Kaufmann, Brendan Parry (Australian Horror)
Dread Central recently had an opportunity to chat with actor Brendan Parry Kaufmann about the Australian film industry and particularly Aussie horror. Brendan's resume lists his performance skills as ranging from firearms handler to improvisation, comedy, and hosting along with voiceover talents and stage combat.
I can say it was one of the more interesting and amusing interviews I've done in some time!
EL: Thank you for taking time to talk with us, Brendan. First off, how about a bit on you and your acting background?
BPK: Thank you, Elaine – and thank you to all of your readers, who've supported Australian films with their patronage.
I came to acting reasonably recently, and a little later in life. I was originally a musician, though I had done a bit of theatre here and there. I've done a couple of feature films, some television, theatre, and many, many short and experimental films. I've also done work in the digital realm with greenscreen, including rotoscope modeling for video games. I'm also a screenwriter – and yes, a couple of the projects on my slate have significant horror elements.
The best thing I've found about being a character actor is that you get to be all sorts of things, which leads to other opportunities. I've played everything from a Russian Viagra smuggler to a serial killer to a homeless guy to an English detective to a disembodied floating head. In one experimental film I even won a small award for dancing around in my underpants with an animated monster – a visual image that brings us neatly, I think, to the topic of "horror".
EL: What is your opinion on horror films in general and Aussie horror in particular?
BPK: I have a very active imagination so films that have a dreamlike quality that induce dread are my favourites – Murnau's Nosferatu is a very good example. I would love to see someone like Terry Gilliam turn his hand to something genuinely black – his visual style would be truly terrifying if it wasn't played for laughs.
Speaking personally, though, "splatter" doesn't do it for me – it's either too funny (or runny) to be scary, or it's too barf-inducing to be entertaining. Give me the suspense of a ghost story any day. I'm especially squeamish about portrayals of cruelty – it actually upsets me a little – though in the context of the genre, that's obviously going to be fundamental to the story in many cases. And it means the show has done its job.
Which is probably why our recent horror films are so effective – there must be something deeply nasty hidden in the Australian psyche that allows us to envisage some fairly horrific scenarios and take an entertainingly clinical approach to them, when filming them. Why this would be, I have no idea - we are such a cheery people.
EL: How do you feel about the Australian horror industry right now? After the amazing success of Greg McLean's Wolf Creek, one would think the films would explode from Down Under, much as they did with Japanese, French, and Spanish horror. Is there some sort of "stigma" attached to horror films in Australia?
BPK: Yes, I suspect there is – though not with the Australian moviegoing public, who attend these films in healthy numbers when they get a properly promoted local cinema release here. There seems to be a fairly constant stream of horror projects being worked on here, though most are quite small. It's only an observation, but perhaps there is still a perception amongst some filmmakers (and not just here) that horror isn't a genre that "serious" filmmakers will earn respect from…that's a pity.
And getting support and backing for films generally – let alone genre films – is difficult here; there is even a perverse reluctance on the part of some of the industry to seek or accept studio money, it would seem. Perhaps they worry about a loss of control that would come with big overseas money – but then again, getting government funding for horror projects would be extremely difficult and would have just as many strings attached, I imagine.
Can't have the taxpayers' money funding a film of cannibal zombies discovering the true meaning of friendship on their magical flying bicycle trip through the Australian bush, I suppose. Not when there is something dreary, worthy, and unwatchable you could be funding with that money instead.
Oh, dear – I said that out loud, didn't I?
EL: Fellow Aussies Leigh Whannell and James Wan had to come to the States to achieve their success with the Saw franchise. Is that something you see happening with more and more Australian actors/writers/directors/producers?
BPK: Probably. The industry is quite small here, in world terms – but we punch well above our weight in the quality of our people. So, to keep working, they go to where the work is. And if you want to make a film with any sort of budget for a global market – well, Hollywood is still the main game.
It'd be great if we could do as much here, but no one should be expected to cut off their nose to spite their face – if you want to work and you get a job somewhere (like LA, just as an example), you go. I know I have.
EL: How is the success of Whannell and Wan viewed in Australia? And John Jarratt became an "overnight" success in the rest of the world after his chilling portrayal of Mick Taylor in Wolf Creek although he's been a staple on Australian TV for years (and also appeared in another famous Aussie "horror" film, Picnic at Hanging Rock, 30 years before Wolf Creek [note: Jarratt played the young Aussie groomsman, Albert Crundall, in Picnic]).
BPK: Again, that success is well received by the movie going public – though a few critics will carp, as they tend to when a film they don't like is actually successful. I just hope those guys can be induced to work again, back home, even if it be with a smaller budget. We need them.
And John Jarratt's success is to be welcomed. His casting showed a spark of imagination as he'd previously always been associated with "good guy" types. He even gave carpentry tips on a lifestyle program down here. Which is probably why he scared the bejesus out of Aussies, who thought they knew him so well.
EL: What sort of personal experiences have you had with the Aussie horror industry as far as films you've auditioned for or films you might have had a small part in? Do you think the market is there but is being "misused" with so many Hollywood pictures doubling other countries but being shot in Australia (i.e., The Ruins, House of Wax, etc.)?
BPK: My own experiences, even at the level of horror films I've merely auditioned for, has been generally very positive, as the people who love the genre seem to understand that it's ultimately meant to be fun. There was one fabulously stupid exception – and no, in the interests of discretion, I'm not going to tell you what that was.
My first paid acting job was on Queen of the Damned – it had vampires in it; does that necessarily make it a horror film? Discuss, and give examples! It really was great fun and my first experience of any shoot so big. Absolutely fascinating to be part of the process, and from that moment onward, I knew what I wanted to do with my life.
As an actor, it's always been my view that roles, regardless of what they are for, are a job first and foremost, and any opportunity to work is always welcomed. The genre, nature, and size of the film counts for less than the quality of the story and the skill of the filmmakers you might be working with.
To turn to the second part of your question, if I understand it right, I absolutely do NOT accept the argument that Hollywood (or Bollywood, or anyone else) misuses Australia by using it as a location, doubling for somewhere else. Excuse my frustration (because I've heard this idiocy too often from parochial twits down here), but I think that's just bogus. Australia – Melbourne and Victoria especially – has some amazing locations. Let's use them and give the local industry some much needed work.
To follow the logic of those who think that Australia should only ever represent Australia, Star Wars should have actually been shot on Tatooine, or Where the Wild Things Are should have been shot inside a boy's imagination, as nowhere else would do. How this could be done, even leading scientists don't know – but I understand that they are refusing to rule out "magic".
In all seriousness, this is a global industry, for God's sake. All that should matter to Australian film industry people – actors included – is that films are being made here, not whom they are being made by, or even what they are about. So long as the local talent are getting significant roles, the crews are getting work, and everyone is being paid properly, then roll camera. There's a nasty bigotry behind the sort of posturing that suggests that a Hollywood production is somehow less legitimate than the local product – even when the local industry cannot possibly hope to produce enough content to keep every actor or crewperson employed. Phew. End of rant.
And Australians go to see horror films, same as anyone else. Let's make them, too.
EL: Who or what do you think might be the salvation of Australian horror films?
BPK: There's no "who", I believe – I'd be wary of self-diagnosed saviours, or anyone mounted on plinth by popular acclaim. That can unravel very quickly with one poorly edited flop, but that's probably not an original insight.
I think what will sustain the industry here, including those who wish to make horror films, is an enhancement of conditions that allow more films generally to be made – with better protection for private money when it's risked on a venture and more incentives to attract investment. But the other thing that really needs attention is marketing and distribution – a lot of good films made here have disappeared because this wasn't given enough priority. And no, I have no idea why.
As far as Australian horror films specifically are concerned, I think that Australian filmmakers need to continue to seek out good stories, regardless of whether they are Australian or not – and keep taking the risks they have taken (as in the case of Wolf Creek and Saw) to get them made.
I think that Australian filmmakers are very happy to stretch, twist, or break conventions, which gives us a real creative edge – we need to keep doing that. Retaining that painterly, earthy viscerality you see in the best Aussie films generally works for me, too.
Oh, and casting me in stuff. That'll help immeasurably. No, really – it will.
EL: As an Australian, what would you tell the rest of the world about Australia and what it has to offer the film industry?
BPK: You'll get professionalism – at all levels. Your film will get made with a care and enthusiasm that will repay your confidence tenfold, regardless of what it is about. Treat us right, and we'll give you a bloody masterpiece.
EL: What are some of your favorite horror films? And what recent horror films, Australian or not, would you have given your eye teeth to have a role in?
BPK: As I said, when I'm looking to dive behind the seat and peep through my fingers, suspense and dread are the qualities I look for. Though this will doubtless appall your more "purist" readers (who will start looking at their watch if the cheerleader hasn't been reduced to the consistency of chutney with a bacon-slicer by the end of the first reel), one of the single most frightening moments for me in a film was the bathroom scene in The Sixth Sense. Know the one? When there is no sound and you see a figure over the kid's shoulder in the background, simply silently walking into and out of shot? I think I tore the armrest off the seat.
Favourites include anything from Hammer/Amicus with Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing – cheesy crap included. Those two gentlemen brought a gravitas and dignity to everything they did. The Wicker Man is still genius, as is The Exorcist. I have a sentimental love for silent and black and white horror films, too – for their sweetness and naivety, if nothing else. Whale's Frankenstein is magnificent, still – as are Murnau's Nosferatu and Faust.
I liked Bathory with Anna Friel; and I liked the original Japanese Ring series. Creepy as hell.
If we're fantasizing, to have a crack at Dracula remains an ambition as there is a loneliness there that has never quite made it to the screen for my money. And if anyone wants to remake anything Peter Cushing has done – with me instead – call me. And I would give whatever greasy scraps of my immortal soul I still possess to play Dr. Phibes….though to be honest, if it isn't going to be me, then for God's sake, make it Alan Rickman.
But the horror I'm most keen to see properly brought to the screen is more of the work of H.P. Lovecraft. Eye teeth will be removed with pliers to be involved in anything from that canon. Mr. del Toro, for my dentist's sake, I hope you're listening.
EL: Here's your chance to "sell yourself" to any possible casting agents who might be reading this – what would you like them to know about Brendan Parry Kaufmann?
BPK: My big opportunity! Well – if we can gloss over, for a moment, what desperate, self-serving puddles of need all actors are (myself included) – allow me to introduce myself.
Hello, Casting Directors. My, look at you. You look great – have you lost weight? That outfit is SO your colour. Drink?
Setting aside my quite reasonable ambition to be Christopher Lee when I grow up, I love what I do. It's the best job in the world. And nothing would make me happier than finding myself at either end of a chainsaw or a stake for the disgust, horror, and amusement of your readers.
But let's have this conversation over lunch when I'm back in LA in the next little while, shall we?
And I'm Australian. I'll bring beer.
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