Releasing in cinemas this week, ‘Cut Snake’ is a new Australian crime thriller set in the 1970’s that details the life of young Sparra (Alex Russell), a private man in his 20’s hoping to make a fresh start in a new city. He has found what he believes is an honest life with a new job and relationship with the beautiful Paula (Jessica De Gouw), but a figure from his criminal past – the charismatic Pommie (Sullivan Stapleton) – threatens to lure Sparra back into a life he wants to forget but can’t completely detach himself from. Playing within the compounds of a slow burning thriller but showcasing a surprising love story with plenty of queer undertones, ‘Cut Snake’ is an unexpected sucker punch of mixed emotions featuring a stand-out turn from the enigmatic Sullivan Stapleton. On the eve of the film’s release and QNews entertainment writer Peter Gray spoke met with director Tony Ayres to discuss his unlikely story.
I just finished watching the film and I was really impressed that it doesn’t follow the path you expect it to – was it that element that drew you to the script?
Absolutely! The thing is with the first half of the film you think you know where it’s going and then it turns everything on its head and it becomes a film where anything could happen.
With gay marriage being such a hot topic now and homosexual characters finding a more prominent spot in media, did you ever consider setting the film nowadays as opposed to the 1970’s?
I think now it would’ve been hard to understand why Sparra (Alex Russell’s character) makes the choices that he makes because he had no other choice but to be with the character of Paula (Jessica De Gouw) whereas nowadays his character would have more ‘options’.
The 70’s setting looks great in the film, was that an easy feat to achieve?
(Laughing) On our budget, no! We had a wonderful production designer, and she was great at being able to marshal the sources we need. Without trying too hard I think the film felt like an effortless period film. We didn’t try to foreground the period; we just kept it to the background.
The film is essentially a three-person show, what was the casting process like? Were Sullivan (Stapleton) and Alex (Russell) the two actors on your radar for Pommie and Sparra?
Sullivan certainly was from the very beginning. I had seen him in ‘Animal Kingdom’, and he’s also a friend of mine and we had always wanted to work together and he just felt absolutely right. He is a big strong, alpha man and he plays the hero a lot of the time so I think he was intrigued by the challenge of the role. In terms of Alex, when I first auditioned him for the film I felt he was too young for the role, and then by the time we had gotten the money for the film – which was several years later – I went back to Alex and revisited his audition, and I spoke to him on Skype as he was in America, and it became very apparent that he was the right actor for the role. It’s a very tricky role, it’s a character that’s caught between wanting to change his life and go straight and his criminal past with a man who is essentially in love with him, and he is in love so much that he is prepared to destroy his life to go back.
There was a real sense of deep, genuine love between them (Pommie and Sparra), and you only fleetingly see it in the film, did you ever discuss showcasing that more?
We did at one point, but I honestly couldn’t think of a moment to put it in because it’s a thriller and we needed to keep charging forward and I felt that the relationship was so strong that it didn’t need much more exposure.
Sullivan is so intimidating in the film, was he in character for the duration of the film or did he break character once filming was over? He was very intense; it was one of the things that really struck me with him.
No, he’s not method (laughs). He would be doing a scene where he rapes a prostitute and in-between would be joking and doing the “hamburger”, which is a puppetry of the penis joke (laughs) he’s going to kill me now that I’ve revealed that! He was very much a leader on set, when he went for it he really went for it but he’s not a method actor so he doesn’t have to carry it with him afterwards.
The film is seeing its release this week in Australia, and I believe it was screened as part of last year’s Toronto Film Festival. Is it exciting to have the film screen at such an international event prior to its home-grown release?
Toronto is such a big, important festival and it was very exciting to be a part of it, we felt very privileged.
You’ve had an astonishing career, particularly in drama and documentaries, and on television. Is there any genre or particular story you wish to explore?
I always like to tell stories about outsiders. Being from a Chinese-Australian background and being gay, I found that I could always connect to those stories, and stories about difference are stories that are important to me. I just finished working on a film called ‘The Family Law’ which is based on Benjamin Law’s memoir, which is about a not-obviously gay Chinese boy and his family growing up on the Sunshine Coast. And we’re just about to do ‘Barracuda’ which is Christos Tsiolkas next book after ‘The Slap’, and that’s about a sexually confused swimmer who’s trying to get into the 2000 Olympics. You know those kind of stories are always important to me – and then I’m working on a Muslim romantic comedy!
With ‘Holding The Man’ doing so well at the moment it seems like a really great time for a film like ‘Cut Snake’ to get released and I hope that people will go along to it and be quite surprised that it turns into the love story that it is, so I really hope things go well for you.
Oh thank you, yeah I hope so too!