Veteran Aussie ac­tor Jack Thomp­son re­turns to the big screen in a lo­cal film based on true events.

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents - Words by VICKY ROACH

Al­most 40 years after Jack Thomp­son won Best Sup­port­ing Ac­tor at the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val for his iconic per­for­mance in Breaker Mo­rant, the veteran ac­tor re­turns to court this month for an Aus­tralian drama about a sex­u­al­abuse vic­tim be­trayed by the Angli­can church. Based on real events that changed child­pro­tec­tion laws, Don’t Tell is the story about find­ing the courage to stand up and fight for jus­tice. Now 76, Thomp­son talks to Stel­lar about his early days as a jackeroo in the North­ern Ter­ri­tory, his fa­mous nude centrefold and the un­ex­pected rich­ness of “old man” roles.

What’s the best thing about be­ing 76? The fact that I have got this far, re­ally. I can re­mem­ber my mother, many, many years ago say­ing, “The older you get, Jack, the more dead peo­ple you know.” At the time I thought, “By crikey, that’s a bit hard-nosed.” Now that I am 76, I re­alise that it’s not hard-nosed at all. It’s just a state­ment of the facts of life. I look around me and think, “Wow, it’s good to be here.” What’s the worst? Oh, the other thing that she said: “They don’t tell you, Jack, how painful it is.” What gets you out of bed in the morn­ing? We are get­ting close to the same an­swer, I think. It’s life it­self. I wake up and I am here. I love the early morn­ing. The day is new, life is new, you have just stepped out into it. What makes you re­ally an­gry? In­tol­er­ance. I get cranky about it, but I keep my mouth shut, of course, be­cause you learn that, too, along the way. It would be in­tol­er­ant of me to yell at them. Of all the films you have made, what’s the one you are most proud of? That’s re­ally dif­fi­cult – it’s a bit like chil­dren: which one’s the best? They have all got their own qual­i­ties. The one that is re­ally strong in my mind is Breaker Mo­rant, be­cause that’s an­other court­room drama like Don’t Tell. And be­cause of the ef­fect it had for the Aus­tralian film in­dus­try as a whole. It was the first time Aus­tralian fea­ture film­mak­ers had won a prize at the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val. It changed Bruce Beres­ford’s life and Bryan Brown’s life and my own. It changed the view of the Aus­tralian screen in­dus­try in the eyes of the English-speak­ing film world. What about the movie you en­joyed mak­ing the most? Wind, the pic­ture about 12-me­tre yacht rac­ing that we shot in Fre­man­tle, Rhode Is­land and Hawaii. They had the real yachts and the real crew and I love sail­ing – all I had to do ev­ery day was go out there and sail. And my di­a­logue con­sisted of, “Lee-ho, lee-ho” – that’s about it. You’ve worked with some great di­rec­tors – Baz Luhrmann, Clint East­wood, Ge­orge Clooney, Steven Soder­bergh, Ge­orge Lu­cas, Bruce Beres­ford… Who is your favourite? The next one who hires me! Do you some­times pre­fer work­ing with young, up-and­com­ing di­rec­tors, such as Tori Gar­rett [ Don’t Tell]? They are two very dif­fer­ent things. Early in their ca­reer, young di­rec­tors have an en­thu­si­asm, an open­ness; they are pre­pared to reach out a lit­tle bit. And they are also very open to what you bring as an older, more ex­pe­ri­enced film­maker. Do you ever think about re­tire­ment? I have, but I don’t. As a young ac­tor, you get a lot of work pre­sented to you. You’re the hero. Now you are a slightly older… oh, now you are the hero’s un­cle. Then there’s not much at all, and then when you start to be­come truly se­nior, these roles are pre­sented to you. Be­cause there are more roles for truly se­nior ac­tors than there are for that mid­dle-age group. You are the old man now. And I don’t mind be­ing the old man. It’s quite a good thing to be able to bring to the screen and they are in­ter­est­ing roles. In the Top End you have an Abo­rig­i­nal name, Gulkula. That was given to me by the late Dr Yunupingu, the lead singer in Yothu Yindi. I was up there for the Garma fes­ti­val. He was a teacher and he was very keen on bilin­gual ed­u­ca­tion be­cause they still

speak their lan­guage there, Yol­ngu. But the ad­min­is­tra­tion at the time didn’t agree. I spoke up at this open fo­rum, say­ing it was crim­i­nal to elim­i­nate the bilin­gual ed­u­ca­tion be­cause you would end up elim­i­nat­ing the lan­guage, and in a non-lit­er­ate cul­ture, the lan­guage is the cul­ture. As a 15-year-old, you worked as a jacka­roo. That in­ti­mate knowl­edge of be­ing an Aus­tralian bush­man must have helped with many of your roles? It was fan­tas­tic be­cause I had ac­tu­ally lived a lot of it. When I got to play Clancy [in The Man From Snowy River], I knew the kind of horse I wanted. I had been a drover at 15, I knew those end­less plains, I’d lain there on my swag at night with this huge dome of sky and end­less stars. I was able to iden­tify with it very strongly. Was it good to come back to that for Aus­tralia? It was like step­ping back in time. It was a dif­fer­ent part of the ter­ri­tory, and Baz [Luhrmann] set Aus­tralia in the mid-1940s, so 10 years be­fore I was there, but not much had changed. What was won­der­ful was hav­ing the stock­men – and the women – all Abo­rig­i­nal. It was ex­actly like it was when I was 15.And it was great be­cause I had re­ally loved that time in my life. Pos­ing nude for Cleo mag­a­zine or be­ing tram­pled by a herd of cat­tle in Aus­tralia. What was harder? No ques­tion about that, mate, the herd of cat­tle. There were a lot of spe­cial ef­fects there, but I had to spend a cou­ple of days with one leg buried in the sand and a fake one stick­ing out the other side. My son came along when we were film­ing that, he might have been about 18 at the time. About lunchtime, he said, “Do you mind if I go home? I don’t think I can go on watch­ing you dy­ing.” You can’t have re­alised at the time how much of an im­pact that centrefold would have. Peo­ple still talk about it now. Would you still have done it had you known? Oh yeah. On the part of Ita But­trose and the mag­a­zine and my­self at the time, it was an im­por­tant thing to say, that nu­dity wasn’t a crime. Eigh­teen months be­fore that, the play The Boys In The Band was closed down be­cause there was nu­dity on­stage. And less than six months be­fore it came out, they blocked the en­trance to the the­atre for the mu­si­cal Hair. It was at a time when that was a social is­sue. Sci­ence stu­dent, jacka­roo, hote­lier, you’ve been in the army med­i­cal corps and you play a mean blues harp. If you hadn’t been an ac­tor, how would you have earned your crust? Prob­a­bly as a mu­si­cian be­cause I just love mu­sic, and from very early on in my life I have liked play­ing with other mu­si­cians. Be­fore there was any thought of me be­ing an ac­tor, I did think se­ri­ously about fol­low­ing that. But I never did. I be­came an army med­i­cal corps lab­o­ra­tory tech­ni­cian. The hobby that was act­ing took over, re­ally. Any­thing left on your bucket list? I want to go on do­ing more of this. There must be a whole lot more good scripts out there. We are mak­ing a pic­ture next year up in the mid­dle of the Ter­ri­tory. I will be in­volved with that as an ac­tor and an ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer. It’s called High Ground [and re­port­edly co-stars David Gulpilil and Guy Pearce]. Do you be­lieve films such as Don’t Tell can be a medium for social change/social jus­tice? I re­ally be­lieve they can. The thing about this film is that it’s a true story. It’s not over­drama­tised. It brings a lot of fo­cus to a social prob­lem that is en­demic, re­ally, as we now see all over the world, re­gard­less of the re­li­gion as­so­ci­ated with the school, and re­gard­less of whether it’s boys or girls. In this case, the law and jus­tice end up be­ing the same thing. You feel like cheer­ing at the end. It’s not just a film about sex abuse, it’s a film about a win – for that young girl and the com­mu­nity.

Don’t Tell is in cin­e­mas na­tion­wide on May 18.

STAR TURNS (clock­wise from top left) Jack Thomp­son’s 1975 Cleo centrefold; with the Aus­tralia cast; as a bar­ris­ter in Don’t Tell; in Breaker Mo­rant.

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