Interview: Felicity Price (Wish You Were Here)

Interview: Felicity Price (Wish You Were Here). By Simon Miraudo.

There’s no better way to ensure you get a juicy role in a movie than by writing it yourself. Felicity Price has done just that with Wish You Were Here, which tells of a dream holiday gone nightmarishly wrong. Co-written and directed by her husband Kieran Darcy-Smith, Price stars alongside Joel EdgertonTeresa Palmer, and Antony Starr as Aussie holidaymakers in Cambodia. One disappears (seemingly) into thin air, and the other three can do little else but return home and try to carry on with their lives as best they can. But some of them are holding onto a secret, and the mysterious events that transpired on the island continue to haunt them.

Check out our review of Wish You Were Here.

We spoke to Felicity about her travel experiences, taking the picture to Sundance, and writing while changing nappies.

SM: I guess I have to begin by asking, are you much of a traveller?

FP: I am a traveller; one of my great passions is travelling. Absolutely, yes.

SM: Great. Have you got any horror stories from travelling? Hopefully not as horrifying as the one from Wish You Were Here?

FP: You know, I kind of fear the day my daughter or my son says to me, “I’m going overseas!” Because I know the scrapes I’ve gotten into overseas, and the people I’ve randomly met on the street and said, “Yeah, OK, sure, let’s go do this together.” I mean, I got into some pretty … some scary scrapes. Mainly just meeting people and maybe ending up in the wrong kind of environment which can be a bit scary, but at the same time I usually trust my instincts with people and I end up OK. When I step back and have a think about some of the things I’ve done and some of the places I’ve been, a little fear runs through me, because sometimes those things can go badly. But for me I’ve been a little lucky with that.

SM: Right, well were those experiences part of the inspiration for the film? What was the first seed of inspiration?

FP: The seeds of inspiration came from a couple of different places, but one was, yes, a story that I’d heard of that had actually occurred to a friend of mine and my husband Kieran, who co-wrote the film, and it was a similar story to what happens in the film. Two couples go travelling to Southeast Asia, and one of the guys of those two couples went missing. In that particular story, which I didn’t know well but was something I’d heard around – you know one of those stories you hear around occasionally? – but in that particular story, that guy was never found again, and no one knows what happened to him, I don’t believe. So my story is not that story at all; it’s kind of very loosely based on this hear-say that I’d heard. But I was interested in that. And I was also interested in the world that I was existing in. We had two very small children while we were writing the film, and friends were just starting to have kids, and it was like a world where we were growing up and tasting responsibility for the first time, and though it’s beautiful to have children and you love them more than anything in the world, there’s a part of you that still longs for that time when you were more free and you could kind of let loose and do what you wanted whenever you wanted. So I was kind of interested putting together those two ideas, and I took the idea of the missing person and upped the ante of the responsibility of the other three characters in that situation on that particular night when the character in the film goes missing. I wanted to throw them all into a situation where they could question; could they have done something different? What does he know? What does she know? Something that kind of tears apart the relationships of the characters in the film.

Kieran Darcy-Smith with Felicity Price at Sundance.

SM: Absolutely. Can you tell us a little bit about what it’s like to write a film with your husband? Can you ever switch off when you’re at home and not work on it?

FP: We rarely did actually, but I think that’s just the kind of people that we are. We’re very passionate and get very passionately involved in very creative ideas and we like to just run with it and play with it. At any given time, doing the washing up, or, as we had a couple of kids, changing nappies or whatever, we’d be saying, “What about…you know that moment where we’re looking for a solution? I have an idea; let’s do that and that.” It kind of expedited the writing process and the script, because we were constantly talking about it. We were constantly brainstorming different problems and solutions and ideas. Of course we sat down at our computers at certain points to write everything out, but we didn’t have to make formal arrangements to get together and write something, as you might in a co-write where you’re not cohabiting. We were sort of talking about it all the time. Interestingly, some people have asked us, “Oh, did you argue?” But, no, we didn’t really. Of course there’s creative differences on certain points, but it was nothing major; it was kind of a wonderful thing for our relationship to be talking about this all the time and building it and making it grow. It was like another child really.

SM: If you did ever come to loggerheads on a creative difference, did you always get the final say?

FP: Oh, absolutely. I’d never let him have the final say.

SM: Good, I’m glad to hear it. You’ve secured a really nice cast for this. It’s a very intimate film; it’s yourself, Joel Edgerton, Teresa Palmer, and Antony Starr, with others of course, but you’re the central four. Can you tell me about putting them together?

FP: Yes indeed. Joel and Kieran, my husband, have been very good friends for a very long time. They went to drama school together and they also have a kind of film collective called Blue Tongue Films. And Joel had been the best man at our wedding, and he’s the godfather to our first born son. He’s just a great friend, and we’ve all sort of known each other for a long time. Joel had read every draft of the script since the very first draft, as more of an advisor, a trustworthy person who would give us advice on the script, that sort of thing. When it came to the casting, Joel’s star was really rising, and Kieran was a little hesitant to impede on the friendship to play the role in what was a low budget Australian film. But there was a certain point where Joel was starting to look at photographs; Kieran had put together a look-book that he’d taken to the Cannes Film Festival to raise some money for the financing of the film. Joel was looking through this book, and it had photos of these different actors; not him. He was going, “What the hell? Who’s actually playing this role?” Kieran was like, “Oh, you know, could be so and so or so and so.” Naming actors other than himself. And Joel said, “Well, what about me? I’ll play it.” And Kieran was like, “Ah! Great!” Kieran just didn’t want to step on the friendship by asking him to do something, in the worry that he might say no, but Joel put his hand up to do it, which was wonderful and has been wonderful for the film. He’s a great, great actor and he’s amazing in it. Teresa was someone that Kieran met one night at a dinner party and that role of Steph, who’s my character Alice’s sister, had a very particular quality and Teresa really seemed perfectly suitable. Kieran just asked her to read the script, and she loved it and wanted to do it. She’s fantastic in it. And Ant Starr is a Kiwi guy, and he had just come to Australia to do a few meetings with people, and the casting director asked him if he would do a read for the part; just read the scenes we were auditioning with. We had cast the net quite wide, and had cast a lot of guys, but Ant came in and did this fantastic read. We saw the tape and were like, “This is the guy that we have been thinking about and had in our mind as we were writing the script.” He just happened to be perfect.

SM: Wonderful. The film certainly evoked to me a number of things. Obviously the Bali Nine, and Schapelle Corby, and also backpacker Britt Lapthorne from a few years ago; not that the film follows in those footsteps necessarily. There is this real culture of travel in Australia, but do you think Australians are afraid of the world around us as well?

FP: I mean, I wouldn’t say so. No, I’ve never necessarily thought that. I think that Australians are great travellers. Anytime that I’ve been overseas and travelling, other people from other countries always say, “Australians are always travelling.” We always make a good fist of it when we travel, because I think we’re so far away. When you travel to Europe, you’re going for a good few months; you’re really doing a couple of weeks of a summer break. You’re really going to get out there and travel. I always think of Australians as very adventurous travellers. They put a backpack on, get their bag, and really investigate the further reaches of the globe sometimes. I guess the thing that we were exploring in our film is how sometimes you can go out – you can travel to a region like Southeast Asia, which is culturally extremely different to the culture that we live in, even though it’s in our Asia pacific region – you can step into those countries and those cultures sometimes, and because your dollar goes a bit further, sometimes you feel like, “Yeah I know this place; and I’m on top of the world.” There can be a darker place you can accidentally fall into in those countries, and you can very quickly find yourself out of your depth. I think we were more investigating how people can act a bit irresponsibly, or let loose and just be partying a bit too hard, or on holidays behave a bit differently than they would at home, and in that situation can find themselves in deeper waters than they know how to handle.

(L-R) Antony Starr, Joel Edgerton, Felicity Price, and Teresa Palmer at Sundance.

SM: The film debuted at Sundance earlier in the year, and it got some really nice reviews there. How was it to present it to an American audience first? How was that reaction?

FP: I mean, the reaction was amazing. It was far, far beyond my expectations really. We played on opening night of Sundance, so there were a lot of expectations around the film; a bit of heat around the film. And that made us… we were incredibly happy about that, but that can be a double edged sword. So we were a bit nervous about the fact there was such expectation around the film. That night, of the opening night screening, we were the very first film to screen at Sundance. It was nerve-wracking definitely. But it went off really, really well, and in some of the major publications that everyone has their eye on – like Variety and Hollywood Reporter and the L.A. Times – we got such amazing reviews. I know you shouldn’t put too much emphasis on reviews, but it can allow you to breathe a little sigh of relief and go, “Ahh, OK. People understood the film; they got it, they thought it was good.” The response was quite overwhelming. We had our premiere in Sydney a couple of nights ago, and that was another thing where people responded really beautifully. Incredibly well.

SM: That’s great to hear. Have you got anything on the horizon? What are you working on next? Would you consider directing?

FP: Oh look, I would love to direct. I feel like it may be a couple of films away for me, because directing is a very technical job, so you really need to have your eye on the technicality of where to place the camera and how to light a situation. But I would love to. I think I’m that much of a control freak that it would really suit my personality. I’m writing another feature film script; a psychological thriller that I’m very involved in. I spent the last few months in LA securing representation off the back of this film, so I’ll head back there and be auditioning for films and, you know, just reaping the benefits of this one I guess.

Wish You Were Here arrives in Australian cinemas April 25, 2012. Check out our review here.

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