It’s fitting that AFI award winning actor Shane Jacobson, best known for his performance as the portaloo installer Kenny in the hit 2006 comedy of the same name, modestly labels his career ambitions as “pipe dreams”. Disregarding the fact that the term originally derives from smoking opium in the 1800s, unblocking pipes was always Kenny’s forte. This might help explain why Jacobson, as he himself attests, has “had quite a few come through the pipe lately.” Take his leading role in the new Aussie film Charlie & Boots as a prime example, where he stars alongside Australian screen icon Paul “Crocodile Dundee” Hogan. As far as ‘pipe dreams’ go, that’s one worth getting the plunger out for.
Directed by Dean Murphy (Strange Bedfellows), the film sees Charlie (Hogan) and his estranged son Boots (Jacobson) try and put their differences aside as they embark a road trip to fish off the northern tip of Australia, Cape York. Yet like any road trip, it’s not about the destination, it’s all about the journey getting there.
With Jacobson hitting the road once more to promote Charlie & Boots, I had the opportunity to talk with the delightfully down-to-earth actor about his new film. During our interview, Jacobson spoke of what attracted him to the Dean Murphy’s screenplay, why he loves the ‘nothingness’ of the Australian outback and what career dreams have still yet to come through the pipe.
CUT PRINT REVIEW: When you picked up the script for Charlie and Boots, at what point did you say to yourself “I want to make this film”?
SHANE JACOBSON: Well believe it or not, it actually started before that, in that the tyres were purchased before the car. Paul [Hogan] and I had both been asked if we wanted to do a film with each other by Dean Murphy, the co-writer and director. Myself and Paul had already met, got along together amazingly and formed an immediate bond. We both said yes, and Dean then said “well I better go and write a script then!”
So the script was actually written for us, with us in mind! Literally with the idea of Paul playing my father. So we waited for the script, and at that point it was a matter of going; “are we going to say in?”
So there was no obligation to stay in at that point?
No, I mean obviously the answer was “yes we’d love to”, but we first wanted to see the script. A script is like a book, in that if you’re halfway through it and you’re not connecting to the characters, or you’re not identifying with it in any way — if it’s not on the page, it’s not on the stage.
With the film, there’s comedy, absolutely, but it’s also got a lot of heart. So I was interested in the story, connected with the story, and affected by the story even when I wasn’t laughing. That’s a movie, you know? As opposed to some films, where you endure something that’s not drama and it’s just something happening on the screen in between the funny bits. Whereas with this film, if it’s not being funny it’s being warm, and every one of those moments had flavour.
Shane Jacobson in Charlie & Boots
In the film, Charlie and Boots embark on a road trip to the northern most point in Australia. But in reality of course, both you and Paul had to take that very same journey. [SJ: Oh yeah...] Did you get sick of being stuck in a car, and on the road, for over 3000 kilometres?
Oh no, we never got sick of it. I mean, we were getting paid to travel with 75 people who we all got along well with. There were 35 trucks and cars, so it was a moving circus, with a French caterer, so we were fed well. We also got to see the country. I mean, what do people do when they a bit of money and a bit of time? They go on a road trip for a holiday! We we’re getting paid to do it so, you know, you can call it a job if you want… [laughs]
Rather than promoting Australian tourism to an International audience, I get the feeling that the film is promoting Australia to Australians. Would that be a fair assessment?
Well you could word it that way, but as I’m sure you could imagine, when a movie director and writer goes out to write a script, they don’t necessarily go “I’m going to make a TV commercial to promote tourism”. That’s a byproduct. Like, if someone writes a movie about space travel, you wouldn’t then ask “I guess you’re trying to tell people to go to outer space.” But it is a byproduct of it, in the same way that children become a byproduct of love. [laughs] There’s some great outcomes!
Movies do tend to commentate what happens in real life. And while they say “oh it’s a road trip move”, we both know that if you get in a car and leave the city, you’re on a road trip because you’ve got no choice. Everything is 800 kilometres apart! But it does showcase it in such a way – I’d love to think people walk out of the movie and say “you know what, I might jump in the car with my dad,” or even if it’s just a mate; “yeah, let’s go for a drive. Let’s go fishing off Cape York.” I think Australian’s are great at it; they pick some small little task, and make a road trip out of it. Cause it’s about the journey and not the destination.
You might go to a mate — and we used to do it when I was younger — “gee, I feel like a souvlaki.”
They’d say, “Yeah, where do you wanna get that from?”
I’d go, “umm, Canberra?”
And it felt so good to say we drove from Melbourne to Canberra for a souvlaki! When you’re in a car full of mates, it doesn’t matter where you go, and it doesn’t even matter what you’re going to do when you get there. It’s just about the journey.
Was there any where during the shoot that you’d like to return to on an actual holiday?
Well I travel quite a lot, so some of it was revisiting places I haven’t seen in ages. But it’s not so much towns, though I had a ball in all of them. The stuff that I really enjoyed was places like the Hay Plains. It’s just so great to go back to areas where there’s so much of nothing, which I think is really something. I love that.
Jacobson and Hogan on the road in Charlie & Boots
Yeah, not many other countries can offer that anymore…
And if they do it’s a desert. If they do, it actually is nothing. But in Australia, it’s those little things where you’ve got one tree that’s coming at you for like five minutes. And then it’s in your rear vision minute for the five minutes after that. That’s fantastic, I love that. So, like a lot of Australians, when people say “why would you drive out there, there’s nothing there.” I go “that’s exactly why we go out there!”
Having now made a film with Paul Hogan, who else in the industry would you love to work with?
Well I’ve been inconceivably blessed in that I’ve already got a chance to perform on stage with Hugh Jackman when he had me get on as Kenny during The Boy From Oz. Then the next thing I got to do was a film with Bryan Brown (Cactus). I also got a chance to do Guys and Dolls with Gary McDonald, who was really the pioneer of doing what we did with Kenny with his character Norman Gunston. The next guy in my sights is Geoffrey Rush, and there might be something that I’ll be doing with him early next year on the stage. So at the moment, things couldn’t be going better.
But you know, there’s still plenty out people out there that I want to do stuff with; Rachel Griffiths, for one. I did recently audition for a film with Jack Nicholson, Reece Witherspoon, Paul Rudd and Owen Wilson [currently has the working title Untitled James L. Brooks Project]. But I don’t think I have that part yet. But you know, I’d love to work with all those people! At the moment, I’m going to call those pipe dreams, but as luck would have it, I’ve had quite a few come through the pipe lately!
Did Paul, as someone on his way out of a career you’re just now breaking into, give you and advice on the road ahead?
He said to me, “Just stay real”. That’s what he said, “Just keep your feet on the ground. We haven’t saved a life in our career, but we’ve made ‘em smile, and that’s good enough.”
It’s been a great year for Australian films, so if you had to recommend one Aussie film this year, other than yours of course, what would it be?
Yeah, a vintage year, they’re calling it! Well, I haven’t actually had a chance to see a lot of the product that’s coming out here. I’ve literally been working too much! The one thing I’m looking forward to, when things start to go bad for my career and I get a bit of time off, is I get a chance to see some of the great works we’ve been doing. So which one do I want to see? All of them! Especially since I’m in the industry and I really want to see everyone else’s work. Once I do, I’ll have a recommendation. But I sincerely, and regretfully, haven’t had a chance to see any of them yet.
After such a slug of dark and solemn Aussie films, what’s great about Charlie & Boots is that it sets out to make you smile. I think audiences really need that…
Yeah, it has a heart. It does deal with some of the issues because in every life, a little rain must fall. But absolutely; the thing is, you come out of our film — and everyone has been thank goodness — with a smile on your face. They’re coming out happier than when they walked in. It’s like a relationship, sometimes it’s sitting there in those darker moments embracing your partner, and getting that support. Then the next day when you have a great night out, that night feels even better. A roller coaster is only fun because it takes you all the way down, and it takes you to the top again. If it all ran on one plane, it wouldn’t be a roller coaster. That’s the great thing about emotions.
I think this film has a bit of heart, and that you believe in the characters. You don’t laugh, or enjoy the company of someone, who you don’t like. So if the film can make you like them, when something bad happens to them, you feel bad for them, and when something good happens, you’re stoked. But if an enemy won Tattslotto, would you smile? [laughs]
Jacobson with the cast of the Australian stage production
It’s now been 3 years since the phenomenal success of Kenny, which I can imagine is a name that’s stuck with you ever since. Do you see Charlie & Boots as your chance to show Australia your range as an actor and break that automatic association?
Yeah, I mean I was acting in Kenny, and the one thing I guess I have to do now is show that I can do other things. When people meet me, they realise I’m not Kenny and he was a character I played. It’s my job now to change people’s perceptions, it’s not theirs; the reason people think that I’m Kenny is because they wonderfully took the time to watch it. So it’s now my job to change their perceptions, and you are right, Charlie and Boots is a chance to do that. But I have made two films since Kenny – one called Newcastle and one called Cactus – and I have been on stage in Guys and Dolls, and I did have other characters prior to Kenny as well, but people just don’t know about them. I’ve also got this new character coming up called Mordy Koots, if you check out the website [www.mordykoots.com], there’s a trailer online for that.
I saw that actually and it looks really interesting. I pulled a quote from the site saying that it’s “the first ever MOGIE: Movie Over Game Integrated Entertainment”. What the heck does that mean?
Well it’s got real actors chroma-keyed into a gaming background. The company Ubisoft make a video game called Blazing Angels, and it’s using all the backgrounds from that. My brother actually came up with the idea, and at the time he pretty much thought it was a world first, and so we’re told.
Ok so let me get my head around this; when players boot-up the game on their Xbox’s and PS3’s, they’ll be playing as you?
No, they won’t be playing the game with me in it. That game exists already, and people can play it. What we’ve done is film me in a little fighter plane cabin, and all the backgrounds – instead of getting someone to CGI in the background like they did in Star Wars – we’ve used the background from the game. Anyone that knows the world of gaming, like you and I probably do, know that in games like Grand Theft Auto you can drive around the streets and stop. In Blazing Angels, we get say “ ok, we want to film with that background”, and can literally use the view you get in the game as a camera angle. We can then chroma-key live action into the background.
Wow, yeah, that sounds great. When and where will we be able to see this?
We’re going to start filming soon and eventually there’s going to be ten webisodes up online. So keep an eye out on the site!
Looking forward to it! Thank you for your time Shane and best of luck with Charlie & Boots!
No worries, thanks mate!
Charlie & Boots opens across Australia September 3rd, 2009.