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:: Spotlight :: Beautiful - Interview with director Dean O’Flaherty and actress Peta Wilson

By: Carmine Pascuzzi

Beautiful’ is a film that suits his title like no other in history. An amazing film it manages to capture the dark beauty we normally expect from directors such as Sam Mendes or David Lynch. But all the praise in the world doesn’t stop writer/director Dean O’Flaherty from being stressed out when I speak to him. ‘A car is coming to pick me up in a few minutes and they’ve lost my clothes… I’m supposed to be dressing.’ O’Flaherty is heading for further press opportunities and his stress is a stark contrast to one of his stars of ‘Beautiful’, Peta Wilson whom I had caught up with 48 hours earlier. But they did have two things in common, admiration for each other and an excitement about their new film, ‘Beautiful’.

‘Dean found me, we talked and then fell in like with each other. He is my brother from another mother… he’s special and I could work with him forever,’ says Wilson looking as excited as a schoolgirl. ‘I think beautiful is lovely… it’s like an Australian version of American Beauty.’ Wilson is one of Australia’s success stories. She has an established career in the U.S. where she has had the lead role in the hit TV show ‘La Femme Nikita’ and starring in films such as ‘A League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen’ and ‘Superman Returns’. However this is her first Australian film. So did returning to Australia to do a film daunt her? ‘It was actually really great to be back in Australia,’ she says. ‘Working with Dean didn’t daunt me either. I feel synonymous in the States, but I feel like the insider here… nobody knows me.’

So would she like to make more films here? ‘Absolutely… I really hope I get to work here. I don’t care if it’s as a producer or an actor… I just don’t want to be seen as taking other people’s jobs.’

O’Flaherty has taken a similar journey to Wilson. He has already found success in the film industry making many prestigious and landmark acquisitions in distribution and sales including ‘Irreversible’, ‘2:37’, ‘Noise’ and the award winning ‘4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days’, however this is his first feature as a director/writer, so how hard was it to take that step up? ‘It was a challenge but it was okay… I had made short films in the past so I knew what to expect.’

Having spent so long working in the industry O’Flaherty is more than aware of the box office failure of several critically acclaimed Australian films recently. ‘I think there is still a stigma about Australian films, but there is also the tall-poppy syndrome. I think Australians need to learn to embrace their cinema the same way the French have theirs’.

If any film has the potential to buck the trend then it should be ‘Beautiful’. This edgy film consists of beautiful cinematography and a story that affects all of us. O’Flaherty quickly describes where he got the idea of a film that looks at neighbours watching neighbours. ‘Some is based on things from my childhood… like the girl at the window, but the central idea came from a sign on a bus stop after 9/11. One of the Government’s signs telling people to tell on their neighbours if they were doing anything suspicious… that was incredibly perverse to me.’

O’Flaherty turns such a complex story into a visually stunning film that is only enhanced by a cast that not only includes Wilson, but also Deborra-Lee Furness, Tahyna Tozzi, Aaron Jeffrey, Erik Thompson, Asher Keddie, Socratis Otto and Sebastian Gregory (better known as a member of Melbourne band ‘Menace’.) So was it hard to put together a stellar cast. ‘Surprisingly it wasn’t,’ says O’Flaherty. ‘I am embarrassed to say this but they each read the script and wanted to do the film… please don’t take that as me saying my script is so great. I do have to add that the cast was terrific to work with.’

Wilson backs that comment up but denies that she mentored the younger cast members. ‘Of course I tried to make the younger cast members like Tahyna comfortable but I think I learn as much from them as they did from me. The whole cast and crew felt like a family, there were times when a shot would end and there would be hugs and tears, and then other times it was fun, like adult dress-ups… which I guess acting is in a way.’

It is hard to imagine ‘Beautiful’ failing at the cinemas. It has everything working in it’s favour, a great cast, visually stunning and a story with enough twists and turns to keep any film fan going. Just don’t tell O’Flaherty that you give the film five stars. ‘Man, that really embarrasses me,’ he laughs. In fact the one thing that hits you when interviewing both O’Flaherty and Wilson is not only there honesty but how genuine they are both are. Both interviews turned into long conversations about films, actors and directors that we look up to, but it’s not only learning of a five star rating that embarrasses O’Flaherty. I tell him that his film reminds me of a mixture of David Lynch and Alfred Hitchcock’s style in a way that no other film ever has. ‘Really? Are you joking? They are both filmmakers that I have always looked up to but have never though I would be compared. I saw the film to be in the style of Tim Burton…but I love what you said… can I use it?’

When the talk turns to famous directors I ask him what advice he has for young filmmakers ‘You really just need to get out there and make things… just do it, that’s all I can say. People should just make what they feel. If this film inspires people to make things then I am happy for that to happen.’

O’Flaherty certainly has gone out there and done ‘it’. He has created one of the most beautiful films that this country has ever seen but that doesn’t stop him from being nervous about it’s release. ‘I am so nervous about it… I’d like to say I’m not… but I am. This is like putting your child out there for everyone to see… for them to see and criticize.’

‘Beautiful’ opens in cinemas in March and is highly recommended from this reviewer.

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