In the midst of all the explosions, car chases and shootouts that make Tomorrow, When the War Began one of the biggest Australian films in years are two emerging Melbourne actors, Caitlin Stasey and Deniz Akdeniz.
Stasey, the 20-year-old actress who is best known as Rachel Kinski on TV’s Neighbours, stars as country teenager Ellie Linton in this adaptation of teen fiction author John Marsden’s best-selling novel. 21-year-old Akdeniz, who played Raff in Disney Channel’s As the Bell Rings, stars as Ellie’s rebellious close friend Homer. Along with five other mates, the story follows Ellie and Homer as they go camping in the mountains for a week-long getaway. While they’re away, however, Australia is invaded by an unknown foreign force. It’s only when they return home and witness the devastation first-hand that they realise they must fight back if they want to live freely ever again.
While on a whirlwind national tour promoting the film last month, Stasey and Akdeniz sat down with me in their Adelaide hotel room to talk about Tomorrow, When the War Began. Slouched well into the sofa, the always-polite Stasey was clearly running on empty after days of non-stop interviews, now at the point where she was talking far more off-the-cuff than usual. In stark contrast, Akdeniz was as boisterous as he is on screen, sporting an everlasting smile and a bright summer t-shirt on what was otherwise a rainy day.
Once the interview kicked into gear, the two bounced off each other like twin siblings, often finishing off each other’s sentences. It made for a fantastic conversation — they’re both very personable and funny people – but it also made for an incredibly difficult interview to transcribe. (While I would have loved to have uploaded the audio, the quality was far from desirable, sorry!)
If you’re in a hurry, here’s a quick breakdown of the things we talked about:
How they landed their roles.
Differences between the movie and the book.
How much freedom they had with their characters.
How film compares with TV and theatre.
Stuart Beattie as a first-time director.
The film’s many explosions.
Their favourite moment of production.
Their least favourite moment of production.
How they caused a stir by fibbing about an ice-skating injury.
What types of films they want to do next.
Who they’d most want to kiss on-screen.
Their political thoughts: Gillard or Abbott?
CUT PRINT REVIEW: So, are you two sick of us media folk yet?
CAITLIN STASEY: Yes. Yes I am. [laughs]
CPR: Well, in your defence, you have been non-stop promoting the film across the country. Deniz, have you been doing the same?
DENIZ AKDENIZ: No, actually I had a break while these guys went off and diddle-daddled in Queensland.
CAITLIN: [laughs] “Diddle-daddled”, did we?
DENIZ: [laughs] Yeah! That’s what you do on the Gold Coast. Diddle-daddle.
CAITLIN: Well, just like anybody else really. I had the basic audition process and then had a call-back with Stuart [Beattie, the director] for an hour or so. And yeah, found out a few days later that I got the role!
But he thought I looked like Ellie, so he was looking out for me right from the beginning.
CPR: That’s interesting because didn’t John Marsden [the author of the novel] initially voice his concern about you playing Ellie?
Something along the lines of you being “too pretty” for the role?
DENIZ: See, she knew exactly what you were going to say, but she just wanted you to say it! [laughs]
CAITLIN: [laughs] Yeah, I was just waiting for it. Oh and I believe the exact quote was “too good looking”, but never mind. No big deal. [laughs]
No, the thing with that though is that Stuart has his interpretation and that’s essentially what all of us are. That’s essentially what this whole process is. It’s just an interpretation of John’s book by Stuart.
Although it was funny when John came on set for a day and we said, “So, do we look how you expected us too?”
And he’s kind of like, “Nope.”
CPR: Because of the 17-year gap between the Tomorrow film and the Tomorrow book, the film is aimed at a generation of teenagers different to that of the novel. Were there any elements of the book that had to be modified so that it spoke specifically to today’s teens?
CAITLIN: Not really. Well, you do have to make things contemporary, in the sense that language is now a bit different and that everyone now has mobile phones. Because when something big happens these days, people just pull out there phones. So that had to change.
DENIZ: Yeah, so it was bought from 1993 to now. But the same themes are there, the same story is there and the same characters are there. So anyone who has read the books – and even those who haven’t – should really enjoy the film. Hopefully!
CAITLIN: No, because I think when you go and see a performance and someone says “oh they’ve included themselves in the character” I think that’s incorrect because you’re not really supposed to be your character. You know what I mean? You’re meant to be separate from them.
I think you can use your own experiences to empathise with your character. So because Ellie is a teenage girl like me, I understand her motivations a lot of the time. But to understand a character is very different to personally involving yourself in a character.
So no, I guess I didn’t. I mean, I know for a fact that if I was in her position, I’d just make run for it.
CPR: [laughs] Oh yeah, me too.
Deniz, you give off the impression that you’re a joker off-camera as well as on. Do you and Homer have much in common?
DENIZ: Well, yes and no. I definitely have the same sense of humour as Homer…
CAITLIN: Toilet humour.
DENIZ: [sarcastically] Toilet humour. Yes, that’s…hilarious. Thanks Caitlin. [laughs]
CAITLIN: Continue with your interview, Deniz.
DENIZ: [laughs] Sorry! Yes, well I’m not so much of a trouble maker as Homer in terms of law…erm….law…ahh…
DENIZ: Law breaking. Yes. That’s the word I was looking for! Yeah, so at the start it was cool getting to play this guy who just mucks around the whole time and doesn’t take anything too seriously. And then going from that to stepping up and using all the skills he’s learnt from being a dickhead to, you know, helping the group survive.
CAITLIN: I think television is a really good training ground because you have to film a lot of stuff in a short space of time. It’s a quick turn-around. With Neighbours, you have to film 20 minutes of footage in a day so it makes you quite well equipped to work quickly.
DENIZ: Yeah, my experience was quite different. As The Bell Rings was the first time I’d done screen professionally. So that was quite the learning experience in the sense that – just getting to know what the hell was going on! So I guess that did and didn’t prepare me for the huge, massive set of Tomorrow.
CPR: You were a stage actor before, right? [Deniz nods] How does that compare?
DENIZ: They’re very different…
CAITLIN: I think every actor should do theatre first.
DENIZ: Yeah. I just love the stage and I’ll keep going back to it as much as I can. It’s just different because you get a direct response from the audience. I mean, with this film, I waited six months until I actually sat in a room with an audience and watched the film, with people I didn’t know, and saw how they reacted. And that was weird because when you’re on stage, you get a sense of what the audience is going through. You know if you’re drawing them in or if what you’re doing isn’t working.
CAITLIN: Yeah, pretty much. He’s had visions of what he wanted to do for the past two years or so.
DENIZ: And you would pick that the he’s a first time director. I mean, as soon as he got on board with us, it was great. It was an awesome team effort from the get-go. We were doing improvisations instead of a table reading. Stuff like that, you know? He really gave us a chance to flesh our characters out. He’d just poke us in the right direction.
CAITLIN: He even let us choose our own music!
DENIZ: Yeah! He even went to us for music choices.
CAITLIN: Because he has baaaaad taste in music.
CAITLIN: It’s the one thing I questioned about him. With everything else I trusted him completely.
CPR: So what songs did you suggest?
CAITLIN: ‘Flame Trees’ by Sarah Blasko was one of my suggestions.
DENIZ: For my character’s entrance, I suggested the Wolfmother song ‘Joker and the Thief’. But we couldn’t get that, unfortunately, so we chose ‘Cosmic Egg’ instead.
CPR: He’s a first-time director, but Stuart’s obviously no stranger to the business having established himself as a screenwriter for movies like Pirates of the Caribbean. He really does bring that big Hollywood feel to the movie, doesn’t he?
DENIZ: Yeah, Stuart made sure that it had the feel of a real action film. It’s a war film in the sense that the explosions are real – they all happened.
CPR: So they’re all real, in-camera explosions?
DENIZ: A majority of them are, yeah! We blew up that lawnmower, we blew up a miniature [model] of that bridge…. [looks toward Caitlin] what else did we blow up? Oh, that car. We blew that up too!
CPR: Exactly how ‘miniature’ was that bridge explosion?
DENIZ: It was a 1-to-5 scale of a 150-metre long bridge.
CPR: Wow, so it was still a sizeable bridge. A big miniature.
DENIZ: Yeah, so it was a 30 metre bridge that they blew up. They had like 8 cameras on it and one Phantom HD camera that films at something like 1000 frames per second. It was awesome.
CPR: It was! I haven’t seen an explosion that big in an Australian film for a long long time.
DENIZ: Exactly. So it was worth it.
CPR: For all the Hollywood influences though, this is still very much an Australian film. There’s even one scene where you guys are sitting around a camp fire eating Vegemite straight from the jar! But really, who DOES that?
CAITLIN: Oh, Phoebe [Tonkin] does that just for fun.
DENIZ: Yep, Phoebe really does that. She eats it like a lollipop, scooping it up and licking the spoon.
CAITLIN: Which is disgusting even by Australian standards. But she was loving it.
CPR: So if that was really Phoebe eating Vegemite from the tub, was that really you, Caitlin, driving the truck?
CAITLIN: No, I did a lot of stuff in a sound studio because, well, I can’t drive. So to get someone without their licence, let alone someone without their license doing that kind of stunt work, is just impossible. So I had a stunt double.
DENIZ: How old was this stunt double?
CAITLIN: [shuffles uncomfortably] I don’t know….
DENIZ: [looking sheepish] What was his or her gender?
CAITLIN: [reluctantly] He was a male. Yes, yes; I had a male stunt double…
DENIZ: [smirks] Yeah, there you go!
But he was an incredible driver though. You should have seen the things he was doing. I was on set when he pulled up to the church and he really got that garbage truck moving.
DENIZ: For me, personally, it was the scene where Caitlin was in the Showgrounds and she runs across to the truck for cover, but she takes four steps and then the spotlight shines on her. I think of that scene because I was a big fan of the book and in the book that was a BIG deal. That was a really tense moment and Stuart really brought that out in the film. I just really liked it. It was the first time that it sunk in that “this is the film.”
CAITLIN: For me it was when Lincoln Lewis took his shirt off.
DENIZ: But that happened quite often on set!
CAITLIN: It was actually quite surprising when he put it back on.
No, I think for me it was when John Marsden walked on set. That’s when it became real.
CPR: Did you ever get to consult with Marsden about your characters at all?
CAITLIN: No, because we had Stuart. I mean, people are going to go mad when they hear this, but it was Stuart’s story, you know? I know that John wrote it, but this is Stuart’s version of it. You can’t say “this is my interpretation of your song” and just do the exact same thing. You’ve got to do your own thing. That’s what Stuart did.
DENIZ: Yeah, Stuart definitely did that. From the get-go it was all character and story. He knew them both back to front. There was no question he couldn’t answer.
DENIZ: [sarcastically] Any scene I had with Caitlin. They were an ab-so-lute chore.
CAITLIN: [rolls eyes] Oh ha-ha.
No, I think it was just when we got really tired. We were like babies; always sleepy. But some nights we just started at 6pm and finished at 6am and we’d just get home as the sun was coming up and just die.
DENIZ: For me it was just getting tackled by Lincoln so many times. No, actually that was fun. Oh, ok here’s a worse one. I did my ankle one at the start of a day of shooting…by jumping a fence. You know, out of all the crazy things going on – explosions and guns and what not – I did my ankle jumping a fence. How manly, right?
So something little like that left me hobbling around for the rest of the day. And of course, that was the day we were jumping on bikes, running around and getting shot at. So that day wasn’t much fun for me, surprisingly.
DENIZ: Yeah, we did have some bonding sessions.
CAITLIN: We went ice skating.
DENIZ: Yeah and how long did we do that for, Caitlin?
CAITLIN: Oh about 10 minutes. Because what happened Deniz?
DENIZ: Ah, didn’t you hurt your ankle?
CAITLIN: I think you told someone I hurt my ankle….
DENIZ: Ok, ok. So we were ice skating and there was this primary school there and they were really good, while we really weren’t.
CAITLIN: And I was really hungry…
DENIZ: As always. So then I sort of made up a lie that Caitlin had hurt her ankle. That didn’t go down so well with the production team.
CAITLIN: Yes, it sort of backfired. Doctors were called and days of work were cancelled.
DENIZ: Production takes everything very seriously. So yeah, we know now to never do that again.
CAITLIN: I’d like to do a nice character driven two-hander. Without any explosions. Don’t get me wrong, I love the action genre. I think it’s brilliant. Action with heart is great. But I’d like to do a nice romantic drama. Not a romantic comedy though. I can’t do comedy.
DENIZ: I’ll do anything really. I’m keen to take on whatever comes. See what happens.
DENIZ: [pause] Keira Knightley? I like her.
CAITLIN: Penelope Cruz.
DENIZ: Really! I’d pay to see that.
CAITLIN: She’d be up for it. She’s done Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Or Angelina Jolie because she has those lips.
CAITLIN: [perks up] Wow, I can’t believe you’re asking us that! That’s the first time we’ve been asked.
Well, a disclaimer first: my political reviews don’t reflect the views of the film and so forth. But in all honesty, I don’t really know enough at this point. I just know I don’t want decisions about my ovaries being made by someone else. So for now, I’m going to go with Greens.
I do, however, think the women of Australia should vote for Gillard just to balance out those morons who won’t vote for her just because she’s a woman. Just so that they cancel them out.
CPR: Deniz? How about you?
DENIZ: Australian Sex Party.
CAITLIN: What the f*** is the Australian Sex Party?
DENIZ: It’s a party! Look it up.
CAITLIN: Yes, I get that. But what is it that the Australian Sex Party wants?
DENIZ: Don’t care. They’re called the Australian Sex Party. Doesn’t matter what they want.
CPR: Well, that’s it from me. Thanks guys! It’s been a lot of fun!
Tomorrow, When the War Began is in cinemas across Australia now.