In one of those rare success stories that sounds like something out of a movie itself, eighteen-year-old South Australian Lucas Pittaway was approached in public and asked to audition for a role in an upcoming film. Without any acting experience or even aspirations toward a career in performing arts, Pittaway not only landed the role, but has since received a lot of attention and acclaim for his performance – kick-starting an acting career in the process. Snowtown, which was filmed in the northern suburbs of Adelaide, has received praise at both Cannes and the Adelaide Film Festival. Pittaway plays Jamie Vlassakis, a young boy befriended by his sinister new father figure: South Australia’s notorious serial killer John Bunting. We caught up with Pittaway over the phone while he was working on a short film in Sydney, just before the national release of Snowtown.
Cut Print Review: Congratulations on winning the Audience Award at the Adelaide Film Festival. How did you feel when the film received all that praise?
Lucas Pittaway: I was quite excited about it, really. In a way, I wasn’t too surprised, because the first time I watched it I felt this sense of weight on me – I realized, “This is quite a heavy film, and I’m going to be representing it!” I didn’t think we’d get into Cannes though. That is just unbelievable.
CPR: I heard that you were actually discovered by the filmmakers in your local shopping centre. Is that true?
LP: Yes, I was in The Reject Shop and I saw this lady talking to my brother, so I walked up and she said she’d like to have a quick interview with me. And so I had an interview about living in the area, what it’s like there, and then they asked me to go for an audition at the local civic centre. And the audition wasn’t reading lines, it wasn’t anything like I’d ever heard of. It was just me and Daniel [Henshall, who plays John Bunting] sitting in a room in front of the camera just having a chat with a little bit of an agenda, seeing how we responded to each other, and how I felt in front of the camera.
CPR: That leads into my next question, about improvisation. Was that something you found difficult, not having any acting experience?
LP: Well, it wasn’t really even improvisation, it was just kind of reacting like you would in real life at points. Growing up in a big family myself, we did a lot of things like all sitting around the Commodore 64, or going out for bike rides together, and just hanging out – doing nothing, really.
CPR: Have you actually had to deal with any criticism for being involved in a controversial movie like this?
LP: Not as such, but I guess when it comes along, I’ll have to be prepared for it.
CPR: You didn’t have any trouble with the locals when you were filming?
LP: Every now and then you get someone driving past tooting their horn. We had this one lady who walked past and was like, “Get lost! Go back to Victoria! We don’t want you here!” She did that about every day or so. But we were kind of expecting it, so we knew just to leave it be, really.
CPR: What can you tell me about the atmosphere on set? With such serious material, did you feel the need to try to lighten things up?
LP: In between takes you knew you could always crack a joke and just be stupid with each other. We would always have a hug on set, we knew each other like the back of our hand. We were so close, and even off set – we hung out all the time together, and you’d go for a drink after some heavy scenes, then you’d go home and get a phone call saying, “How are you feeling? Are you alright?” It was the biggest family I’ve ever been in.
CPR: Was there anything about your character that you found you could really relate to?
LP: Yeah, most of the things, like having a big family, and just hanging out. Like I remember pushing shopping trolleys around as a kid, or having crash derby. Me and my little brother, we used to do stupid things, we’d make up little games of our own.
CPR: So a lot of that fed into the way you approached the character.
LP: Yeah, because Jamie had brothers as well. I have five brothers in my family. Jamie had the same sort of brother upbringing, just hanging out and doing nothing together.
CPR: Five brothers? That beats Jamie, doesn’t it!
LP: Yeah. Mine was a bit happier than his, though!
CPR: What about the darker side of the film – have you had many experiences that that you could draw on to help you understand Jamie’s character?
LP: Well, growing up, like any kid would, you have your fights with other kids, and things like that. And for the heavy scenes, you’d put yourself in the same sort of place and pretty much just let yourself get a feel for the situation the character would be in, and at times it felt like you were living the life. But you always knew as soon as they called “Cut!” you’d hug people on set and just talk about it.
CPR: Even though you’re one of the stars of the film, your character doesn’t speak very much, and he’s obviously bottling up a lot of energy. How difficult was it for you to keep in character – did you ever feel an urge to let that energy go?
LP: Well, there were scenes where I could just let the energy go, like when Jamie sees his mate’s dead body. I’m quite a quiet person myself at times, but I can also be quite talkative, so it’s more like you kind of just found a part of you and an attitude inside you that you could relate to the character, and you just used that and let yourself be in that world. And between takes I could talk all I wanted.
CPR: You could get back into that mindset really quickly when you needed to?
LP: Yeah. We had two weeks of rehearsals beforehand, where that was one of the main focuses – working out how to go in and out of those attitudes and mindsets, like turning a tap on and off.
CPR: So, looking back on everything, what was your biggest challenge during the shoot?
LP: When my character saw his friend’s body. It was quite a hard thing to do, because that was one of the first really heavy scenes that I did in the film. And when that scene came along, because of the gravity of the situation my character was in, it had affected me a little, and I felt like just saying, “I quit. Let me go home”. I didn’t want to do it anymore. But because of the family feeling on set, they just talked to me and we made it through the scene. Then they had a chat with me, and I went back home, watched some TV and went to bed.
CPR: So did you ever go home and find that doing the film would affect the way you and your own family interacted with each other?
LP: Well, I never actually felt any of the emotions at home, because of the family feeling on set. It felt like I could just talk it out and have it sorted out after each scene. And so when I’d go home – I lived with my brother at the time – if there was anything I was still thinking of, I’d have a chat with him about it, and he’d understand.
CPR: Snowtown is your first experience with acting. Would you like to have a career in film?
LP: Yeah, I’ve already started down that track. I’ve got myself an agent, and while I was in Sydney, just this week, I worked on a short film [ARC] with Max Doyle, a photographer for Vogue, as the director. And I’ve been auditioning for some other things as well while I’m here.
CPR: Excellent. So it gets easier each time, I guess?
LP: Well, you get a wider range of experience the more you do it, so it was quite good to play a different role from Jamie when I was in the short film.
CPR: Yeah, I’ll bet. So what are your impressions of the director of Snowtown, Justin Kurzel?
LP: He’s a great guy. He’s almost like a father figure in another way to me. When I come up to Sydney, most of the time I stay at his place. He’s got this great relationship with all of the actors, and you felt like you could tell him anything.
CPR: And did you learn anything from your co-star, Daniel Henshall?
LP: Definitely. He’s a great actor. I pretty much learned how to act from him, really. From understanding how he views each scene and things like that. Also, I learnt a fair bit of new music from him, and he taught me how to cook a steak! He’s a great guy. I’d love to work with him again.
CPR: It sounds like there was a kind of father/son relationship like there is in the film
LP: Yeah, you could feel that going on off-camera as well.
CPR: Well, thanks very much for your time, and all the best for the film’s national release.
LP: No problem. Thanks!
Snowtown opens across Australia on May 19, 2011.