Actor Brendan Parry Kaufmann Talks Aussie 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.