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:: Spotlight :: Interview with Les Chantery of the film Cedar Boys

By: Carmine Pascuzzi

Les Chantery is a star on the rise in acting circles. The Los Angeles-based Australian has the lead role in the powerful Australian drama Cedar Boys. The film is the feature debut of writer/director Serhat Caradee and follows a trio of Australian-Lebanese men who steal thousands of ecstasy pills and get themselves thrown into a scenario of crime and violence. Les Chantery’s previous work includes Hollywood sci-fi film Pitch Black and Righteous Kill. He is to be seen in Ridley Scott’s upcoming Kingdom Come. I had the opportunity to have a chat to Les about coming home to make Cedar Boys.

Before we talk about Cedar Boys, you had a role in the film Righteous Kill, which starred Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino. Tell us about that experience?

The director put me in the film as a favour. When I first went to Los Angeles I went without the intention to act. I went on a scholarship from NIDA to study filmmaking. I made a short film that he saw. He saw me act in the film and asked me to come to New York for a small role in a film he was doing. I thought, “Who is this guy?” I did some research and he seemed credible. He was a producer on Risky Business amongst other things. The film was made in Connecticut and he put me in this tiny role. I couldn’t believe it when Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro came in to do scenes. This was a dream – absolutely incredible. I was so nervous. It was interesting – DeNiro is incredibly shy and quiet while Pacino is thirty cups of coffee. It was amazing to be with two of the greatest actors of all time. At least I was taller than both of them, and I’m not that tall.

Tell us about how you got involved in Cedar Boys?

I read the script back in 2003 and said no. I didn’t want to play the role. There was a danger of being a stereotyped Lebanese guy - the way the media depicts them. I had just finished at NIDA and wanted to steer away from something that might typecast me. So when Serhat (the director) sent me the script later on, he said he wanted the character to be vulnerable and innocent. I thought that was interesting – the fact that here is a Lebanese guy who becomes a drug dealer. He starts off very innocently. So it was a more challenging, complex role. It was very different for me – much more

So this film was written six years ago?

Yes, Serhat had trouble getting finance to make it because people thought he wasn’t getting professional actors to play the roles. It’s funny that this film and The Combination (released earlier this year) were both written about the same time – similar themes.

So you obviously had a think about it and decided to take part?

Serhat rang me in Los Angeles and asked me to consider the role. I’d forgotten about it over the years but I was happy to come back to Australia and play Tarek. It was coincidental that Rachael Taylor, being a good friend of mine, was around and I showed her the script. It wasn’t a lead, but her character was complicated. She wanted to do it. It was a perfect opportunity for us.

What was it like on set?

There was an amazing vibe on set – like a family. The two guys alongside me were friends I’d known a while ago through the acting scene. We’re like brothers. The relationship with Serhat was the right balance in how we challenged each other. We didn’t see eye to eye on everything but we had trust in each other. Everything was done with passion. We had a multi-racial cast – a good hybrid of our Australian culture. People relate to the characters as a real-life situation.

What lessons should we take from the film?

It’s about any group of outsiders in a community, either for your religion, sex, age, etc. The lesson is about choice. We all have a choice but we need to be very careful about it. Not everybody has the right choice. I don’t condone any character, but I feel sorry for him because of this. Everyone has that point where they want something. He wanted a label in which he could not fit into society but ended up with one he wanted to avoid. It’s quite an interesting path. People came up to me after screenings and hugged me and felt sorry for me – a drug dealer! I sat back and understood why there was sympathy for me.

What has the reaction been like in western Sydney, in particular?

There has been extraordinary reaction to the film in western Sydney – especially to the comedy of the film. Those elsewhere weren’t as spontaneous to what was happening.

The music of the film is important to the atmosphere…

The music is like another character in the film. Serhat found local Lebanese Australian singer-songwriters. You will also hear Middle Eastern beats and some rap music for the nightclub scenes. There is music everywhere in the film – in the panel beater’s shop, nightclub, house, etc.

What have you been doing since this film?

After this, I worked on a TV show called East West 101. I’m pretty much based in America now. I’d love to work here more but there haven’t been the scripts. I’d like to see the writing get more edgy. I’ve had a bit of luck in Los Angeles so far and it’s easier not to be typecast in ethnic roles like I am in Australia. In America I am a generic actor. The opportunities, obviously, are wider. You go where the work is and I’ve been able to make many friends.

"Cedar Boys" is now showing in cinemas across Australia