an act of heroism. I wanted to see a character like I once felt - not good for anything, but with a desire to be noticed. She doesn't have a talent for anything except being herself. And I put a value on that. It's really a crushed bud who wanted to bloom..."

Shy, a bit overweight and desperate to be wanted, Muriel lives in sunny, suburban Porpoise Point, part of the dysfunctional Heslop family dominated by a father who thinks his wife and kids are all useless. She dreams of a Prince Charming, and wants to belong to a group of sexy young girls who have no trouble finding boyfriends - albeit for the wrong reasons. She finds temporary refuge in ABBA songs, until propelled by temptation to really escape. But still she seeks the impossible dream, until jolted into the realisation that she is what she is - and that is the beginning of Muriel's life in bloom.

"I never believed that life and farce are mutually exclusive - they're much the same in fact," Hogan says, explaining why the film stitches together naturalism and elements of farce, comedy and tragedy, with such ease. 

But as he readily admits, he was blessed with a superb cast, including Collette, Bill Hunter, Rachel Griffiths, Jeanie Drynan, and all the others. 

"10th anniversary"

It is the 10th anniversary of Murielís Wedding (marked by the release of a 10th Anniversary Collectors Edition DVD), and 20 years since Hogan graduated from the Australian Film Television and Radio School. Murielís Wedding was his first feature film; it was selected to screen in Directors Fortnight at Cannes, and opened Hollywood doors for Hogan, who went on to direct Julia Roberts, Cameron Diaz and Rupert Everett in My Best Friendís Wedding (1997). He cast Rachel Griffiths in a support role; her first US film. The following year (1998) Collette had a large support role in Todd Haynesí Velvet Goldmine, but it was another year before she landed the first leading role in a major international film: The Sixth Sense. Also in 1998, Griffiths landed her first leading role in a UK film, Divorcing Jack. In fact she made four films that year, the biggest being Hilary & Jackie, playing Hilary du Pre.

Hogan went on to direct Unconditional Love (2002) with Rupert Everett, Kathy Bates, Peter Sarsgaard and Lynn Redgrave, and then the revived Peter Pan (2003). He is now working on Letís Make Friends, a comedy about a privileged yuppie who pines for a best friend, and encounters a water deliveryman who'll do anything to fit the bill, including turning his own life and marriage inside out. 

Published November 25, 2004

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Hogan on set

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