AWAKE TO THE TERROR WITHIN
The serendipitous discovery of an Australian classic has given Sean Keenan the opportunity to take his acting abilities to the very edge
Sean Keenan’s acting career has taken a dark turn, and he’s relishing it. Between the big and small screens the Puberty Blues star can currently be playing a man who has come back from the dead in the ABC drama Glitch and a homicidal bully in the telemovie Australia Day.
Now in Ten’s contemporary remake of the iconic film Wake in Fright, he plays a man in genuine fear for his life.
“I’m trying to diversify,” he says on the phone from Los Angeles, where he’s just signed on with US management.
“It’s not every day you get offered a role that has a darker and more menacing force in it.”
The 1971 psychological thriller, based on Kenneth Cook’s 1961 novel, wasn’t a commercial success in Australia, but garnered critical praise at the Cannes Film Festival.
Wake In Fright then developed cult-like status as Australia’s great “lost film” after its master negative went missing.
Sean happened upon the film on the same day he was asked to audition for the leading role of schoolteacher John Grant.
“I was working on another job and the prop master was shooting outside a St Vinnies and pulled out the DVD of the original film and he was raving about it,” he says.
“He said ‘Have you seen this? It’s the best Australian film ever made’. I hadn’t even heard of it, and I got home that afternoon and I had the audition (invite) in my email. It’s so strange how the universe does that.
“The next day I borrowed the DVD and I was enamoured. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen it. I was blown away by the casual brutality of the characters he meets in that town.”
The story follows a young schoolteacher who finds himself marooned in a small mining town where a dangerous series of events render him a broken, desperate man.
“Essentially, it’s like a road chase for the whole thing,” Sean says.
“I had to be match fit for that. There was a lot of running in the desert, which by take four all your muscles start cramping up and you just keep drinking water. There’s no respite for him for the whole series.”
Alcohol plays a major part in John’s downward spiral, feeding into his paranoia about the small town and its residents.
“Talking to Kriv (Stenders, the director) early on he wanted to make John a recovering alcoholic, which isn’t the case in the film,” he says.
“It makes his fall even harder.
“He’s had a year off alcohol since (his girlfriend) Robin died, and he blames himself for her death.
“That scene at the bar where Jock (the local police officer played by David Wenham) offers him a drink, any alcoholic could testify it’s that easy to think that one couldn’t hurt.
“He’s in this town, he doesn’t know anyone, his guard is down and he looks down at these people, which comes back to bite him.”
The two-part miniseries, which will air over two weeks, also stars Alex Dimitriades, Robyn Malcolm, Anna Samson, Gary Sweet and Caren Pistorius. Wake in Fright premieres Sunday at 8.30pm on Channel 10
David Wenham and Sean Keenan in a scene from the new two-part Australian miniseries Wake in Fright.