Take a trip back in time to 1950s Sydney within easily the best Australian film of the year so far. Ladies in Black tells the appropriately relevant story of a young girl working in a city department store around a fanciful staff supportive of each other at work and in life. Terrific beyond her years, Angourie Rice takes the lead as Lisa – a wide-eyed, educated dreamer and compassionate in changing times. Equally immaculate costume and production design a highlight. Attending the Australian premiere at the glorious State Theatre, I had a chance to talk with some cast members on various aspects of making this illustrious story directed by legendary Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy, Breaker Morant) adapted from the best-selling novel by Madeline St. John.
Susie Porter as Mrs Miles:
It’s been eighteen years since the film Bootmen was filmed in Newcastle. Do you have memories of that shoot?
Susie Porter – I do actually, only recently they all flooded back during a tour at Newcastle Uni. What a wonderful thing it was to be part of and likewise now with them bringing the university into the city and wanting an extreme creative hub to emerge further. There is not a dance company or hunter valley theatre company anymore, I was part of a sort of think-tank for progress.
What would you say to individuals following their dreams into the film industry?
SP – One of the things that drew me to this film was it was not commonplace for women to attend university back then so I admire, respect women before us that led to higher volumes of females into universities. My daughter in the film is steadfast on her education and I loved that. Personally had the best time of my life at Uni so I would always suggest to go to study not only for education while acting is an option, but for social skill sets as well, like acting.
A lot of your scenes are with Angourie (Rice). Do you see any of yourself in her?
SP – I did a bit. Look she’s such an amazing actress, one major thing I did notice was her maturity and good behaviour. At sixteen, I was probably drinking at the Town & Country or the Uptown Circus (laughs) getting up to no good. She continuously embraced you as a person. She read many novels too, I loved that. The most beautiful actor to work with.
Do you still get asked about Star Wars: Episode 2?
SP – I feel a little embarrassed being asked about Star Wars because I was cut mostly from the final film. George Lucas has said, ‘Come to the farm whenever you want,’ in a letter once. I think now, oh god I should have called him (laughs). I do get occasional fan letters but now it’s more about the world of Wentworth (TV series) that I’m asked about from fans all over the world.
Ryan Corr as Rudi:
Is there anything you’d like to highlight from the 1950s that could be initiated now?
RC – Absolutely, particularly late 50s immigration emulated to how Australia is now as a culture. Artistically also new ideas zoomed and in terms of food influences changed. It seems now we are still talking about immigration issues and the movie shows how multiculturalism really works.
Rudi can speak several languages. How many can you speak?
RC – Just the one mate or very very very basic Italian, only because of what I remembered from school (laughs). But playing Rudi, it was important to me to get dialect right so I worked for a number of months on that here and in the US.
Have you experienced any divine intervention since appearing in Mary Magdalene?
RC – (laughs) Oh not more so than working with one of the best compelling directors there is, Garth Davis. He works in a particular way getting cast or people involved to get to know each other personally so what you’re doing on screen doesn’t have to be made up. I’d say my divine intervention was learning off Garth and working with Joaquin Phoenix.
How was Mr. Phoenix as a guy?
RC – Insanely interesting. First time I met him, I introduced myself and he started laughing hysterically. It made me look around at the people nearby not knowing quite why. He’s an instinctional person, tactile and aware of entire surroundings. Seemingly living in an artistic vessel investing everything that he has to dial up or dial down into his performances. I saw that up close.
Shane Jacobson as Mr Miles:
How many actual long necks of beer were consumed in your scenes?
SJ – Heartbreakingly it’s like being handed a best-selling book with nothing written on the pages. I made up for it after we finished shooting (laughs).
Working with Angourie Rice, what did you see in her as a young talent?
SJ – Sarah Snook is someone similar who comes to mind, I see in Angourie what everyone sees in her, brilliance. Best thing about it is that’s not the best thing she sees within herself. Therefore she deserves massive success and I hope it continues. Working alongside her felt like a real father and friend.
Do you ever stop working, you appear in multiple ongoing projects?
SJ – Yes right now (laughs). I’m talking with you while other people call this work, I love being part of things I believe in just like this fabulous movie.
Noni Hazelhurst as Miss Cartwright:
Fran (1985) and Waiting (1991) were two amazingly heartfelt Australian films. Ladies in Black reminds me of those. What drew you to this adding to your already illustrious career?
NH – Script was beautiful, couldn’t put it down while touching on issues that are still relevant today. Like tolerance, bigotry or homophobia, all things we are still grappling with and even going backwards in for some areas. In the way arts can do, you can look at these issues through a lens letting audiences examine thoughts or own reactions.
You share unforgettable emotional scenes with Angourie Rice.
NH – It’s an enlightening beautiful speech, she’s a lovely girl. Her parents are in the business which is strong for her to have. She is not pretentious, doesn’t come to work with ego which I really appreciate, work is priority. We all get home quicker that way. I’ll add she’s humble while well prepared, a nice girl
Bruce Beresford – Director:
You used a local Newcastle cinema, The Regal, as the first test audience. How was the reaction?
BB – Testing the film up there was a superior move, reaction overtly good. The people who run the Regal are friends of mine so I called them.
What took so long to make the film, production was extensive?
BB – Read the book in the mid 90s, it just took an awfully long time to get it financed as it does almost always.
How does it rate in your career of films?
BB – The quality of the film, I have no idea, that’s up to other people to decide. I never read critics or take notice.
What can you tell me about Driving Miss Daisy that I don’t already know?
BB – (laughs) I don’t know what you know. An extremely enjoyable film to make because of three of the best actors I’ve ever worked with in one film (Dan Ackroyd, Jessica Tandy, Morgan Freeman). A really wonderful script written with an enormous amount of love and a true story about the grandmother of writer Alred Uhry. Pleases me no end Daisy is still enjoyed.
LADIES IN BLACK (Rated PG – 120 min)
IN CINEMAS NOW
Shane A. BassettSydney Unleashed is one of Australia’s premier entertainment publications exploring the latest in lifestyle trends. From Sydney’s finest restaurants, cafes and bars to the hottest in gadgets, products, and home entertainment, Sydney Unleashed is your one-stop lifestyle platform.