The great leap Ford
Australia’s newest star has taken a fast route to prominence, writes Michael Bodey
THE success stories are celebrated visibly. The many more Australian actors who don’t make it in Hollywood usually fade meekly into the background. A bolshie few return home, declaring they won’t sell their soul to Hollywood or whining that Los Angeles is a hellhole not worth inhabiting.
Others are wise enough to keep their first auditions for US studios quiet; they can return home just as quietly and pick up work again in domestic film, television or theatre.
The path to Hollywood employment by our young actors is almost blandly prescriptive: once cast in an Australian movie or TV drama, they then sign up for US TV’s annual cattle call, the pilot season.
While Australian actors are increasingly making it to Hollywood in this way — Jesse Spencer ( House), Anna Torv ( Fringe) and Yvonne Strahovski ( Chuck) are among the latest, with regular US TV roles — the career trajectories of the previous generation were wildly varying and often baffling.
Hugh Jackman, Anthony LaPaglia, Naomi Watts, Russell Crowe, Eric Bana and Simon Baker, for example, shared some sort of plan for success. But persistence and ambition can be short- circuited or boosted by circumstance.
Two young Australian actors are discovering that for themselves. Luke Ford was cast as Brendan Fraser’s son in the Hollywood blockbuster The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor before he was even known at home.
And Sam Worthington is on the cusp of something special next year with the release of renewed sci- fi franchise, Terminator Salvation, opposite Christian Bale, and James Cameron’s ballyhooed 3- D, technologically advanced, futuristic thriller, Avatar.
Worthington has been on Hollywood’s radar since his role in Bootmen in 2000. He deliberately rejected Hollywood’s overtures until, as he told me some time ago, he was confident in his acting and range. His plan was to make a half dozen Australian films before even attempting leading- man roles overseas. Now he is the leading man in two of 2009’ s most anticipated blockbusters. This is where serendipity kicks in. Those films may or may not do him justice.
Ford leapt into his role in the successful Mummy franchise and, it is fair to say, has been arguing with himself about it since. He didn’t just take a lead role; he is contracted to continue in the franchise as Alex, son of Fraser’s Rick O’Connell. Serendipity has yet to embrace Ford. The continuing threat of an actors strike in the US has slowed production and cooled any momentum he picked up by being cast in The Mummy 3. And the film — in which Fraser, Ford and Maria Bello battle the spirit of an ancient Chinese Han emperor and his resurrected terracotta warriors — isn’t the greatest acting showcase for a kid on the make.
Ford lives in two garages — a friend’s and his mum’s — waiting for his next step after having just completed filming the ABC telemovie Blood in the Sand for Rowan Woods. ‘‘ Really, my career is up in the air, which is why I did Blood in the Sand, so I could just get back to being an actor and not worry about the business side of it all,’’ Ford says.
Ford gave a wonderful performance in last year’s highest grossing Australian film ( albeit with $ 2.2 million), The Black Balloon, although he questions whether anything will come of it.
‘‘ As an actor, when you first start in your career, you know there is some sort of ( your own) involvement in making it, but you know it largely comes from a break in a big film or a critical break in a film,’’ he says.
‘‘ In some ways I had a bit of both this year; critically there was good talk of my performance in Black Balloon; The Mummy was the complete freakin’ opposite, so there was a learning experience there.’’
Ford is a thoughtful young man who throws himself into roles with almost method- like madness. It took weeks, he says, to fully emerge from playing an autistic character, Charlie, in The Black Balloon.
The Mummy 3 was another matter. It’s all chases, explosions and special effects. Ford was lost in the maelstrom, questioning what he was doing there. He accepts that popcorn movies are essential components of a money- making business, but it was ‘‘ a different angle to where I’d come from in the Australian sensibility’’.
Fraser appreciates Ford’s angst. He came to prominence in the series and has parlayed that into a broad career across drama and comedy in cheesy commercial fare and critically acclaimed art- house films. He says a young actor can’t be taught how to deal with blockbuster filmmaking at film school or be taught the courage to commit to such films.
‘‘ You have to want it, have to want to be there, want to do the job,’’ Fraser says. ‘‘ I’ve walked in his shoes — well, maybe not his because he’s size 13 and a hulking great guy — but I’ve had that nail- biting feeling of the first week of dailies ( early footage) coming back and thinking, ‘ Am I good enough?’
‘‘ Just because you’ve got the job doesn’t mean you’re going to make it to the screen. All you’ve got to do is have courage,’’ Fraser adds.
‘‘ I’m impressed with him. And on top of that I feel proud, doing a picture for an actor like him, knowing that I gave a guy a leg up.
‘‘ They’re successful films whether you love them or hate them and they give you opportunities. I wouldn’t have been able to do The Quiet American, they couldn’t have bankrolled that just off Michael Caine at the time. My role in The Mummy helped get that film made.’’
Ford was fortunate to begin in Hollywood beside a more experienced hand such as Fraser, but he says he is a different sort of actor.
‘‘ I’m not a genre actor, I’m more of a character actor. And in this film you’ve got to smile, be charming, be healthy and charismatic. They’re the lines and you don’t fall from those lines and you don’t try ( to) extend those lines, you just do that.’’
Ford accepts he needed to be educated in Hollywood ways but probably wishes it wasn’t so public. ‘‘ It was an intriguing experience. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it. I enjoyed it, but it has a different form of enjoyment to Black Balloon.
‘‘ It’s great jumping off buildings and blowing things up and jumping through explosions and fighting Jet Li. That’s fun. But when you come home at the end of the day, why are you doing that?’’ Ford asks. ‘‘ If you can find your reason, you can keep doing the film. And I found my reason: it’s a kid’s film.’’ Review of
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon
— Page 22
Child’s play: Luke Ford, star of The Mummy 3, describes his breakthrough vehicle as a kid’s movie’