Aussiewood - the rise of the Australian stars

From blockbusters to the Oscars, Aussie talent has star quality home and away

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Aussiewood - the rise of the Australian stars
Written By
Andrew Collins
With Film4’s excellent Australian Cinema season starting this week and containing – among other nuggets from the lucky country – The Proposition, I am reminded of the interview I did around ten years ago with its star, Guy Pearce, the fine and chiseled actor who proved that stints in Neighbours and Home and Away could be a passport to mainstream Hollywood success.

He’d already built on the breakout international success of Australian comedy drama The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and announced his arrival on the world stage with a lead in the Oscar-winning LA Confidential.

It’s hard to think of a more definitively American film: a 1950s-set LAPD corruption potboiler set in Hollywood and based on a novel by James Ellroy. Pearce was convincing as the good cop, as was fellow antipodean Russell Crowe (another Ramsay Street alumnus) as the bad cop.

Pearce followed it up with Ravenous and Memento, and was quickly absorbed into populist fare like The Time Machine. In these films he either played American or English roles – never Australian. I asked him why he thought antipodean thespians were so adaptable, and he explained that their accent is almost exactly halfway between American and English, so going in either direction is a breeze.

I’d never thought about this before, and his theory seemed to hold water – except in the case of Adelaide’s Anthony LaPaglia, so convincing as an American in TV’s Without a Trace but whose English accent as Daphne’s brother on Frasier was horrible.

Around the turn of the millennium, a bona fide Australian invasion was taking place. Leading the charge were: Nicole Kidman, who made her Hollywood debut in 1990’s Days of Thunder, where she met first husband Tom Cruise; Geoffrey Rush, the first-ever Australian-born Oscar winner in 1997 for Shine; Cate Blanchett, an instant hit in the British historical drama Elizabeth in 1998, in which Rush also starred; and Toni Collette, the star of Muriel’s Wedding, who made her US debut in The Sixth Sense.

Meanwhile, Heath Ledger was quickly establishing himself as a rising star after his supporting role in 2000’s tub-thumping American Revolution drama The Patriot, in which he played alongside Mel Gibson, one of the first Hollywood superstars to emerge from the Australian film industry – albeit having been born in New York.

This tidal wave of talent crashing down onto the beachfront of Los Angeles has been good news for the Australian film industry, whose 21st-century mini-renaissance is so vividly illustrated by the Film4 season. Premieres of The Square, an “Oz noir” from stuntman-turned-director Nash Edgerton and starring his brother Joel, and Samson & Delilah, a naturalistic portrayal of two Aboriginal teens and their battle with substance abuse and social exclusion in Alice Springs, demonstrate the good health of Australian cinema.

The Square was made by fashionable production company Blue-Tongue Films, the people behind lauded Melbourne crime saga Animal Kingdom, which starred Joel Edgerton and... Guy Pearce. By supporting their own national industry, big names like Pearce, Blanchett, Collette and Rush can help Australian films gain international recognition.

After all, if they hadn’t been given those homegrown calling-card roles – and that includes those on sun-kissed soaps, which are shown all over the world – they might never have gone to Hollywood in the first place.

Bringing us up to date, Blanchett and countryman Eric Bana are currently in cinemas in Hanna, the new thriller from Atonement director Joe Wright, while Chris Hemsworth (or Kim Hyde, as fans of Home and Away knew him) is wielding his hammer in the superhero blockbuster Thor.

Needless to say, none of them are playing Australians, but then why should we give a XXXX about that?