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Radha Mitchell – Never Say Never

By Daniel Hutton on January 1, 2016 in People

Photo: Georgie Gavaghan

Photo: Georgie Gavaghan

Where are you originally from?
Melbourne. I grew up as an urban Melbournite, around Chapel Street, South Yarra and the Windsor area – kind of the slummy end of South Yarra. My mum had a shop on Greville Street and it was great. Melbourne was a cosy community, with an artistic, bohemian kind of culture, and where I was was close to everything. It was a fun childhood.

I read that you name has Hindu origins; were your folks spiritual people?

My mum was. I think everyone has their own version of spirituality. My dad was more like a nature person. My mum’s more into philosophy, I guess. My mum’s got her own personal spiritual path.

Would you describe yourself as spiritual?
I have a yoga practice, but it’s a little rusty, and a meditation practice. I’m a regular, but it’s more just something I do when I need to.

You’ve got four middle names; is that a pain in the arse when you go through customs and immigration?

No, because as long as you don’t have any naughty stamps in your passport, they don’t get too focused on the name. I’ve been travelling in India and they love it, because I have an Indian name. That always gets me positive attention.

How did you first get into acting?
I got into acting, if I remember correctly, in a student film when I was nine years old. I played a little girl who throws a rock through a window that kills her mom.

Did you always love acting?
No, I don’t always love it. Does everyone love everything always? I’m always learning from it.

Did you have any other careers that you considered pursuing at any stage?
Yes. When I was in high school, I was pretty much certain that I was going to be a fashion photographer, and I was getting top marks for the art projects that I was doing Then, as fate would have it, I didn’t get into the course that I thought I deserved to get into, and then I just turned my focus. I think I preferred to be the muse than the observer. I was always a little bit jealous of my subjects. I wanted to be in front of the camera, but not exclusively, because I like watching people and I like the intimacy of photography. That was a long time ago, though. I still enjoy taking pictures, but mainly with my iPhone, so there’s not a lot of planning there.

Are you still committed to acting?
Yes, but in a more relaxed way; not in a super, uber, career-driven way. I’m starting to get interested in producing, which is why I’m supporting this short film for Flickerfest, because I was involved in its development.

What do you love about acting?
A lot of self-conscious people act. It’s like a mode of expression. You’re inhabiting something else, but you’re bringing in everything that you know, so it’s like painting, or anything where you get to express stuff that you’ve been processing your whole life.

Have you ever become so involved in a character that you’ve found it hard to switch off and become yourself?
Yes and no. I think it’s more about the way you relate to people that’s the illusion. There’s a dynamic that’s created between you and a director and the other actors, and there’s a fantasy world that you inhabit for that period of time. Maybe there could be some confusion there, but not personally, not when you just go home.

You’ve come from an era of female Australian actors who’ve had a great deal of success over in the US; what do you think it is about your crop that made you so appealing to the international audience?
I think the world is much smaller now than it was then; all these people will audition on Skype these days. We didn’t have that technology when I went there, so it was more like you had to go into the adventure of complete uncertainty to try your luck. I think a lot of bold characters were up for that kind of challenge.

Did you do the LA thing and sleep on couches?
I did, yeah. I had just got a manager, so I went from being in India to Sundance, from Sundance to LA, and this girl who was one of the writers on a project that we had in Sundance was staying with me. We stayed with my manager at the time, who I didn’t really know, so it was good having a wing woman there rather than staying on my own with some weird American guy. As it turns out, that weird American guy is still my manager today.

How long were you over in LA for before you got your first break?
I was there for six months before I got a movie role. I did a movie called ‘High Art’. It felt like such a long time.

Did you ever think about giving up and coming back home?
No. I mean, I came back home because I ran out of money, but I didn’t think about giving up on the dream.

Would you say that you’ve achieved the dream?
Part of it, yeah. Not the whole dream, but certainly a portion of the dream.

You’re in town for the upcoming Flickerfest short film festival; what do you love about Flickerfest?
The location. What a great spot for a film festival. It’s lovely, and it’s turned out to be a very significant film festival, as movies that come out of it can be nominated for an Academy Award.

That’s right, it’s an Academy accredited festival…
And there are only 59 of them in the world, so it’s pretty significant for any film to be selected and to be part of this festival, and that’s important. It’s also a great opportunity to honour young and older filmmakers who are doing something experimental, novel and creative, and often it’s the short format that allows for things to be more poetic, or more investigative on some level.

Why should people get down to the Bondi Pavilion and support Flickerfest?
It’s a great night out. I was here last year and it’s fun. It’s a fun way to connect with people in Sydney. It’s a great spot to see movies, it always seems to be a warm night and there’s always an ample bar. It’s just a cool thing to do.

You star in a film called ‘Whoever Was Using This Bed’, which has been selected in Flickerfest’s Australian Competition category; can you tell us a bit about the film and your role?
It’s based on a short story written by Raymond Carver, who’s one of the great writers from America, and I play a woman called Iris who has just woken up to the fact that in some point in her life she’s going to die, and this is sort of a nightmare moment where she wants to talk about it. Her husband is not so keen on it, but it involves this conversation and the story is a little poetic. The film is a little obtuse, so it’s open to your own kind of projection and interpretation.

Who directed the film?
Andrew Kotatko, who’s a very interesting filmmaker, directed it. He also made another really interesting short film based on a Raymond Carver short story about a decade ago, which starred Hugo Weaving, Abbie Cornish and Sullivan Stapleton. I got involved when he was looking for another actor for this new project of his. There are some interesting people collaborating on it. Geoffrey Simpson, who also shot the movie ‘Shine’, shot the film. All the key crew are very experienced and professional, so it was a cool team of people to work with.

Was it shot here in Sydney?
Yes, in Paddington.

Did you read the script and say, “I want to get on board”?
I wouldn’t normally be attracted to do a short film, except this is such a character piece, and it’s so dependent on the two lead performances. It’s sophisticated, and in a sense, it’s very adult. Not in an x-rated sense, but thematically it’s mature, and that was of interest to me.

What is it that’s so endearing about short films?
People tend to have a short attention span. And generally, short films have got a punchline, which people like too.

Is there any Australian talent coming through – acting or directing – that you’re particularly impressed by?
Yeah, I really love Ivan Sen. I think he’s working in a really interesting space. He has a sort of visionary, poetic kind of mood. I think he’s probably one of the most exciting Australian directors.

You’ve appeared alongside Australian household names like Alan Fletcher and Ryan Moloney in Neighbours, as well as alongside Colin Farrell, Denzel Washington, Chloe Sevigny, Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet in various films over in the US; how different is acting in a soapie like Neighbours to appearing in a big Hollywood production?
It’s still the same. You’re still acting. I think fundamentally, the level of inspiration shifts. That’s about it.

Do you look back fondly on your Neighbours days?
I played one character for maybe a month, and then another character for six months. I don’t really see it as the seminal chapter, but it’s fun to talk about. Am I reminiscing about it? Not really, but I do think it’s an amazing institution. It’s been going on for how many years? It perpetuates.

Do you have a favourite actor or actress that you’ve appeared alongside?
I actually like working with Jean-Marc Barr, who’s the other lead in this short film that’s appearing at Flickerfest. We did a movie about Jack Kerouac set in Big Sur, called ‘Big Sur’, which is how we met, and he’s kind of kooky. He’s a bit nutty, very intelligent, and a very passionate actor. He’s very committed to being an actor.

Do you get star-struck at all?
Yes, sometimes. I met Jack Nicholson at a party a couple of months ago and I didn’t have anything to say. I’m sure Jack Nicholson could talk to anybody. He’s so charming, but I just had nothing to say.

Do you have a favourite director to work with?
I’ve worked with so many amazing female directors, so I think it’s a good opportunity to talk about them, including Lisa Cholodenko, who directed one of the first American movies I made, called ‘High Art’. Claire McCarthy, who made a movie in India called ‘The Waiting City’, is an incredible Australian director. I worked with Sue Brooks, too, most recently. Who else? I worked with the woman who developed the whole Twilight series, Melissa Rosenberg, and we did a TV series together. She is quite phenomenal.

As a woman in your 40s in the movie industry, do you feel pressure to look a certain way?
There are changes in your career, but there are also changes in your perspective in what you want out of life, and I think for some people it’s in alignment. I don’t think you want to be an ingénue in your 70s. You’d be over it, I would presume, but the mood that you’re in as a novice is different to the mood that you’re in after you’ve formed your craft on some level. I think it’s more about the audience. I think the audience needs to see people who reflect their own perspective more than anything else.

Do you think it’s fair that the industry applies that pressure?
I think that there are a lot of men now who are like primping and pruning and putting in fake pecs. It’s getting depressing, but that’s the culture. I think that’s not even limited to the way actors are viewed. It’s how people are viewing themselves. I think Facebook, and all this sort of representation of self, creates this desire to present this perfect image, which we all know is crap, and people are even getting a bit cynical about it at this point.

Do you think you’ll ever come back and live in Australia and work over here?
Never say never. I’ve enjoyed coming back here recently and doing things. I don’t think you have to limit yourself to one place anymore. You can sort of get around and have a presence in a few places.

Do you have any big projects currently in the pipeline?
Yes, I do. ‘London Has Fallen’ with Gerard Butler, the sequel to ‘Olympus Has Fallen’ is about to come out. Morgan Freeman, Melissa Leo and Angela Basset are in that too.

What about ‘The Shack’?
Yes, we shot that in Vancouver with Sam Worthington. It’s an interesting story, based on a book that sold 20 million copies and written by a guy in his garage. It’s a phenomenon in itself, the book, and the movie is an offshoot of that.

Was it good to work with Sam?
Yeah. We actually worked together years ago on a Greg McLean movie about a crocodile that eats everybody.

Would you ever consider transitioning more producing or directing?
I’m producing this short film that’s been selected for Flickerfest. I’ve actually produced a few things; about six films. Directing? Potentially later, yeah.

Do you still have an interest in appearing on television?
I don’t know. I kind of like the in and out aspect of film. You’re not stuck in a thing, but I do think there’s this lovely kind of family, like a theater group vibe that happens from a TV show, and it’s good if it’s successful and if you’re not doing 20 episodes a year. The less you do the better, because it keeps that more kind of integrity to the process; otherwise it becomes a bit of a factory. There are a lot of factors before you want to marry yourself into a TV show, including the location and where it’s shooting, and you’re married to everybody’s agenda, and often you have like a seven-year contract. You don’t know how long your show’s actually going to go for. It’s an uncomfortable commitment, because you commit to the whole thing. You’re committing to these unknown things. If you’re working with David Fincher, I probably think you feel confident with that, but it certainly depends.

Do you support any charities?
I get behind Global Green, which is an organisation in the US, but it’s kind of international. They deal with greening up architecture, protecting water, and restructuring the way that we’ve put the world together. Often in LA they give an award at the end of every year for people who have been innovative in that realm, and actors present the awards. Often I’m involved with that. Children Uniting Nations is an organisation that supports foster kids, which is also in the US, and I like to get behind that. If I was spending more time here in Australia, I think a really worthy organisation is Landcare, which my grandmother was one of the founders of back in the day. It’s all about helping farmers protect the land.

Do you have any advice for young people looking to make it on the silver screen?
Be grounded in your vision and flexible in your execution.

If you could have been given one piece of advice when you were a young actress starting out, what would you have wanted to hear?
I have a cousin who’s an actress, but I probably gave her pretty boring advice. I was like: “Make sure you go to university and study something else; not because you’re not going to be an actor, but because you want to have a rounded perspective and you don’t want to feel dependent on one thing. Make sure you have a life and an education that’s not myopic.” I didn’t have a backup plan, but I had an education.

Do you have any skills besides acting that people might not know about?
I can play the ukulele. I was actually good at athletics too, but really bad at sport. I was good at the sprint, but was so uncoordinated with the ball. I couldn’t play basketball or netball. You wouldn’t want me on your team.

Who were your role models growing up in the industry?
Nastassja Kinski. I remember her from ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ and ‘Cat People’. I just thought she was so mysterious, sexy and interesting. Beatrice Dalle would be another one as well, from ‘Betty Blue’.

Did you have anyone take you under the wing when you first headed over to Hollywood?
I had a manager. That was a big deal, to have someone to kind of guide me through the process. I had a woman here, before I went to LA, who was an actress and she used to help me prepare for characters and roles. Her name was Susie Edmonds. She was my first acting mentor. I directed a short film and she was in it. She’s a brilliant actress and she agreed to be in my piece.

In an ideal world, what does the future hold for Radha Mitchell?
I just want to enjoy doing what I’m doing to the best of my ability. I’ve got a bunch of films coming out and I’m kind of cruising along doing what I like.

Flickerfest runs from January 8 to 17 at the Bondi Pavilion. To get your tickets, visit www.flickerfest.com.au.

1 COMMENT. SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS

  1. Love Radha Mitchell. Great interview!

    Posted by: Lisa | January 2, 2016, 10:31 PM |

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