In the 12 years since The Dish, the creative forces of Santo Cilauro, Rob Sitch, Jane Kennedy, Tom Gleisner and Michael Hirsh have produced television gold in the form of talk show The Panel, improv comedy Thank God You’re Here and political satire The Hollowmen. Now their first theatrical outing since 2000, Any Questions for Ben?, explores the quarter-life crisis that is a reality for every young global citizen.
We were lucky to sit down with Daniel Henshall, one of the stars of the film and a recent winning of an AACTA for Snowtown, and model/actress Jodi Gordon, perhaps best known for her long-running role on TV’s Home & Away.
We need to thank Roadshow Films for all the access given to the cast and creative team of this film, and of course, Mr. Henshall and Ms. Gordon for their time and generous answers.
RG: How did you both come to get involved in the film?
JG: I was sitting at my mum’s house one day and got a call from the agent. [Laughs] I’m going to be very specific. They just said Working Dog are making this new film, do you want to be part of it? This is the character, this is a very brief outline of the film. No script was read, but of course with Working Dog you just say yes.
DH: Absolutely, yeah – same sort of deal. I got a call while I was doing Snowtown, and it said they were making the film and they would like to offer you the role. They’d like to meet with you. Actually, they just said they they would like to meet you. So I was back in Sydney for a weekend, and Jane [Kennedy] was kind enough to fly up and have coffee with me, talked about it, showed me some scenes and then she said pretty much ‘Do you want it?’. And I was just gobsmacked. I didn’t say yes because I didn’t know what to do, but of course as soon as I got on the phone to my agent I was like like “S-should I…yes!”.
RG: So I guess it was purely Working Dog was the lure, but was there an element to the story that attracted you at all?
DH: Yeah, it sounded like something they hadn’t done before, and they were very excited about it and it was their first project in 12 years. They put a lot of time and love and effort into it and they were extremely excited about the cast that they were assembling and very excited about making the film, and they had a very clear idea about what they wanted to showcase in the film. A lot of that being the character that is Melbourne, a side that we don’t always see in film and television, the classy kind of bright, shiny, beautiful cultural city that it is and the Working Dog thing kept coming home. They’re pretty tight with their scripts, they like to keep them close to their heart, which is great, and I love that.
JG: It’s a surprise.
DH: It was a surprise. This person’s in it, this person’s in, this is who we are, this is what we’d like to do with you, this is the character you’re doing, do you want it?
JG: For me it was about doing a comedy with the best people to do a comedy with. That to me is hugely educational, you know? It’s a whole learning process. It’s like learning an entire new language. So it was great.
RG: You talked about how tight the script was. To me it felt as though there was an really easy, natural back-and-forth between the characters.
DH: They’re very specific about what they’d like to get out of the scene, how the lines should be delivered, and they’re constantly changing if it doesn’t work. To the last minute, if this isn’t working, try this.
JG: Just constantly fine-tuning to get exactly what they want, but at the same time they give you that freedom as an actor to have your input and to share what you have, and then you assess whether that’s right or wrong and if that fits in. But ultimately, they have their vision and you all work together to get that right.
DH: Rob’s [Stitch] extremely strong about the idea that you go home, learn your lines, come to set and we’ll do the work with you. That’s all we need to know, and it gives you that freshness and that realness to it, and that ease to it and rather than pinpointing it and honing it until the point where you’ve lost all that. But it’s always about hitting marks. Comedy is very structured, unless you’re an extreme talent like Josh Lawson or Felicity Ward and just nail it every time in different fashions. For myself, Jodi pretty much nailed it every time.
JG: It’s very different, and when you watch it you think it looks so improvised and very free, but there’s so much structure to it and that’s one of the major things I noticed when I got on set and everybody’s talking really fast. [Laughs] I was like “Oh shit, how do I keep up?”.
DH: Very, very keen on the pace of it, and not just to hit home on the punchline. To have a natural reaction when it happens. The way that they’ve edited it, they’ve edited it around the situational comedy. There’s a lot of punchlines in the film, but I find the lovelier moments are just the situations. You see people are reacting in the room who may not have a lot to do with the dialogue, but you find the context very funny.
RG: Also, Daniel: first of all, congratulations on the AACTA this week for Snowtown. It’s a huge deal for you, and I guess in the spirit of Any Questions for Ben?, how has this moment altered the direction of your life and career?
DH: Ask me in about a year? It was an honour to be nominated, and for the film to be recognised in the fashion that it was just meant so much to us. We spent a long time and a lot of effort trying to make this film with integrity, and do that with as much sensitivity as possible because it’s such a horrific story. People are still living with that story, and the history of that story, and the families and the victims that were involved. So to be acknowledged that way in the public light by the highest standard in Australia was very special, and to win what we did meant the world to us. To be recognised in your own country is very special.
RG: Jodi, you’ve had extensive experience on television before this. You’ve said you came to this wanting to try comedy, so for you how was the approach different coming to this feature?
JG: Being in television for so long, you get used to the pace and energy. The pace and the energy of doing a comedy is still there, but it’s very different, because making a film is such a slower process. There is so much to learn. I remember when I’d done my first feature film, trying to take it all in, and it really was overwhelming, but it’s what I really love doing and it’s what I’m really passionate about.
RG: And you’ve just made two horse-related films in a row. You did The Cup…
JG: The horsey girl! It was a bad choice wasn’t it? If there’s a horse film, I’m in it.
RG: I suppose they weren’t filmed back-to-back…
JG: It’s funny when I turned up. I’m at the racecourse again! What’s going on?
RG: The other thing is you’ve got coming up Daniel is Not Suitable For Children. Is that filmed?
DH: That’s done. I play a very small part in that, but that’s definitely Sarah Snook, and Ryan Kwanten and Ryan Corr’s film. And they’re all brilliant and beautiful in it and I can’t wait to see it. It was fun working with them
RG: You’ve both touched on it already. Working with the Working Dog team, working with someone like Rob Sitch…
DH: Tom Gleisner. Santo [Cilauro]. Jane. Michael Hirsch…
JG: That whole team.
DH: D-Generation, Frontline. I grew up watching those guys. My brother and sister are quite older than me, and they made me watch the D-Gen. Every Christmas, we’d get the D-Gen Best-Of and just watch that. I mean, Rob Sitch had the best comic sketch in Australian history with “Shit Scared” [from The Late Show]. It’s just comedy gold, and to work with a guy who is as funny as that, and so intelligent and so inspirational is just brilliant.
RG: I’ll preface this by saying that I’m about to go into another room and talk to Josh Lawson and Christian Clark…
DH: Those guys are dickheads.
RG: So is there any embarassing stories I can spring on them?
DH: They’re both beautiful people. Funny guys.
JG: Just the best. Josh’s energy is just something on another level.
DH: He worked every day for seven weeks, on that film.
JG: And I never saw him having a…
DH: Never had a princess moment. Always upbeat, how you guy. Happy to give you the time of day when he had the chance. Much respect and admiration for anyone who can do that and pull it off on-screen. Christian: how funny is Christian?
JG: Oh my god, he is hilarious in the movie.
DH: So funny. I think I laugh hardest when he comes on-screen.
JG: And Lachy Hulme.
DH: Lachy Hulme. If you ever get a chance to meet Lachy Hulme, he’s such a wonderful man. Such a great character.
JG: Someone was warning me about him, I think it was Josh, but he’s one of those passion actors…
DH: Loves to talk about acting, loves to talk about film. So passionate.
RG: So what’s next for you both.
JG: Just auditioning, having a good time, living life.
DH: Getting married…
JG: Getting married. Some fashion things.
DH: Can we say that? Am I hitting on that too hard? Getting married?
JG: No, I love that.
DH: Ok. She’s getting married…
RG: I’m not getting a scoop then? Thanks so much for your time.