I recently got the opportuntiy to talk to Penne Hackforth-Jones about her role in romantic drama, ‘The Tree’. Here, Penne talks about what it was like working with a French cast and about how she got into acting in the first place…
Hey Penne. Thanks for taking the time out to talk to me about your new film ‘The Tree‘, which is currently in selected UK cinemas as of 5th August 2011.
What’s the general plotline surrounding the film?
Hi Matt. It’s about a couple – a young Australian and his half French wife who live in Queensland with their four children. Next to their house is an enormous tree that is part of their everyday existence. One day, as the father drives home he has a heart attack and his truck runs off the road and rests gently against the tree. Over time, his young daughter comes to believe that his spirit lives in that tree. We follow the family as they contemplate this and try to put their lives back together.
How would you say this film is different from other romantic dramas? What makes it unique?
The family is an enchanting circle of people – I am not sure how Julie found everyone but I know it was a prolonged period of casting. They seem to fit together naturally and this, with the writing revolving around the extraordinary tree, brings magic to the screen. I think we all had dreams about climbing trees when we were young – and I felt that during the filming process it was a real character in the cast. The hunt to find the perfect one is a story in itself!
Tell us a bit about your character in the movie…
I think Mrs. Johnson is lonely and a bit sad. She’s a widow with not much to do so she has become a busy body and too much of a neat freak. The family next door is so vibrant and untidy that it gives her a 24 hour preoccupation. I don’t think there is harm in her except she would like her world to be clean and well run. It’s not possible but it’s all she has to think about. She is capable of changing but it takes a cyclone to do it.
How did you get involved in the project in the first place?
I was asked to come in and see Julie Bertucelli. I had been to a casting seminar run by Actors Equity and so I went to the meeting dressed as Mrs. Johnson. I had never done this before and it did help.
The film stars Charlotte Gainsbourg, Morgana Davies, Marlon Csokas and Christian Byers – what was it like working with the cast and crew on-set?
It was a change to work with a French crew. It became a mixture of slangs as both sides tried to understand each other! Julie was very interested in jokes and would come onto the set as soon as she heard one! Of course, working with so many children was wonderful. It was a very child friendly set and they all revolved round a large caravan called ‘Kids World’. They were carefully protected and escorted to and from the set by a parent or a relative at all times. Charlotte was a dream to work with. She stayed up the tree in the freezing midnight cold for my close-ups. She had her family with her who went to the local school. The last I saw of her, she was leaving the wrap party with her little girl slung over her shoulder fast asleep with a tiny pair of sunglasses on her nose.
Let’s talk a bit about you Penne. What made you want to get into acting in the first place?
Well, I was transported to Australia! My family moved to Australia from England when I was fourteen and I found it very hard. I was very withdrawn until an English teacher started casting me in school plays. She gave me one role after another and so, when I auditioned for the National Institute of Dramatic Art, I had a wealth of work to draw on. I’ve acted ever since.
If you could recommend a film or TV series to someone, what would you choose and why?
I loved ‘The West Wing’ for the snappy dialogue and sharp characters. ‘Downton Abbey’ was a recent favourite and ‘Spooks’ leaves me breathless. An old time favourite is ‘Gorky Park’ just for the wonderful performances and suspense. Films wise – ‘The King’s Speech’ – my father was cured by an assistant of Logue in the fifties. I like ‘Oranges and Sunshine’ for its beautiful build up and dedication to that sad band of lost children. ‘The Conspirator’ is a recent fave.
You’ve had a number of different roles on a range of different mainstream projects – who has been your favourite actor to work with so far and who has given the best advice to you?
Working with Essie Davis recently was great but my all time favourite is Lizzie Spriggs on ‘Paradise Road’. We got on famously and she told me the hardest thing for an actor was to make the right choices about roles.
In 500 words, or less – what really grinds your gears right now and annoys you?
My parents are now in their nineties and it enrages me that, after a lifetime of hard work and decency, they are often treated like five-year olds. They do walk slowly and they have hearing difficulties but they are the same civilized people that nobody would have thought of doing that to twenty years ago. I suppose we all use short cuts to deal with people different from ourselves but sometimes, you should try to look beyond the obvious and the physical.
What has been the most interesting piece of local / national news you’ve heard in the last month?
I suppose the riots in London. It is all over the airwaves and making everyone think hard. I love London and I am heartbroken to see the fire and fury of it. This morning news came that groups of people are turning up to help clean and repair – the first bit of really good news.
What’s coming up for you in 2011?
Nuns! I have just finished working in ‘Phryne Fisher’ – a series set in the 1920’s and being distributed by the same people who distributed ‘Midsomer Murders’. I am about to start on ‘Conspiracy 365’ playing Sister Jerome – a feisty nun from an enclosed order. I think she is a fighting nun!
Thanks for the interview!