A few weeks ago, Julie W, who I work with, got a call from an old friend. He was Andrew O’Keefe, who she taught many years ago when she was a teacher in a little country school. She later worked for Andrew’s father for a long time and saw him grow up from a distance. Andrew’s now in his thirties and directing an independent feature film, called appropriately enough, ‘The Independent’.
It’s the tale of a gormless chap who for obscure reasons of his own, decides to run as a candidate for the seat of Richmond in a state election. Due to some unexpected events and to everyone’s surprise, he finds himself a player. Hijinks ensue.
My first contact with this outfit came when the Writer/Directors Andrew and John Studley came to our office to have a look, ask questions, talk politics and generally get in the mood. An actor called Chris Bunworth came along and stayed the rest of the day, helping us get the outfit into gear for an imminent visit by the Leader of the Opposition himself, who was coming to officially open the new building. Julie had Chris making sandwiches. I said it would make a good story for the DVD commentary. Not quite Robert De Niro on ‘Raging Bull’, but still…
Andrew was asking us about the fact that we were all wearing suits. Highly unusual, we said. Strictly for the Beazley visit. I went into a little essay on the political implications of suit wearing in various circumstances. Andrew said: “We should get you talking to our costume designer Jill.” A little globe lit up in my head. I said: “Not Jill Johanson, is it?”
Long story, but Jill is now an AFI-award nominated costume designer and very glamorous. Back when I knew her properly, we were starving students in a Brunswick share house. Actually, I was the starving student. She was busy working, making costumes for the Victorian State Opera, when it existed, making money from dresses and fabulous hats for the ladies from the leafy suburbs who populate the Spring Racing Carnival. While I was in existential crisis, she was busy. We lost contact, as you do, after she won a Churchill Fellowship and went off to London and I had a baby.
So Julie gets an invitation to be a crazy street lady in the movie. Then we get an email inviting us to be part of a crowd scene, pretending to be Party members at an old hall in Williamstown, which is no great stretch for me, as I am often in exactly this position in real life. So Ellen – the baby, who is now fifteen – trot off to Williamstown to see a movie being made.
We’re in our crowd scenes, and they are doing pick up shots with two camera crews among the people milling about. The candidate – Marty – is talking to people, pressing the flesh. Andrew comes up to me and asks me if I could ask him some hard questions, real questions that might make something a bit more interesting.
So then I am in jovial conversation with the actor Chris Bunworth, who is playing a political staffer, something like the person I am in real life. We’re chatting about the film, rehearsals, how’s it all going, et cetera, and he looks over to where I notice we are being filmed from some distance away by a camera crew which is coming in closer. Chris moves away for a moment and then approaches me with his hand outstretched and “Hi, how are you? I don’t think we’ve met before, have we? I’m Chris – and how did you come to be here tonight? Have you heard about Marty’s campaign?” And we’re in.
I realise I’m talking to Chris the character. He’s speaking slightly louder than usual as there is a bit of noise in the room, but more importantly there is a large boom microphone pointing up at us from waist height. I go just as Andrew asked me to and start in with my concern about Marty (as I understood the character when I first read the script), which was that he is essentially an empty vessel as a politician, apparently with no ideology or guiding principles apart from a vague notion about ‘serving the community’. I say that people have become disenchanted with the major parties, but I’m concerned that others are simply picking up on that and exploiting it without scruples. Is he just another Pauline Hanson?.
Chris doesn’t pause for a moment and goes into a flawless impersonation of pollie-speak. He’s talking for what seems like minutes, without saying anything at all, and like a patient on a hypnotist’s couch, I’m suddenly feeling very sleepy.
Then we’re out. Just like that. I say goodbye and wander off, buzzing.
I realised later that no matter how bad or good those seconds were, and whether they will end up in the film, it was completely absorbing improvising with an actor, even for a couple of minutes. I got a tiny taste of what makes them crave those moments when they are really in it; ‘the moment’ as they say.
Jill was there, and she was glamorous, just as I thought. Not different, though. Twelve years don’t seem to have brushed her at all. I wish I could say the same.