‘Birdeater’ Directors and Stars On Tackling Australian Masculinity


Patriarchy is something that hurts all of us, a system of control destined to demean men and women alike and convince them of the true hierarchy of society. But in their feature film Birdeater, which screened at this year’s SXSW, directors Jack Clark and Jim Weir aim to take down patriarchy, at least in how it manifests in male friends groups in Australia. The result is a stomach-churning look at the subtleties of abuse and how the nicest guy in the room may also be the cruelest.

In Birdeater:

A bride-to-be is invited to join her own fiancé’s bachelor party on a remote property in the Australian outback. But as the festivities spiral into beer-soaked chaos, uncomfortable details about their relationship are exposed, and the celebration soon becomes a feral nightmare.

Dread Central spoke with Clark and Weird and stars Mackenzie Fearnley and Shabana Azeez about masculinity in Australia and the need for a massive cultural shift in how male friends let each other get away with abusive and repulsive behavior.

Dread Central: For our directors, why this movie now and why this topic now?

Jim Weir: At first, it was quite specific to Australia. Me and Jack know guys like this. We went to school with guys like this, and we wanted to make a movie about these guys. We know, I mean, especially at our Sydney screenings, everyone is saying, “Yep, I know that guy. I know a version of that guy. I know a version of that guy” Basically we’re saying that we think this is a cultural problem. Men are responsible for the behavior of other men. So yeah, that’s what we want to do. An ensemble movie about a toxic relationship.

Jack Clark: And I think in terms of conversations men in Australia are having, we wanted to bring some tonal elements of comedy into it because we think that that’s such a common coping mechanism for Australian men. That isn’t something that we’ve seen very often, and we were very aware of how uncomfortable that might make an audience, but it was vital for a representation of Australian friendship that was truthful.

DC: Wow. Well, Mackenzie, what was your experience then playing this character? A character who, I’m so sorry, but he’s the worst. You do a really good job playing him, but that must have been a hard experience to tap into as an actor, right?

Mackenzie Fearnley: It was pretty unpleasant at times, to be honest, but deserved, I think a lot of respect, as well. So obviously lots of research leading up to and during the pre-production period to make work on set easier. But any difficult subject matter is always challenging, but it’s also something that as an actor is both a great challenge and is rewarding if you can successfully manage to do that. And I mean, it was a very collaborative thing, but it’s something that I think as an actor you really looking to do is to be able to put yourself into something that is alien, but is an important kind of story to tell.

JW: It’s worth noting that on set with Mac would never talk about Louie as though he’s the worst, to really get into that character. We talked about Louie as the hero. We found you kind of have to do that.

MF: That’s how he thinks, obviously as a character. He perceives himself as the victim in this entire situation. He can’t understand why everyone doesn’t get that. So yeah, there was a definite dichotomy between what I thought as the actor and what the character thought. 

JW: So me and Jack would talk to every single actor in the movie as though they’re the hero of this movie, and they’re not doing anything wrong.

DC: That explains so much. I wrote in my notes, “These are potentially the worst people I’ve ever met.” And I mean that positively. But then Shabana, for you playing a woman stuck in this cycle, what attracted you to playing this role and being a part of this film that is really skewering toxic masculinity, especially in Australia?

Shabana Azeez: It’s the best script. Even the first script we had, which is not what we ended up making, was so good that I remember talking about it to my friends and being like, “I’m never going to get this thing, but it’s so good they’re making this movie and it’s going to be amazing.” So honestly, I think it was just the script. It was so well done and the world was so real. I think it had something to say, obviously, but I think it was doing it in a really great way, and I’m really fascinated with masculinity, particularly in Australia. It’s a very specific thing. So I just felt really connected to it outside of all of it. And then she was quite terrifying to me to play.

DC: Oh, really?

SA: Yeah, I think so. Once I did a bit of research, it got better. But I think by design, when you’re in a situation like this, because you’re so altered, it really has an impact on your psychology and the way you think of yourself and the way you read the world. So it was quite confusing as someone who’s luckily never experienced this. When I did the research, suddenly it made so much sense. But until I did that research, I was panicking.

JW: We were fairly conscious of avoiding the perfect victim trope because so much of the time women in these relationships, they’re not fun to be around. They are prickly and confusing and they’re not easy to be friends with.

DC: As someone who was in a relationship like this, I felt very seen because a lot of it rang very true to my own experiences. So I know Birdeater is a very Australian film, but it spoke to my experience and it was deeply uncomfortable, but in a way that I felt seen in how Irene acts and how she is kind of an asshole sometimes. I was an asshole sometimes, and I think that’s so important to see. 

SA: Thank you so much. I think that’s so important. The thing is Louie isn’t always bad and Irene shouldn’t have to light up rooms and be so perfect to deserve to not be treated like this. All she has to do is not want to be here. That should be the bar. If she doesn’t want to be here, she should get to leave. And I think when we look at these situations, I think it’s so easy for people, for all of us to go, but she’s this too, and she’s this. And on the same token with him go, “Oh, but he’s great at this” and “He’s really nice to his mom,” there’s no nuance.

DC: What was it like, Mackenzie and Shabana, to forge your relationship on set? Was it difficult? 

SA: Well, it was during COVID, right? And we lived in different cities, and we drank the same tea, so we would make a cup of tea, and we would zoom.

MF: It’s good. It was an interrupted pre-production process for a number of reasons. So we did have a lot of time before we actually got to set to kind of develop ideas for our relationship, even though it was on Zoom. So yeah, it was luckily during pre-production, I feel that we were able to do most of that work.

SA: Also we shot the start of the movie first. We shot buck’s night after we shot the montage. So then it was just a week of just the two of us developing that. 

DC: It sounds like y’all really got to develop some trust with each other, especially regarding the subject matter, which I know is so important in a movie like Birdeater.

SA: Yeah, definitely. Yeah, and our intimacy coordinator did a bunch.

DC: Oh, cool. You had an intimate intimacy coordinator?

MF: Yeah, Michela Carattini. She was massively helpful, I think, to everyone.

JW: She was a weapon because she had experience dealing with domestic abuse victims before, she was a trained intimacy coordinator, and she was also a choreographer in previous life. So she helped with the dance choreography. She was an actor, too. 

DC: That’s awesome. And then my last question for the whole group is what are you hoping people get from watching Birdeater? What are you hoping people take away from the film, and especially in a very important time to be talking about masculinity in young men?

JC: I think I want friend groups to reevaluate how important they are in restricting this type of behavior and trying to think of the way in which they can help as well. This is not an intervention movie. This is not about a bunch of dudes figuring out they need to jump. The conversation that we want is for men to have with other men, and to see that that is their path for making positive change, or at least consider that as a way forward. And that’s arguably harder, this idea of everybody being the hero. Everybody wants to be the rescuer, but often these people need to find their own agency without a rescuer. So it’s a cultural responsibility.

SA: I also think the conversation of, I read this thing that was like, most women don’t want the relationship to end. They want the behavior to end, but they want to stay in the relationship. I think so many people are concerned about what Irene will do, but I think it’s the more important thing is what will Louie do. And I think that that would be a great shift culturally for us to move that conversation away from victims and towards perpetrators.



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