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:: Spotlight :: Suburban Mayhem - Interview with Emily Barclay and Paul Goldman

By: Carmine Pascuzzi

Suburban Mayhem” is one of the more powerful Australian films in recent years and will be remembered for a terrific acting performance by young actress Emily Barclay as a rebellious single mother. The film is directed by Paul Goldman and it has just received twelve nominations for the upcoming Australian Film Institute (AFI) Awards in December. I had the opportunity to speak with Emily and Paul whilst they were in Melbourne recently.

Q.I am interested in judging the film from a human services point of view. What would such people think about Suburban Mayhem and what it shows on screen?

A.(Paul)The style of the film is not natural. It’s heightened realism. People probably think it’s an exaggeration but I don’t think it’s too much of an exaggeration. Many people who we’ve met at discussion forums know a lot of Katrinas out there.

The film holds up a mirror to society. There’s no huge political agenda. You try to avoid stereotype. A lot of those people could have been depicted in the way of working class, white trash stereotypes. There’s more to it. The film intersects with class – Katrina, her father, and her brother live in a lower middle class. They are not blue collar working class people. Katrina is a child of the times – the monster child of John Howard and Kim Beasley. In our current culture, people are enticed with this idea that they have some kind of entitlement to the material world of society. You’re told, through reality television, that all these things are aspirational and within your grasp. Here’s a young girl that takes it to the next level. She feels she is entitled to everything. She wants it now. The world owes her. Katrina simply decides that she’ll go out there and take it. She doesn’t care about the consequences. She is a product of the culture we live in.

We’ve met plenty of girls who have seen the film and they come out titillated and empowered by Katrina. That character is unique in Australian cinema. Here’s a girl who is a sociopath and gets away with it. Most characters like that get their comeuppance – they either repent or pay a strong price. We weren’t profound about it. Emily’s portrayal is so powerful that you walk out of the cinema with lots of questions. People want this to be a moral tale. There are plenty of Katrinas out there. The violence shown is an accurate portrayal of the violence out there in some suburbs.

Q.You must have been excited to have scored such a part?

A.(Emily)Yes, I really wanted the role. Katrina is an exciting character and I thought that it would be greatly challenging to play her. Katrina is a wild, crazy and lawless person. It is a dream role.

Q.Has the role changed your own personality at all?

A.(Emily)I think that playing that character has had some effect on me. It was an amazing experience but it didn’t make me look at the world in a different way. We all know people like Katrina, Rusty and Danny.

(Paul)The problem in that house is that you have a father who can’t cope with these two wild kids. He doesn’t know how to lay down boundaries. It gets right out of control.

Q.I was impressed by the supporting cast, in particular, Mia at just 16 years of age. It will be difficult to escape from the fact that Emily dominates the film…

A.(Paul)It’s nice to recognise the other characters. Emily’s performance comes courtesy of the others lifting the bar all the time. We all worked hard together. There was an amazing bond between the cast members, and their association with Alice Bell, the writer, who was just 24 when she started working on the script.

Q.What was it like being blonde?

A.(Emily)You’re the first person that has asked me that question. I had spent two hours in the make-up truck putting a wig on. It was very time consuming. Boys loved me. I quite liked it. I might go blonde again one day.

Q.What’s the lasting impression audiences will have?

A.(Emily)We can learn so much about ourselves and who we are, and what we’re doing.

(Paul)At one point, the film is about a bunch of men trying to control one young woman – the boyfriend, the father, the cop, etc. Katrina is a wild, wicked, free-thinking force of nature.

Q.What did your family think of your role?

A.(Emily)My parents really loved the film. My friends also loved it. It can be daunting as they are the opinions you care about most.

Q.The film seemed to be well received overseas this year…

A.(Paul)The film went to Cannes and Toronto and Alice has already won a scriptwriting award. We had an amazing public response at those two festivals. We got mixed reviews from the American trade magazines who thought the film was immoral. But we had three packed out public screenings n Toronto and some great reviews.

Q.You now have 12 nominations for the upcoming AFI Awards, although Best Film was not among them. Still you must be pleased…

A.(Paul) It’s like Hollywood when you’re littered with films not getting Best Director nominations. This time we haven’t scored a Best Film nomination.

Q.How do you see the state of play with Australian films? It seems to have been a good time recently.

A.(Emily)It’s an exciting time for Australian films. People have been taking more risks on subject matter.

(Paul)There has been a huge variety of voices. This year includes Ten Canoes, Jindabyne, Kenny, Candy, and our film. It’s an enormous variety. These are films that can mean different things to different audiences. For a while, the industry was much homogenised. We were making superficial, lightweight comedies.

The tide has turned and I believe that there will be a year, in the next few, where we’ll have one great film after another. Winning back the audience’s trust is hard too, after some times of ordinary films. People want value for money when they go to the cinema.

With Suburban Mayhem we’ve targeted the 16-28 age group and that makes up the largest percentage of the movie-going public.

Q.The music was an important ingredient for the film…

A.(Emily)Yes, it was fantastic. Its flow and energy worked well within the film’s script.

(Paul)I’ve worked with Mick Harvey for a long time and it was an important part of the film. The loud rock track at the start declares where the film is going.

Q.The interviews throughout the film also worked well…

A.(Emily)Doing them was great. I really enjoyed it. I shot mine on the very last day of shooting. I felt very comfortable in Katrina’s skin and it seemed to flow really well. It was a great way to tell the story.

(Paul)It’s a very efficient way of telling it and getting the different perspectives. It adds another texture to the film – very enjoyable.

Q.Was acting always something you wanted to do?

A.(Emily)I always loved acting at school but I never really thought that I would make a career out of it. I started going to university and wanted to be an archaeologist. Then I got a film role, travelled overseas and worked, before returning to do Suburban Mayhem. I moved to Sydney early this year.

Q.What’s been happening since Suburban Mayhem?

A.(Emily)I now have an American agent which is exciting. She sends me scripts from there. I love American independent films – my favourite. I’ve been auditioning for various things and am doing a film in England early next year about the Bronte sisters, with a good British cast. I’ll also be doing an Australian film later next year.

Q.How do you see your development as a director, having done three feature films in the past five years?

A.(Paul)I like working hard. There are some films you put your heart and soul into, particularly “Australian Rules” and “Suburban Mayhem” – both personal films to me. I’m now weighing up what to do next. I want to be busy. The other film I did, “The Night We Called It A Day”, was an experiment; very hard to make and there was great expectations about it. I don’t have many fond memories of it but it’s interesting how many people like it.

I’ve got a few offers now and I’ve developed a few very personal projects. You’re only as good as your last film. It was important to make a film like Suburban Mayhem as I really cared about it. Hopefully it will be successful. It was clear at the outset that it was a strong original voice. The potential and ambition for the project was enormous.


“Suburban Mayhem” is currently screening on general release.