Note to self. If you ask actor John Jarratt a question, you better be prepared for a direct answer.
The veteran actor, currently appearing in Stan’s Wolf Creek, doesn’t mince his words. With a list of credits as long as your arm, there probably wasn’t much point in my asking if reviving Mick Taylor caused concerns about being typecast. Somehow I went there anyway.
“There is a bit of a double-edge sword,” he replies. “There are people thinking ‘Let’s get Jarratt!’ There’s a little bit of that going on in the small-minded producers in this country.
“I get a lot of shit. About three a week. Someone with a bucket of blood and a chain saw, with a couple of hundred bucks from their grandfather and a sheep.
“But I’m not whinging. I’m 63 and I’ve got this iconic character. As an actor everyone wants that. I’m sure Stallone’s happy to run around as Rocky and Harrison Ford is pretty cool about Indiana Jones. So I’ve got mine. It’s nice to know you’ve come up with something iconic in your career.”
“They dodged it and they didn’t do their job”
Indeed he has. Greg McLean’s Wolf Creek has been a hit since it debuted in 2005. It triggered a 2013 feature sequel so extreme that Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton refused to review it on ABC’s At the Movies. Jarratt was critical of the snub then, and remains critical still.
“I call them Nanna Stratton and Poppa Pomeranz.
“They’ve been great over the years, and champions of anti-censorship and fighting the cause. But then they censor my film?” he asks.
“I would have been much happier if they gave us minus 5 stars and went to town on it, than not review it.
“But as far as the film was concerned… thank you! When Margaret was badgered about it she said, ‘Well they couldn’t have had better publicity. I did them a favour!’ And she’s right. But from a professional point of view, and a principal point of view, they dodged it and they didn’t do their job and they should be ashamed of themselves.
“But from a marketing point of view, fantastic! Please don’t review the next one.”
It should be noted Stratton did review the film in The Australian, describing its ‘torture porn’ as “manipulative and ugly.”
For Stan’s big budget debut drama Jarratt admits to apprehension it would work as a mini-series.
“I was thrown by it actually. I couldn’t see how it was going to work. So I read the scripts and I ate my words. They’re excellent scripts and it’s turned into an exceptional series, as far as I’m concerned.
“And this amazing bloody actress is going to put Cate Blanchett out of work.”
He is referring, of course, to actor Lucy Fry who shares the screen with him in the 6 episodes that turns a horror feature into a revenge mini-series.
Fry, who has appeared in Vampire Academy, The Darkness and Mako: Island of Secrets plays American tourist Eve, whose family is massacred by Mick Taylor.
“It’s a pretty intimidating task to have this iconic Australian anti-hero and go on a journey to take him down. How am I going to meet that? So I certainly put my all into it, to be enough of a competition to John,” she explains.
“In some ways she is an isolated, lonely character. Even when she is with people she feels so far away from them because of Mick and what’s going on around her.
“As it goes along she becomes less of a victim. By the end she has to be as menacing as Mick in order to have any kind of chance.”
Both actors were required to dig deep for action and horror scenes, filmed in South Australia. Jarratt, who clearly has more experience in the genre, took much of it his stride.
“When I gutted the kangaroos they were a bit whiffy,” he recalls.
“I think it’s the first time an animal has been gutted on television, in a drama. Then I threw the guts all over the place and everyone just about threw up.”
Nice. Fry underwent a similar encounter with a rabbit.
“It’s the first time I’ve done something like that. It was an experience,” she admits.
“‘Shit, Mick just winked at that woman!”
I ask both how they cope as actors in filming intense scenes. Jarratt has developed a clear approach to the shoot -pardon the pun.
“I loosely stay in the Mick zone through the whole thing. It’s hard to explain. I go home and I’m John with my wife, but I’m aware I have to be in the Mick zone. It doesn’t worry me because he’s such a fun guy. He’s not angst-ridden,” he explains.
“I don’t consider myself a method actor, but there are certain characters you have to go there. Other characters I don’t.
“If it was method acting you’d have to go and kill somebody wouldn’t you?”
Trust me, that’s not a question you want put to you by Jarratt, even if he is out of character. I turn to Lucy Fry to help me out, fast.
“I wish I was better at going in and out of it. But if you’ve had a heavy day it’s hard to shake it off, sometimes. I was filming from early in the morning to very late at night so I would go home, learn my lines, go to sleep and do it again. So I never really had time to shake it off. But that was great because it helped me stay in ‘Eve,” she reveals.
“I winked at a woman, and I wouldn’t do that,” interjects Jarratt. “I was walking along the street in Gawler and a really gorgeous-looking woman walked up the hill. And I realised ‘Shit, Mick just winked at that woman!’ But it wasn’t me! I wouldn’t do that.”
I’m relieved to hear it. Lastly, if rather foolishly, I ask Jarratt how, as an actor, he justifies Mick Taylor’s malevolent, apathetic character. How did Mick get to be so violent without any apparent conscience?
“I have a solid back-story from when he was in nappies to what I call ‘page zero’ –just before page one of the script. I know exactly who he is,” he assures me.
“We do find out a little bit more about him, but if you said to Mick, ‘Tell us about your mother,’ he’d punch you in the face.
“You won’t get it out of Mick.
“He’s just a psychopath. He kills backpackers because they’re vermin. Like all the vermin in the outback, only a bit more fun.”
Wolf Creek is now available on Stan.