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Interview with ‘Last Ride’ director Glendyn Ivin and actor Tom Russell

Interview with ‘Last Ride’ director Glendyn Ivin and actor Tom Russell

Glendyn Ivin and Tom Russell talk of their "Last Ride"
Jul 4, 2009

“Everything I’ve done up to the point of making Last Ride felt like it was a rehearsal”, says Australian director Glendyn Ivin. If that’s the case, it’s been one hell of a rehearsal.

Ivin’s short film Cracker Bag, which softly spoke of a young girl’s excitement leading up to a fireworks night, was awarded the highest honour at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival. It then went on to win Best Film and Best Screenplay in the short film category at the Australian Film Institute awards. Not a bad effort for your first short film.

If Cracker Bag was Ivin’s matinee, then Last Ride is his grand opening. Adapted from Denise Young’s novel, Last Ride is a brooding drama that explores the complex relationship between an abusive father and his ten year old son who are on the run in the  harsh Australian outback. Starring Hugo Weaving and newcomer Tom Russell, Ivin’s debut feature provides a deeply genuine character study of a man who, despite loving his son, is not fit to be a father.

With both Glendyn Ivin and Tom Russell recently in town promoting Last Ride, I had a chance to talk with the two about whether their respective backgrounds helped prepare them for their first feature film, what it was like working alongside the likes of Hugo Weaving and the fear and excitment of releasing their first feature film.

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CUT PRINT REVIEW: Did your background in commercials and short films prepare you at all for making a feature film?

GLENDYN IVIN: I think with music videos and short films, the only person you really feel like you’re going to let down is yourself and the people around you that help you make it. There are no expectations commercially, or outside of that little world. But the commercials I’ve made and everything I’ve done up to the point of making Last Ride felt like it was a rehearsal.

I see filmmaking as really a continuous stream of making a whole lot of mistakes. So when you do a commercial, you do a few mistakes and you learn by them. So hopefully you don’t make those mistakes the second time. But then you still make other mistakes, so you’re just constantly crossing off mistakes!

I guess the only thing I wasn’t prepared for was that longevity; that you’re actually working for 8 weeks straight on the one thing. When we were shooting, Greg and I even shot every single day – even on our days off we shot! So by the end of it I was totally destroyed. Nothing can really prepare you for that.

CPR: How was it for you Tom; was it hard being away from home for so long?

TOM RUSSELL: Well with such supportive people around you, you don’t really notice that you’re gone. Well you do, but it just feels like you’re on a big holiday, but…you work! (laughs)

CPR: Having done a lot of theatre productions in the past, do you want to return to the stage or continue your career in film?

RUSSELL: I want to do both; I don’t really care what it is… I’m more experienced with stage, but [film] acting it’s really fun.

CPR: What’s more challenging; theatre of film?

RUSSELL: [With film] you don’t have to learn all your lines, only the ones you do before a scene. It’s really different though. But with theatre, you get to see the audiences ‘experience’. With film you can’t. You have to wait. I also think some things are easier if you sing them… (laughs) I don’t know, it’s hard to explain!

CPR: Last Ride was originally a novel by Denise Young before it was adapted by screenwriter Mac Gudgeon.  Before Mac’s screenplay wound up on your desk, you were actually writing your own script. What was it about the screenplay that made you put down your pen and take on Last Ride?

IVIN: Yeah, I read a lot of scripts and I realised that what I should be doing, or what I wanted to be doing, was to write my own film. So I was sort of in the guts of doing that when I received Last Ride with a note from my agent saying “I know you don’t really want to read anything, but you should really read this”. And I sat down and thought “oh I wonder how crap it’ll be.” But within ten or fifteen pages I was totally hooked! It had really gotten under my skin.

It’s a weird thing because it’s still there; it’s still part of me. It’s kind of eerie, because it felt like someone had written a story about my own life, even though my experiences were different obviously, but it was like someone had handed me a gift. It’s the hardest thing as a director to find material that you really fall in love with to the point that, over five years, you actually become even more in love with it. It’s not a one night stand; you’ve got to be in it for the long haul!

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CPR: Do you ever plan on going back and finishing your own screenplay?

IVIN: Yeah definitely. I don’t know if it will be my next film, but it’s definitely a story I still want to tell.

CPR: You and Mac have actually set out to make a film that is in many ways quite different to the source…

IVIN: Well the book actually ends half way through the film. So when Mac read the book and put it aside, he started writing the script from the story he remembered as opposed to saying “oh what happened then again?” and looking it up. With the ending, while I really like the ending in the book, but it just didn’t feel like the ending for the film. So Mac just kept writing, asking what would happen if these guys just kept running.

So it’s not just the end beat, it’s 40 minutes of the film that’s different! The first half is actually different to the book as well. It’s more like we took Kev and Chook as characters, and the essence of the book, and we stayed very true to the essence and those characters and imagined what else could happen on their journey.

CPR: How did Denise Young feel about you remoulding her story?

IVIN: She was really supportive! She kind of just handed it over to us. She’s seen the film a couple times now and really loves it. I think it must be a pretty hard thing for her to let go of these characters, but she wrote this really lovely article, which I link to off my blog, about visiting the set and filming scenes that she had never actually written!

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CPR: The harsh Australian landscape plays such a pivotal role in the film, but you must have really been at the mercy of the elements to shoot the film at these locations. Did this limit you in any way? Were there any compromises made?

IVIN: I was lucky because I had a really supportive producer, Antonia Barnard, who was out there on the set with us. She has a really fantastic way of never saying “no”. I’m sure she’s got her own special way of saying it, and I’m sure she said it a lot, but it never felt like she did.

I’m fairly conscious of budgets, and I knew what we could do and couldn’t do, but I never felt limited. If we had more money, it would have been cool but if we had less it would have been fine as well. It’s not like we didn’t have the money to do exactly what we wanted; I was able to do exactly what I wanted. I mean, more time would have been great, but I’m sure every filmmaker wants that.

CPR: Had you been into the Australian Outback much before Tom?

RUSSELL: When I was around six, I went around the flinders Rangers and went to places like Uluru, Coober Pedy and Woomera. But I enjoyed travelling and just seeing new places.

CPR: You’ve just got back from shooting Nadia Tass’ new film Love and Mortar in Melbourne. How different was that to working on Last Ride?

RUSSELL: Well there are different actors who have different kinds of personalities. Like you think “oh this guys going to be like Hugo!” but they’re not. [In Last Ride], John Brumpton and Hugo Weaving sound the same. The kind of act the same. They even have the same colour eyes and are probably even the same height!

IVIN: They’re actually the same person…

RUSSELL: Well they do have different colour hair!

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CPR: Hugo Weaving has spent the last decade playing elves, penguins, computer programs and evil robots.  Why then was he at the top of your casting list for such a human character like Kev?

IVIN: Yeah! Well, his name did just kept coming to the top. He was amazing in the film Little Fish, but plays a very different character in it. I didn’t know he was even in it when I first saw it. For at least the first twenty minutes, I didn’t even know who it was, but I thought “God, that guy would be great for Kev”. Then there was one point where you go “oh, that’s Hugo Weaving!”

But that’s not the whole reason why we chose him; we sent him the script early on, and he responded really positively towards it. And then we met up and I realised that, not only did I know he was going to be the right actor, but we got on really well. We could communicate and talk about stuff, which for me was more important than whether he was the right actor or not. Of course, Hugo is fantastic though.

CPR: What’s it like directing, or acting alongside, someone like Hugo who brings with him so much experience?

RUSSELL: The thing about Hugo is that you can just go and ask him “that would be really cool if you did this” and he’ll go “Done!” He’ll just do it!

IVIN: Yeah, I’m a collaborative director and I really wanted Hugo to be part of the process of creating Kev. He was really up for it too. So we worked really hard together on that.

Now when I watch at the film, I really can’t remember what’s from the book, what’s from the script or what we worked out during rehearsals or on the day! The whole thing seems to be something we all contributed to.

CPR:  Tom; what did you have to do to audition for the role of Chook?

RUSSELL: When Glendyn sent me the script, he sent me two scenes that I had to learn without the script. I had to then act them out for him, and he recorded me. I then got sent for a call-back, where I had to show Glendyn around my house so he could see how natural I was. I played a song on the guitar!

IVIN: Yeah it was definitely that process of finding a 10 year old that was not only a great actor, but who you can actually trust with your film. Like we didn’t want someone who could just wake up one morning and be ‘over it’, like a 10 year old could easily be. But I had a feeling that he was going to be the right kid.

Actually, I just Googled kid actors and Tom was the cheapest one. (laughs)

RUSSELL: Oooooh, that is well shameful!

IVIN: That’s an exclusive right there!

CPR: (laughs) Have either of you ever Googled yourselves?

IVIN: No, I haven’t. I’ve Googled Last Ride though.

RUSSELL: Yeah! I have, IMDb came up. I want to find out how to put pictures on there.

IVIN: I think you need to fork out some cash for that.

RUSSELL: Mum! Did you hear that?

IVIN: (laughs)


Continue reading part two of our interview with Glendyn Ivin and Tom Russell, where we discuss the current state of the Australian film industry and how Ivin likens his first public screening of Last Ride to his wedding day.

Follow the author Anders Wotzke on Twitter.

Category: Interviews
Date Published: July 4th, 2009
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