Film: AN INTERVIEW WITH BRYAN BROWN

At the Ian Macpherson Memorial Lecture, a Sydney Film Festival event, David Stratton interviewed Bryan Brown about movies & movie making & this is what I discovered...Naomi Rossdeutscher

BRYAN BROWN grew up in Bankstown, in State Housing with his mum. As a child he used to watch Westerns and Tarzan and during interval at the movies he'd swap comic books.

He joined AMP, training to be a mathematician but ended up working as a salesman, hoping to meet girls & have a beer. But it was the AMP drama club that won his heart. He auditioned for the end of year revue, was accepted & discovered a great passion, finding rehearsal utterly thrilling & emotionally overwhelming, feeling alive like never before & compared the feeling to scoring a tri at football.

Later, Brown joined an amateur theatre group and performed until he was 25, but at the time all he saw was American or English plays, so he travelled to England and hit the boards in search of experience.

When coming home to Australia for a 6 week holiday, Brown discovered Aussie's were performing in Aussie plays and thought 'I can do that' so he stayed and tried to get on every soap possible, especially keen on THE YOUNG DOCTORS, but was turned down. 'Thank God' he laughs. At 30 years old he won a role in LOVE LETTERS, a feature film directed by Stephen Wallace. 'I loved being an actor on screen, it was fantastically exciting' he says. It was a fortunate time for a group of actors breaking new ground in Australian films. 'We were very bolshie... and smart arses' he laughs. It was the 70's 'a whole lot of stars aligned & we had an industry.'

At one stage BROWN was doing nothing and then in three years, he did 15 movies. One of the greats is NEWS FRONT, directed by Phillip Noyce. 'Phil was always very well prepared, knew exactly what he wanted.' He goes on to explain how BREAKER MORANT, directed by Bruce Beresford, gave Beresford, Jack Thompson & Brown a chance to step onto the international stage. The film resonated with the Americans, where some thought it was about Vietnam & was a made up story. '...but no, it was our story.' he adds 'Bruce has fantastic instincts about how to talk to you as an actor, when doing the scene.' and remembers, Jack Thompson has an enormous capacity to drink and was drunk when he arrived for filming, after a long flight (and I, Naomi, think 'he'd be a great travel partner 'cause that's what I do on long flights too... drink and watch movies, stretch and eat - can't sleep) Edward Woodward was concerned, fare enough, but the next day Thompson turned up fully recovered & was excellent.

As expected, Bryan Brown, now an international star and producer at NEWTOWN FILMS, is extremely media savvy and an entertaining storyteller. It's fun listening to his broad accent dolling out colloquial expressions while passionately remembering Aussie films & people - the names he doesn't remember are called out to him from the audience, from his wife I think.

BROWN says he has no problems leaving his work at the set, buDOP Paul Howard, Writer/Director Naomi Rossdeutscher, the very clever Stephen Wallace, creative genius Barry Otto & cutest dog Skyet after one intense day, working on the prison film STIR, with director Stephen Wallace, he says he got really drunk & also smoked a lot of hash & woke up under his bed in the foetal position. That day really affected him. (I will add here that I - Naomi, was fortunate to have Stephen Wallace & Richard Brennan as AFC project managers on my short film, SOUL MATES, see left)

Back to Bryan & COCKTAIL, an incredibly recognised movie gets him free drinks in many bars around the world. 'It was one of the very best screen plays I had ever read. Very dark... about the cult of celebrity and everything about it.' He states for the record, that Tom Cruise is a very sweet man, he was then and still is. But when Tom came in, the movie had to change. The studio made the changes to protect the star and it became a much slighter movie because of it.

I was a young girl when the film was released and I loved it, so I guess I was the target audience, but even then I would have loved to see the original script filmed. I don't have an issue with Brown beating up Cruise, on screen, if it makes a stronger story.

About GORILLAS IN THE MIST, he says 'I was so glad happened to me. There were at times 30 gorillas around me, 4 foot away' and remembers he wasn't scared in the early stages, imagining there would be fellows in gorilla suits. After discovering they were filming in the African jungle, he thought, 'That's good, lets have the guys in the gorilla suits in Africa, that'll be more authentic" But in the end it was Sigourney Weaver, Bryan Brown, the DOP & focus puller trudging into the jungle, to face the the real thing, leaving the men with guns behind. And encountering his first real gorilla, faced with 'this head and the eyes that went on forever, the power in this head was terrifying'... and then he moved amongst them and discovered he wasn't their prey - they don't eat meat. And after that he wasn't afraid of being amongst them again. A remarkable experience and he passionately recalls 'It was a very fine movie and I was incredibly proud to be a part of it.'

About Gregor Jordan, who wrote and directed, TWO HANDS, Brown states 'He is a very sophisticated filmmaker, I wasn't ready for the film he made.' High praise... and it seems they will be working on a new project together in the future.

In 2008, when Browns' wife Rachel Ward, decided she wanted to make the film BEAUTIFUL KATE, based on the book by Newton Thornburg, he read the book but wasn't as sure. After writing the screenplay Ward asked him to take a look at it, but his critique inspired a vase to be thrown across the room. It must have been that passion that got the film made and with some fine actors - Ben Mendelssohn rating high praise. Brown co-produced the movie with Leah Churchill Brown, and believes it was his wife who made it work; 'she really loved the character of Kate' and has a good eye for beauty'

The question 'What do you eat for breakfast' came from the audience, obviously such humorous folly wouldn't have come from David Stratton. From it I learned Brown eats Muesli or an almond croissant for breakfast, because his friend reckoned he had diabetes because he didn't eat breakfast... I'm not sure if that theory has been tested, but I always have brecky, otherwise I get light headed and can't concentrate and suddenly I feel like an almond croissant.

Lastly, it's good to hear Brown believes the fragile industry here in Australia is worth fighting for & I agree, although I know plenty of talented film makers who are struggling just to be part of it.