Jeremy Sims talks about directing Last Cab to Darwin
As Last Cab to Darwin continues its box office success, taking over $3,000,000, it has also been selected to screen in the Contemporary World Cinema program at Toronto International Film Festival. Screen NSW catches up with director Jeremy Sims to talk about the film's production.
Last Cab to Darwin is an eccentric and compassionate story, a great Aussie yarn with many poignant scenes and dialogue – in your words, what do you feel is the driving force for this story?
The driving (pun intended) force is conflict between Rex's want - to kill himself without fuss - and his need - to share his life openly with the woman he loves. All the other issues are wonderful complications, but the driving force is love.
The relationship between Rex and Polly is very powerful and refreshingly honest on many levels. How did you get such powerful performances from both these actors?
Very simply we spent a long, long, long time honing the scenes and the dialogue, then we hired two instinctive, warm and charismatic actors. I knew with Michael that filming while doing the actual drive would be key to getting Michael to inhabit Rex in a deep and honest style. No cheap gags (well, not too many!) and no mugging. Just being true. His screen craft is so honed after 50 years that the rest looked after itself.
Ningali has a lot of Polly in her. We wrote the character with her in our heads. That opening speech at the rubbish bin is Reg channelling Ningali channelling Polly.
The film features many indigenous talents and some new faces. Can you tell us about what they bring to the film and unearthing and directing this talent in the film?
Well, Ningali is not new talent, but she had kind of retired to have kids and had to be dragged out of paradise in Kalbarri to come and work. Mark is different. He wasn't my first choice for the role because Tilly is an Arabana man, desert mob from Oodnadatta and Mark is Broome and Kimberly mob. It's like hiring someone from Cornwall to play a Scotsman. Aboriginal actors are often asked just to play 'Aboriginal', but there is such a range of nations, of looks, of accents and regional idiosyncacies. I told Mark that if he wanted the role he was going to have to really do his job and be an actor. It was a brave thing to do, and sensibly he went out to Oodnadatta well before we got there and spent time with the community and the kids and youths there, getting the vibe, asking permission. All the good stuff. When we arrived in William Creek to shoot his first scenes he was almost unrecognisable. He did that first scene with Michael and I couldn't stop grinning. I knew we had our film as soon as I saw that scene.
From Broken Hill to Darwin, the landscape and the locations are beautiful and the distance covered is vast in this film. Was it hard to put together a road trip of this distance?
It was incredibly complicated, and we had half as many people as we really needed. Lisa Duff is to be credited with pulling that off. She has a background in no/low budget filmaking and she knew how to solve issues without throwing money at it first. Her, Greg Duffy and my co-writer Reg Cribb even got their traffic control licenses while we were in 'pre' in Broken Hill, which saved us about 50km on the road, and meant they got to wear high vis and hold lollipops for the whole shoot!
We had a tiny crew for what we were attempting. Steve Arnold wanted to give me what I wanted, but I didn't think it was possible with a lighting and grips department of three, but they did it. All credit here goes to our Gaffer Andy Robertson who never stopped lugging and trimming - all while wearing the best shirts on set. The lighting rig for the whole shoot was one van.
Still, we wouldn't have had a film without actually doing the trip. There were many 'sage' voices telling us to stay in Broken Hill and shoot at locations that 'looked the same' around town, then fly to Darwin, but we never really even entertained anything other than full immersion in the journey.
Can you tell us about filming in Broken Hill and Katherine – were there any challenges?
Well, Katherine was easy since we didn't shoot there, we drove through and filmed at Berry Springs. Broken Hill was great - they have a strong film culture there, so no one was surprised. We were actually shooting at the same time as Strangerland. People would ask us if we were with that crew, and when we said no, they'd say 'Oh, you're the other film'. We ended up putting that on our slate in Broken Hill - 'The other film'.
Highlights on the road were Oodnadatta and then Daly Waters. We were in each town for four days. We had the whole community of Oodnadatta in the film, and they were priceless, lovely people. Daly Waters is the opposite - a white 'outback' pub that is full to the brim with Grey Nomads. They were great too, and happily subbmitted themselves to the rigours of filmaking. The publicans in both towns helped a lot.
How did the casting for the role of Rex come about? What did you have in mind and did you already know who you wanted?
Well, as you know, you need to cast for story and financing. They are inseparable. Michael was always our first choice - there are some other older iconic Aussie actors, but Michael's 'everyman' quality is so strong, and the Australian public just love him. After working with him for a year I know why. He's the real thing.
Can you tell us about working with Jacki Weaver, what can audiences expect from her performance?
Jacki backed us to hilt in getting this film made. Her name was the first one we had attached. She had done the original theatrical production, and is very loyal. Audiences can expect to see a complicated, and in some ways cold, character. We gave her the toughest job imaginable - come in at the end of the second act and try to kill our hero. She attacked that role without sentimentality and with great imagination. I love her work in this.