It's a sunny Sunday morning in Noosa, and there is more than the usual street traffic
in the Queensland resort as the inaugural Noosa Film Festival starts its fourth day. At
the five screen cinema in Sunshine Beach Road, the competition screening of Erskineville
Kings has just begun. Writer/director Alan White and star Hugh Jackman have introduced the
film and are now sitting in the cinema café at an outside table, doing the publicity
work. And loving it.
"Australian men have a more complex essence"
"Our film," says White generously, "is a maverick in the film business,
so I feel 'sympatico' with Noosa; it's an independent festival without any Government
support and that's how we made our film, so we're very comfortable. Luke, (Davis, the
festival director) is a good, honest bloke and I'm happy being in Competition - it has
kudos even now, though the real credibility will have to come as the event grows."
His first film explores the contemporary young Australian male psyche - with restrained
drama and subtle shading. Barky (Marty Denniss) returns home to the Sydney suburb of
Erskineville for his father’s funeral, after escaping two years previously from his
drunken abuse. He had left behind his girlfriend Lanny (Marin Mimica), his friends and his
brother Wace (Hugh Jackman). Although his father is no longer alive, the grievances and
baggage that Barky and Wace harbour from their torn household are.
"We all had a deep belief," says White, "that males in Australian film
tended to be caricatures rather than characters. We feel that Australian men have a more
complex essence. Mythically, he is seen as removed and enigmatic, but where do we see that
portryed? Except in films like Sunday Too Far Away. So we wanted to see contemporary
For Jackman, the role is a chance to explore the conflict of a young man "between
'you' and what people see you as or want you to be."
White, a Los Angeles based Australian, is a deft hand at making tv commercials. "I
went to Los Angeles," he explains, "because an American production company
offered to finance Erskineville Kings if I went there and directed tv commercials for
them. It was part of the contrcat."
"Risk represents being seen as a legitimate film
That may go down as the most unusual method of financing a feature film for an
Australian, but also shows the typical can-do attitude of our filmmakers. His next film,
Risk, is already financed (with Bryan Brown signed to star), but with more a traditional
Australian government supported financing structure, also involving local and
"For me," says White, "Risk represents being seen as a legitimate film
director. It was always difficult to overcome the stigma that as a tv ad director I can
direct action but can't tell stories. . . that's the mistaken view of tv commercial
directors." Clearly, Erskineville Kings helped his reputation no end.
It is his first feature, as it was for everyone on the shoot. "We prepared a
lot," he says. But there was something about the project that resonated with everyone
who got involved. Jackman says he "really wanted the role 100 per cent. The quality
of the writing is unsurpassed and I had a good gut feeling about it. So did my wife
(actress Deborrah Lee Furness), who reads everything that comes in…She said it is a
turning point for Australian films, as well as one for me."
It was Jackman's first movie role, completed just before he began work on Paperback
Hero (pic). (But as it sometimes happens, the latter was released before Erskineville Kings.)
The only reservation came from Jackman's agent: she worried it may turn out to be
'angry young Aussie blokes at the pub' and damage Jackman's image as a romantic lead,
based on his stage work in musicals like Oklahoma and Sunset Boulevard. "But being in
a pub in Erskineville," says Alan White, jabbing a metaphorical finger in our chest,
"doesn't mean you're a fool. . ."
"a true actor can intellectualise a character"
Jackman and White were strangers when Jackman auditioned for the role, but they were
both certain about their respective decisions: "Alan and I both tend to be
indicisive," Jackman admits, "but not with this." When casting Jackman,
White was aware how some people had pigeon-holed Jackman as the song and dance man.
"But a true actor can intellectualise a character and locate something
White is looking forward to making Risk; "If I succeed with it, I'll get under the
skin of big business as Erskineville Kings gets under the skin of young guys growing up in
a big city." As we finish our coffee, White admits he is hoping to secure Jackman for
the co-starring role in Risk, and the deal is subject only to Jackman's schedule. "I
see Bryan Brown as Australia's John Travolta - and both he and Hugh are like the Everyman
of their respective generations, and the Everyman of each generation has something to say
Risk (shooting from October 17, 1999 in Sydney) is the story of a young guy unable to
get a secure job in the insurance industry, and becomes an unwitting part of his boss'
very clever scam. By the time he discovers it, he's in too deep and is intoxicated by what
it brings him. To give an idea of where the film is 'coming from' creatively, White says
"The Apartment is one of my all time favourite films and Jack Lemmon's character
"hard hitting, yet surprisingly subtle"
Erskineville Kings is "hard hitting, yet surprisingly subtle, Alan White’s
debut feature is a moody film with undercurrent to burn. It is beautifully shot with
lingering glimpses of the street, the train station, the shop fronts, all setting the
scene of suburban Erskineville," says one of our critics, Louise Keller. A working
class inner city suburb of Sydney, Erskineville plays an important element in the film,
giving the characters both cultural and physical context; cultural specificity, as does
Notting Hill in the film, Coronation Street in the old soap, or Alice Springs in A Town
like Alice, among many examples.
Jackman's enthusiasm for the role was rewarded by its demands. "I loved the idea
that as men we try to find our spot, somewhere we're comfortable and hold on to that. Wace
is just beyond that point of having a window in which he can show his true inner self, and
his brother is really someone who he has decided to be. That's the conflict between