BRYAN BROWN Palm Beach & CinefestOZ

The second feature film to be directed by Rachel Ward sees a group of lifelong friends reunite for a party at the iconic Palm Beach in Sydney. With an all-star cast, headed by another Australian icon (Bryan Brown), this friendly getaway threatens to reignite old feuds and uncovers family secrets. DAVID O’CONNELL spoke to Bryan Brown about what inspired Palm Beach, and how it was to work with that stellar cast of friends and family.

I believe you were involved in the genesis of Palm Beach. How did the idea for the script come about?

Palm Beach was motivated by a Christmas I had about five years ago in Wales. I’d been through a period of anxiety that year, I’d seen a psychologist, and I was coming through it that Christmas. But I’d been fragile, having to deal with something which I never understood, never imagined could happen to me. At this Christmas there were three other couples there, and it was a lot of fun (as Christmas is) being with friends. Banter, talking about kids… I came away from it, and I said to Rachel (Ward), “all the blokes are going through something”. One bloke had been made redundant, another bloke had just sold his business and he was bumping into walls, another was dealing with alcoholism, and I’ve been trying to deal with anxiety. And I said to Rachel, “all the bloke’s are in quicksand”. And they’re all capable, and they will all come out of it, and there’s life to be lived, but if that’s happening with us… and we’re having a good time… then that’s happening everywhere.

(Later) I went to see The (Best) Exotic Marigold Hotel. I looked around, and I noticed that a certain age group of people were looking for something about them, about their world. And I said then, I think we’ve got a movie in what happened… let’s start developing it.

So tell us about Frank…

Frank was based on the mate of mine that sold his business, and was bumping into walls. He had been a trader all his life. He would go to Afghanistan, and buy all those wonderful coats you’d see in the 60s, and sell them to everyone. I like everything about him really, a decent man, a creative, who built up a really good business, and he had sold it… so was on antidepressants and whatever. Frank is really motivated by him, because I wanted to have someone that looked like they were on top of the tree. That everyone would go, “how can I get any better than that?” He has his house. You go into it, and you go, “wow it’s paradise”. But, none of those things matter. Up here [points to his temple] it could be hell. You’re the same as a bloke down the corner, that’s got two bob. You’re exactly the same – humans. You’re both in the world of humanity, and you’re both in trouble.

Did you draw upon your own experience with anxiety to portray Frank’s issues?

You can’t sort of examine that. I mean, at that moment, you’ve got to connect to whether you’re having a good time, or you’re having a bad time. Emotionally you’re trying to hide where you are, or you’re letting it out then.

What was it like working with Sam Neill… again?

Well I don’t want to be glib about it. We work together.. a lot! We did Sweet Country together, it was a while ago. Vastly different movie. We’ve done a lot of things together. And we disagree on things… we argue on things… but at the core, we’re very, very similar. Trying to answer your question, it comes down to this word called “trust”. I can trust that I never have to prove anything to Sam. I never have to be anything but who I am to Sam. And the same with Sam to me. There’s no secrets, we know each other too well. So we’re able to just get on with it. There’s a freedom, because of the trust. It’s what comes from family.

Thinking about the rest of the cast you’ve had a professional and/or personal relationship with most of them…

Known or worked with.

Is that level of trust, that level of family, there for the entire cast?

I think so. A lot of people go, “it must have been a lot of fun?” Of course it was a lot of fun – acting, creating, and making it seem where it’s fun. But it’s not fun like we’re all out laughing, and drinking, and doing something silly. You’re working hard to make it work. Greta Scacchi is becoming a better actress every week… such incredible warmth. Richard (E. Grant) knows exactly what he’s doing. He’s a very clever man, in the style of characters he presents. Jackie (Jacqueline) McKenzie always surprises me. She came up with this thing. Did you notice in the movie, she’s often having an extra drink, more than anyone else? There’s a scene where she’s doing yoga, and she picks up a glass of champagne. And she gets a laugh, but it’s not like it’s just a cheap laugh, she ties that in and the relationship she has with Sam’s character. Is that the little thing that helps her through all that? That’s clever Jackie, that’s clever.

And Heather Mitchell does a lot of theatre. Fabulous actress, and she steals so many scenes. There’s one way she’s in bed with (Richard) and she tells him where to go. All the women of the audience laugh at that. It’s a movie about warmth, and everyone has warmth.

Of course the location is also a key part of that…

Absolutely. It’s supposed to be in paradise, but up here [points to his temple] you’re not. The irony of it.

The other part of the reason we’re talking is CinefestOZ, and last night you helped launch this year’s program. How important are such festivals to Australian film?

First thing about festivals, is I think they are enormous fun. I’m a great one for celebrating – celebrate the birthdays, the kids birthdays etc. You’re only here for one shot. You’re going to struggle over struggles, but you only get one shot. Play! Celebrate those moments that remind yourself you are here, and that you are having a shot. So I’m a great one for celebration, and the find that things like festivals can celebrate an industry or an area. I think that something like CinefestOZ, because of where it is – down there, in the Margaret River area, which is so beautiful – it’s a great place for people to come and to enjoy what film offers. Which is: creative activity, storytelling, things about who we are as people and as a country. It’s the opportunity to unite us as human beings, and I think it’s vastly important.

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