Interview: Damon Gameau (Save Your Legs)

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By Simon Miraudo
February 26, 2013

Boyd Hicklin‘s cricket comedy Save Your Legs sees a bunch of Aussie underdogs embark on their first international tour in India. In it, Damon Gameau (Balibo, Howzat) shares the screen with Stephen Curry and screenwriter Brendan Cowell; all three playing developmentally arrested man-children who wouldn’t feel out of place in a Judd Apatow pic. The comparison is a clear one. However, during our chat, Gameau also name-checked Michael Haneke, Mark Cousins, and Lars von Trier; perhaps the only time those inimitable filmmakers would be referred to during discussions of a raucous comedy with a penchant for diarrhoea jokes. We spoke to Gameau about playing Stav in the flick, surviving sickness in South Asia, and his upcoming feature debut.

Check out Simon Miraudo’s review of Save Your Legs here.

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SM: You attended a Q&A screening of the film last night. How was it to watch Save Your Legs with an audience?

DG: I’ve seen the film three times now, and it’s only ever been with a festival audience. And look, it’s not a festival film at all. It was with a different crowd, and they’d just seen a Michael Haneke film.

SM: It’s not quite a suitable double feature with Amour.

DG: That’s right. Everyone’s in black. To see it with the audience it was intended for – and there was a team of park cricketers all dressed in their outfits who’d come along – you go, “Okay, we do have a place for these kinds of films in Australia.” It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but to see everyone’s response… There was genuine laughter and people really loved it. I kind of have hope that we can do a cross section of films in this country. Hopefully, people will go and support.

SM: Do you feel like there’s been a type of story that’s missing in Aussie cinema in the last couple of years?

DG: I guess they all have a place, but for me, that real drudgery type, heroin-laced, gritty drama stuff… Look, I can see them. But certain directors might go for that because it’s a chance to get a festival. To get acclaim. It’s not really serving the audience. They’re very well done, but what are you doing with the audience? Sometimes it’s good to mix it up. I think of something like Balibo, which is one of the things I’m most proud of. That’s a beautiful film. That has a place. I hope that we don’t just go and watch The Hangover and these American films, but also have a big cross-section of different genres of film in Australia. Hopefully Save Your Legs will be just as supported as an Animal Kingdom. We’ve got space for both.

SM: Well, it does fall into that “underdog sports movie” field. I have to ask, what are your favourites of that genre?

DG: Of those kinds of films? What do I like? That golf film Tin Cup; a random movie with Kevin Costner. I’ve always liked that film, because I grew up liking golf with my dad. I guess, when I was younger, The Mighty Ducks.

SM: An Emilio Estevez classic.

DG: I loved it. I like the gritty independent films, but every now and then my girlfriend and I just want the most clichéd kind of film, as long as it’s well done. Not if it’s banal. But I still like a big, heart-warming feel-good story. Quite often the animations do it for me these days. I love them. They’re such well-made films now. I think the planet needs a bit more love in it sometimes. It gets a bit bleak. We don’t want to go to the cinema and watch more of it. We want to dream. I don’t know if you saw recently, but they had The Story of Film on SBS.

SM: No, it’s on my to-do list.

DG: It’s really interesting. Mark Cousins discusses the last days of celluloid and entering the digital age, and what it brought on was the fantasy, and The Hobbits and these kinds of films. We suddenly went into mythical lands and left gritty reality, which was captured on film. And there’s still guys doing it – the Lars von Triers – but how there was a shift in society and it was captured on film, and it’s something that can play with our imaginations, and create worlds that didn’t exist. I think there’s something really interesting.

SM: You also played Greg Chappell in Howzat. Is cricket your sport of choice?

DG: Not really. I played it when I was younger. It was just one of those things. And these were back to back. Save Your Legs was about two-and-a-half months, then I had a week off and went into three months of Howzat. It was really odd. I wouldn’t have ever thought I’d do that much cricket, let alone back to back. But, I really enjoyed it. It was a bit draining towards the end, because Howzat was second, and by then I was a bit over the whole, “Hanging out with the boys, playing cricket.” It was like, “I get it now.” I don’t hate cricket. It was still an enjoyable process.

SM: Well, tell me about getting involved with Save Your Legs. How were you cast in it?

DG: They’d been developing for five years, and they had a whole series of people in for my role. I think even Stephen Curry was reading for it. Robyn Kershaw, who’s a producer, had seen me do some other show, and just went “Oh, you could do it.” So, I went in with Steve and we just had this day where we’d improvise for a couple hours. It was good fun, and we’d been friends for years so it was easy. It just happened from there. It was something, where, you were always going to be more forgiving of the script because the premise was so rich. Like, a trip to India playing cricket? “Yeah, I’ll take that.” I’ll forgive whatever comes up in the script. And Brendan [Cowell] was really good; he also wrote the script. He was open to suggestions too, and not precious about the words. There was a lot of playing with them there, and improvising on the day, which was great. There’s a freedom in that that you don’t get sometimes, when you’re working on something so rigid. Especially when you’re doing a comedy, you look at those Judd Apatow films, and there’s no script. They do a take of complete improvisation, and there’s three writers in the back suggesting things, and they’re going, “Say this. Try this.” It’s all rapid fire, and manic, and it’s really fresh. They’re saying it for the first time, and it’s always funnier than when it’s trite.

SM: With you pitching stuff, was that related to your character specifically, or the story as a whole?

DG: Well, Brendan was really good. There was a different story. Originally, his character was the one to save the match and then hand it over to Ted. I said, “Brendan, it’s better if the guy who’s the arrogant t**t has that moment. The guy who is about to get all that glory gives it up.” We stuck to the story and the structure pretty well. It was the odd line here and there. Especially my character, who is talking in the third person all the time; Brendan let me come up with different ones. I’d throw them in, and they’d keep them or lose them. Collaboration always makes for a better project.

SM: Stav is, to be frank, a bit of a douchebag.

DG: Oh, yeah.

SM: Is that something you relished, or something you wanted to pull back a bit on?

DG: I mean, I’m not like him at all in real life, so to play someone like that is fantastic, because you’re saying s*** you’d be mortified to say. To run around and act like this person for a while was great fun, and it suits comedy really well. Some of that stuff on the page can read one-dimensional. We all know that guy; he’s the arrogant guy. How do you find a way to say, “No, he’s loyal underneath, because they’re his mates.” There’s a heart down there; it’s not just cold. That would’ve been totally unlikable and not funny. To find moments of lightness in that – and still having a laugh – somewhere in there is a character in there who’s funny. A guy who’s simple and thinks he’s amazing. In that gap, the comedy lies.

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SM: With the Apatow films you mentioned, a lot of those are about dim guys with delusions of grandeur. Ron Burgundy comes to mind.

DG: Or The Office. We love that, because on some level we relate to that. That’s what ego is. “I’m all-conquering,” and then other times we’re thinking, “F***, what am I doing?”

SM: India looks beautiful in the film, but there had to have been hard days on the set. Was there a particularly hard day when you thought, “This isn’t worth it”?

DG: There were many days. It had nothing to do with attitudes or the conditions. It was that I genuinely just got really sick. I went down first, and Stephen and Brendan went the next day. We were probably sick for two weeks, but there were three days in particular. I spent a night on the tiles, and I was sitting on the toilet, and I was throwing up in the bath. You’d look up at the clock and think, “I’m getting picked up in 15 minutes, and I haven’t even slept. I’ve already lost four kilos over night.” I had three days in a row like that. They changed the schedule, because we had to keep shooting. One of the days was cricket, and another scene involves me in a pink suit jumping off a boat. In that scene, they had to literally lift me off the boat. I could have easily fallen into the river Ganges and floated away. You know what it’s like? You wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Then you throw in the intensity – there’s a goat walking by, elephant s*** there – it all adds to the sickness.

SM: How long was the shoot?

DG: Five weeks. Terrific experience. A guy can experience another culture, and step outside his comfort zone and try new things. You’re making a movie over there. It’s why you do it really.

SM: A great diet too.

DG: You could sell it. In LA, just get some Ganges water, and sell it like the ‘Ganges Beach Water Diet.’

SM: You won the Tropfest award a couple years ago for Animal Beatbox. Are you interested in directing more?

DG: Mate, that’s what I’ve been doing the last few months; directing my first feature that Madman are producing. An animated – well, not full animation – documentary on the sugar industry, and what sugar does to us, and the hidden sugar in food. How new research has shown it affects us, linking it to diabetes, obesity, depression, and different behaviour patterns. There are real similarities between it and tobacco in the late 80s, particularly in how things are being hidden. The plan is to make a very educational film in a real light-hearted way. There’s no dogma in there. It’s using all the colours and lightness of the sugar industry and animation to get this message across in a really fun way, and people can choose to do what they want, but at least it’ll be accessible to kids and parents. If it does well, it could really have an impact around the world.

SM: Is there a date for that?

DG: Not a locked on date. By the end of the year.

SM: You’re also in the remake of Patrick. Can you tell me about your part in that?

DG: Mark [Hartley], the director, he loves his films. It was really lovely to share that experience with him, because it was his first film. He was learning so much, and you can tell it was that transition from absolute film-lover to filmmaker. In that gap there’s a lot to learn. Rachel Griffiths, Charles Dance; there were good people on set. I’d never done horror before. I turn up, first day, with this meat hook in my back, and I’m strung up in the deep freeze. He’s saying, “Just push your face up against the glass; you’re freezing to death.” And I’m like, “What am I doing?” It was so much high energy, doing ten takes where you’re screaming your guts out. It was a good experience, and hopefully it will do really well.

SM: What else have you got coming up?

DG: A couple of things. Rolf de Heer is doing another film [Charlie’s Country] with David Gulpilil, based loosely … not on David’s life, but its an assimilation story about Aboriginals trying to fit into our culture. He’s done this great thing where he’s got all the actors who have worked with David before, and they’ve got different roles in it. A reunion. We’re shooting in Darwin, and, knowing Rolf, it will be something interesting and innovative. Then Brendan’s directing an ABC outlaw film. Like an Australian Django [Unchained], I reckon. A drama about a real guy called Michael Howe from 1812. It’s sort of a Blood Meridian story about a gang that terrorises Tasmania, and they’re about to take it over. It’s a true story. It was a prison, but there were no walls there. This gang got so big they started overthrowing the government. Has a cracking cast, so it should be fun to hang out there.

Save Your Legs arrives in Australian cinemas February 28, 2013.

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