The serendip­i­tous dis­cov­ery of an Aus­tralian clas­sic has given Sean Keenan the op­por­tu­nity to take his act­ing abil­i­ties to the very edge

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - PLAY - SEANNA CRONIN

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.

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