Self- confessed hedonist Josh Lawson found new meaning, and a new love, in his latest big- screen outing, writes James Wigney
Art imitates life in an Aussie classic.
LIFE, as the saying goes, sometimes imitates art. But for Josh Lawson and his new film,
Any Questions For Ben, it was rather more complicated than that – life and art were almost hopelessly intertwined.
The new romantic comedy from Working Dog – the team behind Aussie classics
The Castle and The Dish – centres on Lawson’s Ben, an upwardly mobile, serially single, commitment- phobic 20- something living large with his mates in Melbourne.
But oddly, writers Rob Sitch ( who also directed), Santo Cilauro and Tom Gleisner got the idea for the film from Lawson himself.
Having all worked together on Channel 10’ s hit improvisational comedy show
Thank God You’re Here, the three middleaged Melburnians were agog at the tales Lawson told them from his real- life exploits as a single 20- something in the city with his mates, TV and radio host Ed Kavalee and then Neighbours star Christian Clark, both of whom also appear in the film. Art imitates life. ‘‘ I had moved down to Melbourne and was loving it so much and I was young and single and on the telly and had the world at my feet,’’ says the Brisbane- born, Sydneytrained, Los Angeles- based Lawson.
‘‘ I felt unstoppable, I really did. I had a great circle of friends in Christian and Ed in real life. ‘‘ Ed was on radio and Christian was on
Neighbours and we were just the kings of Melbourne in our minds.
‘‘ When I would retell stories of what we got up to, I guess the guys, without me knowing, were looking at each other thinking ‘ maybe there is something in this?’
‘‘ What is interesting is that the catharsis that Ben goes through in the movie is one that I hadn’t yet gone through and it took the film to make me realise that I was thinking those things.’’
Lawson’s character in the film begins to question his awesomely hedonistic lifestyle, and is literally kept awake at night wondering if there is something more than the endless parade of parties, pubs and pretty girls, then slowly falls for the gorgeous and talented Alex, played by Rachael Taylor.
As the production progressed, Lawson also started asking himself some big questions, suffering insomnia and falling for the gorgeous and talented Taylor, who remains his partner a year later. Life imitates art. ‘‘ It was the weirdest thing,’’ the 30- yearold says. ‘‘ For a comedy, it was the most emotional role I had ever played.
‘‘ I was so connected to the role in a way that I didn’t really understand until I was in the middle of it.
‘‘ There were lots of little things that connected me very deeply to the character.
‘‘ I really did, during the filming, start to think ‘ what’s it all about’ a bit.
‘‘ I met Rachael, of course, and there were all these parallels with my life so I guess I did start to slow down a little bit.’’
Lawson and Taylor had crossed paths over the years but didn’t know each other well when they started working together.
NIDA- trained Lawson had already built a solid career in Australian TV with credits on
Blue Heelers, Sea Patrol and The Librarians, and Tassie- born model- turned- actor Taylor had already tasted movie success in Hollywood in Transformers and Shutter.
Taylor was also picking up the pieces after her relationship with Matthew Newton, against whom she had taken an apprehended violence order.
Lawson’s first on- set impressions of the diminutive Taylor were of strength and toughness – ‘‘ she had a resolve and I respected that’’ – but says her professionalism shone through any of the other personal turmoil in her life.
‘‘ She certainly didn’t bring that to the set and I loved that she was very professional.’’
‘‘ We all really felt like a family and we still do. We are very close and you protect your family.’’
The couple now lives in Los Angeles – when they are not travelling for work – and prefer to keep a low profile, eschewing the Entourage lifestyle in favour of spending time together resting and relaxing.
Lawson regards LA life as ‘‘ a necessary evil’’ and considers Melbourne, with its fine food and fashion and sense of community, as his true home.
‘‘ Sometimes we get invited to these parties and you go ‘ Oh my God, it’s Harrison Ford’ but the excitement is so fleeting and you realise they are just people and we are all bored,’’ Lawson says.
‘‘ It’s not as sexy as it looks on film but Melbourne is. To me, Melbourne is as sexy and exciting as it looks in this film.
‘‘ LA has a great way of tricking you into thinking it’s sexy.’’
With Working Dog’s intimate local expertise and sweeping aerial shots, Melbourne has never looked as good on camera as it does in Any Questions
After years of showcasing its seamy side in crime dramas such as Animal
Kingdom and Underbelly, it makes for a pleasant change to see the filmmakers revelling in the funky inner- city bars and restaurants and world- class events such as the Australian Open and the Spring Racing Carnival.
‘‘ I have never seen it quite so cinematic,’’ Lawson says.
‘‘ Especially when you see it through their eyes. These are guys who were born and raised there and really do love it in a way I can’t possibly understand.
‘‘ What is surprising is that they are able to capture a part of not just Melbourne but Australia that we don’t see very often on Australian film.
‘‘ Twenty- something culture in a very fast- paced, colourful world of music, sex, alcohol and non- stop fun.
‘‘ They just nailed that. Anyone who didn’t love Melbourne before will love it all over again.
‘‘ After watching this film, I think people are going to watch it and think ‘ Geez, I think I might take a holiday to Melbourne’.’’ No such luck for Lawson, however. After his whirlwind trip around Australia to promote the film, it’s back to Hollywood to capitalise on his very busy 2011. He went straight from filming
Any Questions For Ben to making the TV series House of Lies with Don Cheadle and Kristen Bell, which looks like it could be a hit after several near- misses on US TV in recent years.
‘‘ We are three episodes in on Showtime and it’s going really well,’’ Lawson says of the black comedy about ruthless management consultants.
‘‘ A lot of critics are really liking it and the public reaction has been great. I am really proud to be a part of it.’’
He also has the release of Dog Fight to look forward to, which he finished filming in Louisiana just before Christmas. It also stars Zach Galifianakis, Will Ferrell, Brian Cox, Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow.
‘‘ There really were some heavy hitters on set and that was pretty great to watch them work and chat to them,’’ Lawson says. ‘‘ They were all absolutely lovely and I was blown away with their generosity.’’
LIFE IMITATES ART: Josh Lawson ( top and above) in scenes from his new movie Any Questions For Ben which, as it progressed, developed eerie parallels to his real life.
LOW PROFILE: Real- life couple Rachael Taylor and Josh Lawson arrive in Sydney from Los Angeles; Lawson in a scene.