The director talks about the “incredible beauty and incredible menace” of Australia.
Red-hot Australian director David Michod garnered universal acclaim for debut Animal Kingdom. The director returns with thriller The Rover starring Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson in the story of a loner who tracks the gang that stole his car from a desolate town in the Australian outback with the forced assistance of a wounded man left behind in the wake of the theft. FilmNation handles international sales.
Why did you want to tell this story?
I wanted to tell a story about the effect today’s pathological greed and rampant resource exploitation might have on desperate people in some dark future manifestation of the world as we currently know it.
I wanted to throw together a murderous, resentful Australian man and a naïve American kid - a man who has witnessed the world fall apart and a kid who knows nothing other than things as they are, a kid who in different circumstances might just simply be looking for a girl to fall in love with in the next town, but who instead, here, is struggling just to stay alive.
Is this desert specifically Australia or could it be anywhere?
It felt like this story was specific to the Australian desert, specific to the last decade or more of the Australian resources boom, which saw the Australian economy basically propped up almost entirely by us digging up monumental amounts of dirt to fuel the growth of China and Asia more generally.
The world of the movie is one in which a catastrophic Western economic collapse has relegated Australia to the status of resource-rich Third World country - with all the violence and danger that entails.
Both Animal Kingdom and The Rover are full of menace and have a strong sense of place. Do you associate Australia with menace?
I associate Australia with both incredible beauty and incredible menace. It’s a landscape, a vast emptiness, that inspires both awe and terror. It does for me anyway.
How concerned were you about casting Robert Pattinson - an actor best known as the face of a teen franchise - in one of the two lead roles? Did his performance surprise you?
I loved the idea of it. I knew, even from my first meeting with him, before I even knew that The Rover was going to be my next film, that Rob had something far more interesting to offer than his work to date would suggest. And the prospect of giving a very recognisable performer the opportunity to do something right outside the parameters of people’s general expectations is exciting.
Rob didn’t exactly surprise me because I knew he could do what I was asking him to do - he’s a great actor and I wouldn’t have cast him otherwise. I’m pretty sure, however, that everyone else is going to be surprised by his performance because it’s about as far away from everything he’s done before as you can get.
How punishing were the conditions during shoot?
They were punishing. When we did our tech recce the week before the shoot we found ourselves standing around in 50 degrees Celsius temperatures. It was scary and dangerous. Fortunately, when we started shooting, the temperatures dropped down to around 43 degrees Celsius, which compared to 50 feels like a cool change. The conditions were tough, but it’s worth it - you can feel the conditions in every pore and nook and cranny of the movie.
What were the biggest challenges for you during the production?
Distance and isolation were the biggest challenges. Travelling an hour or more to and from set every day, getting gear into difficult locations, and getting 35mm exposed rushes out. Everything’s dirty and nobody’s phone works. These are all things that make the experience special, though, too.
How many non-professional actors did you use and how was that experience?
Not that many. I peppered some in there because the people you meet out in that part of the world are compelling, but it’s the more experienced actors in the cast who are doing the heavy lifting.
You’re switching gears on your next script The Operators. What attracted you to the project and will you be able to renew your collaboration with Guy Pearce on this one (I gather Brad Pitt is starring)?
Early days. I haven’t even started writing The Operators yet so I don’t know exactly what form it will take.
What is/are the passion project/s you would most like to make?
I want to make all kinds of movies. I want them to be big and smart - a tough combo in the current climate, but it’s do-able.