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:: Spotlight :: Wolf Creek Interview - John Jarratt

By: Catherine Naghten

Those who know John Jarratt best from Better Homes and Gardens or McLeod’s Daughters are about to get a big shock. His outstanding performance as Mick Taylor in the terrifying Australian film Wolf Creek is turning heads both here and abroad. Catherine Naghten spoke to him in Melbourne.

How do you prepare for a role like that?

I just approach it like any other character. I give him a back-story from when they were born, right through to who his parents were, how he was brought up, who his friends were, his girlfriends, what his jobs were. It’s getting harder as I get older. I’m fifty years old, so I’ve got to give him fifty years. When I first started, it was only twenty. So I give him a history and then I get to page zero so that when I step onto page one of the script I know exactly where the hell I am. If I’ve done my homework properly I’ve got the human being right and away I go.

Did that also help you stay in character?

It always does yep. That, to me is the essence of a good acting performance - to know exactly what the human being’s all about, every tiny little aspect of them.

Is it difficult to leave a character like this end of the day?

This one was. Most characters I’ve ever done, I can usually find a fair bit of me. The part that I found really hard is the part that John Jarratt finds abhorrent in a human being but I had to feel comfortable with. The only way I could do that was to stay loosely in his clothes for the entire shooting. That’s on and off the set. Especially on the set, I’d get into make-up and wardrobe and turn into Mick…or vaguely into Mick. Not all the way into Mick (laughs). So when it was time to shoot a scene I didn’t have too far to get to where I needed to be. But if I’d come out as John Jarratt and had to get back into Mick…I mean he talks differently, he moves differently.

Where was it filmed?

Flinders Ranges and in and around Adelaide. It’s just like anywhere in the outback. It’s enticing, but you just sort of think, “ooh, it’s a bit dangerous.” It’s another character. I see it as five characters. There’s us four and the outback.

Did you have concerns working with a first time director?

I did when I first met him, because I thought this is a hell of an ask for $1.4 million and a high-def camera which I’d never worked with. I’d only worked with Panavision and 16mm and I wondered how you could get the drama of the Flinders Ranges with a high def camera. He said he’s going to get two Australians to play the English backpackers and I thought, “If they don’t pull that off we’re in trouble”. So I had a few reservations, but also sitting and talking to him I realised he was really bright and knew what he wanted. He’d also written a fantastic script.

Was that what finally convinced you?

Always. If I read a script and it doesn’t do anything for me, I won’t do it. This was a particularly fantastic script and I knew it could be a hit if he could get it on the screen. I was worried that he couldn’t get it on the screen, but he exploded it off the screen. Greg might be the best director I’ve ever worked with since Peter Weir

How was it working with the young cast?

They gave as good as they got, they served it up to me. They were very mature performances for young guys and I’m really proud of them. I was really lucky to have those guys to work off so that was another plus.

You’ve done quite a few films based on true stories. Was that something that attracted you to this film?

Australian Actors aren’t working towards anything like “I must do some more thrillers”, there’s far too little work. For an Australian actor who’s not internationally known, we’re just thankful that somebody’s offered us something and if it’s half-decent we’ll say “yeah, course we’ll do it, we’re bloody hungry.” (Laughs) We’ve got to put some food on the table and feed the kids, pay the mortgage, so any actor in this country who tells you otherwise is having you on. You just do what comes along. This was particularly good because it was one out of the books and I knew that the character of Mick was a gift.

The film claims it’s based on actual events. Is that an amalgamation of cases?

It’s not based on anything. It uses the techniques of various serial killers but the characters are not based on anyone specifically who is living or um, or dead.

Did it change the way you saw those cases?

I pretty well understood what those f**kers were up to it was just I had to observe it a lot more strongly than previously.

Was there much extra footage shot?

Greg is the kind of director who likes to let the scene run well and truly after cut, which is great. And we were all very diligent because he said, “we’ve got no time and no money, don’t turn up here not knowing your s**t.” So we all knew our lines really well which was great because we could play inside of that. He likes to let you play, so there was a fair bit of adlibbing

How did you come to be an actor and a builder?

I come from an Irish family so not only are they good working class folk – my dad’s a jack of all trades master of nothing, so if there’s another room needs putting on because another kid’s on the way, dad would build it, and do the wiring and the plumbing, he was also a coal miner and worked on the Snowy Mountains Scheme – but on the other side, they’re Irish, so it’s all singing all dancing and they love being in concerts. At the drop of a hat my mum will sing a song, even today. I did a concert at school in Longreach in central Queensland and gave myself all the best bits and all of that, and the headmaster Mr Spirit said, “Well John, I’ve finally figured out that you might be able to do something. You should become an actor, you’re really very good”. So he sowed the seed and I just hadn’t thought about it until he said it could be the way to go.

The role of Mick really challenges your ‘good Aussie bloke’ image. Does that concern you?

I don’t really think about it too much. It’s good to get a variety of work but as I said, in this country you’re just lucky to be working so the fact that I’m getting a variety of work is just a plus. That I can do good old Terry Dodger on McLeod’s Daughters and mad Mick Taylor is just great. I’m very lucky and the good thing is that nannas who really love Terry won’t go and see Wolf Creek so they’ll still be happy. And the younger people will go and see Wolf Creek and they’ll get that side of it, so it’ll work out fine.

Do you have anything coming up?

I do. I should’ve found out this morning whether I could mention it or not but I’ve got something happening in a minute (smiles secretively) and I’ve got a couple of offers for work next year.