I recently got the chance to talk to Rowan Witt about his role in ‘X: Night Of Vengeance’. Here, Rowan talks about what it was like working with the cast and crew on-set and his ongoing talent with spoons…
Hey Rowan. Thanks for taking the time out to talk to me about your new film ‘X: Night Of Vengeance‘.
What’s the general plotline surrounding the film?
Without giving too much away, Jon Hewitt’s ‘X’ is a thriller set in the world of prostitution in Sydney’s red-light district, Kings Cross. The story takes place over the course of one night and follows two sex workers, Shay and Holly, one attempting to leave the sex industry as the other is entering it. Their paths cross for one job, and in an instant both their lives are changed forever.
Tell us a bit about the character you play in the movie…
I play Luke, a young drug addict that Shay (played by Hannah Mangan Lawrence) encounters in her first few hours in ‘The Cross’. They meet in difficult, tense circumstances and it’s a moment of ironic tenderness in a harsh environment.
How did you get involved in the project in the first place?
I received a call from the production manager, Michael, just as I was going into a university exam – I went to a music conservatorium and so it was a singing exam. Great timing right? The production was a total mystery to me, but Michael, whom I’d met when I was working on ‘Underbelly’, sounded pretty stressed, so I thought I’d go in and play it by ear. I quickly warbled through my singing exam, and the second it finished, raced off to the address I’d been given. I expected it to be an audition, but lo-and-behold, as soon as I arrived I was flung into a makeup chair, a script was thrust under my nose and I was told I’d be on set in an hour. As I was getting my makeup done and frantically trying to memorize the script, the brilliant Belinda McClory (who co-wrote the film) explained that the person they had originally cast in the role was MIA, they couldn’t even get in contact with him. Being familiar with my work, they’d hoped I’d be able to step in.
How would you say this film is different and unique?
The writer/director duo, Jon and Belinda, have done an amazing job of depicting the feel and atmosphere of Kings Cross and the sex workers who make their money there. It shows life as it actually is for these women, gritty, unhygienic, and desperate. With ‘X’ – no punches are pulled. The plot is rather heightened, like any good thriller, but ultimately it’s about strong women working in the sex trade and Jon and Belinda make no apologies for depicting all the trappings that come with the job. That’s not to say it’s devoid of any humour or beauty. Quite the contrary – Stephen Phillips who plays Bennett has some great, tongue-in-cheek one-liners and Mark Pugh, the cinematographer did a stunning job portraying a shimmering Kings Cross.
The film stars Viva Bianca, Hanna Mangan Lawrence, Peter Docker, Stephen Phillips, Eamon Farren, Belinda McClory and Darren Moss – with Jon Hewitt onboard as director – what was it like working with the cast and crew on-set?
Brilliant. Utterly brilliant. Everyone embraced me and made me feel so comfortable. I wasn’t present for the table read, or any of the rehearsals – that was the original actor – so it must have been amazingly stressful for Hanna and Billie not knowing who they were acting opposite until the cameras started rolling. But they were very lovely and generous in what was an unusual situation.
My preparation time in the makeup chair was invaluable and luckily it took a while because prosthetics were involved. I was able to mercilessly grill the hair and makeup department on the symptoms of heroin withdrawal and the plot of the film. Despite running on a very tight schedule, both Belinda and Jon were especially sweet to me, and gave me enough time to work it through.
Because I had just stepped out of a singing exam I was all warmed up. I’m sure there’s footage somewhere of a junkie squabbling over a needle with perfectly rounded vowels and immaculate breath support!
Let’s talk a bit about you Rowan. What made you want to get into the industry in the first place?
When I was a wee tyke, a family friend who worked in the industry suggested that my twin sister and I should get an agent. My loving parents, who also worked in the media, heeded her advice. The first audition I went for was a commercial for a clothing chain and I remember really loving it, having heaps of fun making the casting director laugh. I got the gig, and I guess it must have been a sign, because I continued to work pretty solidly after that.
As our final school years approached, my sister and I decided to take a few years off acting and concentrate on our studies. After graduating, my sister decided acting wasn’t her calling and took the music route instead. I realised I had really missed acting, and so got back into the game.
Being given permission to play, tell stories and imagine has always been a huge draw-card for me. But one of the main reasons I love this line of work are the people. The temporary family thing, ya know? From the casting department, to the gaffers and caterers, the kinds of people drawn to film and television are liberal-minded, amazingly creative, intelligent, grounded people, who are all working, (at least in Australia), not solely in it for the moolah, but for the love of the medium, and belief in the project. Every day you get to wake up and go to work with a whole lot of people who love what they do.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to get into the industry?
Two biggies – practise and play. When you’re not earning, you should be learning, as they say. Technique and experience are really important when things go wrong or something doesn’t work. Oh, and don’t take yourself too seriously – be sincere and hardworking, but remember, it’s not like you’re doing brain surgery. The odds are good that no one’s going to die.
You’ve been in a number of different films and TV projects – which actors/actresses have been your favourites to work with so far and why?
By far the best experiences with other actors have been those in which there is a lot of trust. When you are both on the same page you can take risks and know deep down you can catch them if they suddenly leap at you and vice versa. Sometimes it just happens naturally, and quickly. Recently, I worked with actor Hayley Magnus on a fake commercial, as a skit for a television show. Within 30 minutes of meeting we were expected to have an awkward but passionate kissing scene. It was brilliant (not only because she happened to be very pretty) but also because we were both so in-sync that we could just riff off each other and really work on the humour of the scene.
If you could have dinner with three guests – (living or dead), who would you choose and why?
Well, Edward William Cole has always fascinated me. He lived and worked in Melbourne in the late 1800s and was an amazingly eccentric, visionary. After working a lemonade stand in the gold fields, he created an enormous book arcade that also housed a fernery, a diorama room (complete with giant squid), a marching band, Chinese tea rooms, a live monkey exhibit and his own printing press on which he printed leaflets promoting a multi-cultural Australia.
My second person would probably be Madeline Kahn. It’s such a tragedy that she died so young, ‘cause boy, she really had chops – not only in the comedy department but also as a singer. Her work was really a great example of how comedy should be played straight. Her off-the-cuff humour was so unique and clear, it meant she could move effortlessly between mediums.
Last person… I think I’d go with one of Australia’s first filmmakers, J.P. McGowan (even though close runners-up were Tilda Swinton, Dan Harmon, Jane Jenkins, Janet Hirshenson, Jesse Eisenberg, P.G. Wodehouse, Laura Linney and Stephen Merchant). He was around in the early 1900s and together with his partner Helen Holmes (who was something of a female Buster Keaton) racked up an enormous number of films. It was ridiculous how prolific this man was. Even on their honeymoon, Helen and J.P. were making films.
These three people were such creative trailblazers – ridiculously hard-working, witty, original creatures, who despite the odds, carved out amazingly successful careers, leaving behind an impressive legacy and immense amounts of joy.
I thought I’d leave this question till near the end – in 1999, you were in ‘The Matrix’ playing the role of the Spoon Boy – can you still bend spoons with your mind even now?
You bet! Spoons, I can do! Nowadays it’s the clunkier kitchen utensils that prove a problem like ladles, cleavers, and don’t even get me started on whisks.
What’s coming up for you in 2012?
I have a few exciting projects, and am practically wetting myself to get started. I’m restricted in how much I can reveal about them, but I can say that I’ve got a role in a musical that’s set to open at the Sydney Opera House at the end of the year, I’m wrapping up my role on a quirky web-series soon to hit the net, and I have a small role in a brilliant-looking feature that’s currently shooting in Sydney. As for the rest of the year, I’ll just have to wait to see where the wind takes me.
Thanks for the interview!