Interview: Paul Fenech (Housos vs. Authority)

Interview: Paul Fenech (Housos vs. Authority). By Simon Miraudo.

Paul Fenech is responsible for some of Australia’s most popular – and controversial – TV series, having created and starred in Pizza, Swift and Shift Couriers, and Housos. His most recent feature film, Housos vs. Authority, hit the big screen last week, and his rabid fan base ate up the politically incorrect satire of aggressive housing estate residents. Besides writing, directing, and producing the flick in under eight months, he also plays Franky, a sex-mad thug with a penchant for “thongin'” anyone who crosses him. We spoke to Fenech, the self-proclaimed “Captain America of Australian Film and TV,” about Housos’ run-in with A Current Affair, his one criticism of the movie, and the future of Pizza.

SM: Can you tell me a little bit about where the idea for Housos, both the show and now the movie, kind of originated?

PF: Well, I guess I hung around a lot of dodgy people, and I knew that they would like this comedy. So, that was probably it. An ex-girlfriend in particular.

SM: Oh, really? Can you elaborate?

PF: Think Rockingham, mate. Think Rockingham.

SM: Say no more, in that case. Well, the show was embroiled in controversy even before it aired, with A Current Affair mistakenly calling it a Government funded reality show. Now, they get a mention in the movie, but were you tempted to give them a bigger serve?

PF: Look, you know, I’m always tempted to have a go at everybody in a bigger way, but it suited the story for them to be in it as they were. But yeah, look, I can’t complain, mate. In the end, the publicity they ended up giving us gave us a bunch of fans before we even had the show on air. So, I’m not going to complain. Actually, I should be paying them for the amount of publicity they gave us.

SM: It was a kindness that they did you in the end. There was eight months from the beginning of the writing process to basically finishing the film. Was there any point where you were concerned you weren’t going to get finished in time?

PF: Nah mate, I’m just like, you know, the “Captain America of Australian Film and TV.” Give me a mission, and it will be accomplished… That’s probably not a good analogy. I’m pretty used to working with deadlines in TV, so I knew we could do it unless we had any major problems, and we didn’t have any major problems. It was all good.

SM: Excellent. Australian cinema over the years, and particular in the past decade, has focused on poverty and the lower classes. I think, even with the goofy comedy in Housos vs. Authority, you’re trying to fit into that lineage. Is that important to you? To make political points? To have that agenda imbued with the comedy?

PF: Yeah, 100 per cent. Let’s face it. There’s a growing number of poor people in Australia, and there’s a particular flavour that comes from, I don’t know if you want to call it ‘the greater majority of underdogs in Australia’? There’s no comedy for them, mate. Kath and Kim is a bit old now, and we haven’t really had a comedy that relates to the V8-loving, bourbon-drinking, tattoo-getting, AVO-stomping, STI-having masses, mate.

SM: Do you have any personal favourite Australian comedies?

PF: Look, I don’t… I’ve seen lots of them, but to be honest, I think my favourite Australian comedies finished with Paul Hogan’s last couple of movies and his TV stuff. I like Fast Forward; a lot of TV. I think around about the eighties; there hasn’t been anything that’s turned me on since then. Not situation comedy, anyway.

SM: Fair enough. Now you have written the film, produced it, directed it, and you star in it. You’re in a bunch of sex scenes. You’ve got some fight sequences; some motorbike stunts. Did you ever think to yourself, “I’ve given myself way too much to do; I’m too busy to have to worry about being on screen as well”? How did you cope with it all?

PF: Look, I’m just a control freak, so it was a control freak’s paradise, mate. To be honest, when I looked at the movie I was spewing I didn’t do more action sequences. I really like the motorbike scenes, and I was like, “S**t, I should have done something else. Like, scaled up Ayers Rock.” I don’t know. I seem to have enough energy to kind of manage it all. I never feel like I’m tested too far. My only criticism of that movie is that it was really cold in winter, and in shorts and thongs, that’s punishing.

SM: It’s not ideal. I understand you’re working on a horror movie called Demon. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

PF: Yeah, at the moment I’m working on two movies, actually. We’ve just finished Housos the movie; we’re finishing Housos the TV show, series two. I’ve got to finish off another movie which is made for America, which is a comedy called Mexican. Then, I’m going to move onto the horror movie Demon, which is just like a scary horror movie. That’s it. I can’t say too much about it. Like David Copperfield. He can’t tell you how he’s going to do his magic tricks. But it’s a scary horror.

SM: Would you ever consider going back to more serious fare, like your first flick [Somewhere in the Darkness]?

PF: Look, dramas don’t really interest me all that much, to be honest. I like genres: action, comedy. Horror is interesting because it’s like comedy. With comedy, you set up a joke, and then, “Bang,” there’s your joke. I think horror is the same in terms of setting up a scare and then, “Bang.” I’m a bit of a prankster, so I love scaring people on set. When it’s dark, and they’re walking alone, I’ll jump out and go, “Argh!” I like to make people laugh, and I like scaring people, so it’s comedy or horror. It’s one of the two.

SM: OK. What about another Pizza? Is that finished for good now? Have you moved on, or is there still a bit of life left there?

PF: I don’t know, mate. You should never say never, but I really like the comedy ensemble we’ve got now with Housos. They’re really fun to work with, and they’re all really talented. Kind of feels like we’ve got all the same elements of Pizza, anyway, but maybe it’s more of a mature comedy. It’s one of those classic things though. If I went back to Pizza, everyone would go, “Oh, why aren’t you doing Housos?!

Housos vs. Authority is now showing in Australian cinemas.

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