The Lit­tle Death, Josh Law­son’s first fea­ture as a di­rec­tor, has left him wish­ing for more, he tells Michael Bodey

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Front Page -

JOSH Law­son is buoy­ant. His de­but fea­ture film, The Lit­tle Death, just missed out on win­ning the au­di­ence prize at the Syd­ney Film Fes­ti­val and he’s in the di­rec­tor’s bub­ble where all he ex­pe­ri­ences is praise and back­slaps, most re­cently at the Toronto film fes­ti­val.

And after years feel­ing, as an ac­tor, like “a pas­sen­ger on the bus” that oth­ers were driv­ing, now he is chuffed to be the driver.

It is a heady out­come for a man whose film could just as eas­ily have been another Aus­tralian miss.

Law­son’s fea­ture is be­ing mar­keted as a “darkly comic look at the per­verse lives of or­di­nary peo­ple” and it takes its name from the 19th-cen­tury French eu­phemism for or­gasm, la pe­tite mort. His in­ves­ti­ga­tion of sex­ual role­play­ing, im­po­tence, rape fan­tasies and other ex­otic fan­cies could have be­come one long, well, bum note.

Law­son is so en­thu­si­as­tic about its re­cep­tion, though, he hopes The Lit­tle Death is a big enough suc­cess to spark a se­quel that would en­able him to ex­plore the “many great fetishes I didn’t in­clude in this movie”.

“It’d be awe­some but it would only mat­ter if it found an au­di­ence,” he adds. And that’s where his en­thu­si­asm is slightly tem­pered. “I’m a lit­tle ner­vous about find­ing an au­di­ence in Aus­tralia,” he con­cedes. “I know if peo­ple see it, they’ll like it; I’m cer­tain of it, if they just take a chance. It’s get­ting them in the frig­gin’ door.”

Law­son has a plain­tive pitch for his film about a few 30-some­thing cou­ples strug­gling with their re­la­tion­ships.

“If you’re the kind of Aussie that watches Aus­tralian films and don’t like most of them, this is the Aussie film for you,” he says. “Be­cause I’m that per­son! I’m crit­i­cal of Aussie films as well. I’m a bit sick and tired of see­ing crime movies in Aus­tralia, tired of see­ing the crim­i­nal class rep­re­sented — and if you are too, come and see this film.

“This film looks at Aus­tralians in a nor­mal way that doesn’t dumb us down and I don’t think we’ve seen the­atri­cally on film since Lan­tana,” he adds.

The Lit­tle Death is cer­tainly dif­fer­ent, just as Law­son planned it to be.

The 33-year-old has grown up on screen and re­cently ap­peared as the lead­ing man in Aus­tralian films The Wed­ding Party and Any Ques­tions For Ben?, as well as be­ing a tele­vi­sion reg­u­lar, fea­tur­ing in Thank God You’re Here, The Li­brar­i­ans and Chan­don Pic­tures.

A reg­u­lar role on US cable se­ries House of Lies has given him the se­cu­rity to ex­plore his writ­ing more and The Lit­tle Death be­came the project that evolved from idea to ob­ses­sion.

The film was in Screen Aus­tralia’s screen­play de­vel­op­ment pro­gram for a num­ber of years be­fore the fed­eral film agency de­cided not to co- fund it (although it later pro­vided some post­pro­duc­tion as­sis­tance).

Law­son ad­mits the first draft of his screen­play would have made a bad film, although he had to strug­gle to en­sure The Lit­tle Death wasn’t ho­mogenised. He re­mem­bers be­ing ad­vised to make it more like other par­tic­u­lar films.

“Well, then it would be more like that and less like this thing we’re mak­ing now!” he re­calls ex­claim­ing. “Why don’t we try and make an orig­i­nal thing rather than this hy­brid of things we’ve al­ready seen? So I def­i­nitely fought for its orig­i­nal­ity.”

The project ges­tated so long, the need to com­plete it be­came as press­ing as Law­son’s de­sire to tell the story. “Ini­tially, once I’d writ­ten it, it was just a movie. But be­cause I in­vested so long in mak­ing it, after about four years —



which was half the time it took to make it — then I re­ally had to make it, it was a mat­ter of prin­ci­ple,” he says.

“I’d in­vested too long and gone too far to give it up.”

It was also a tran­si­tion he had to make pro­fes­sion­ally, he adds. He knows he’s been for­tu­nate as an ac­tor, with some great breaks, in­clud­ing re­cent comic roles in films star­ring Will Fer­rell, The Cam­paign and An­chor­man 2.

“But there’s a big dif­fer­ence be­tween work­ing solidly on oc­ca­sion­ally great projects and never hav­ing to au­di­tion again,” he says. Di­rect­ing The Lit­tle Death, and its sub­se­quent suc­cess at the Toronto film fes­ti­val, where it was sold to sev­eral Euro­pean and Asian ter­ri­to­ries, has taken some pres­sure off his act­ing.

One thing in Law­son’s favour was his clear ob­jec­tive in terms of what he wanted as a di­rec­tor. Or, more pre­cisely, what he didn’t want. “The pri­mary thing was to make a movie I hadn’t seen be­fore,” he says.

Law­son says an­thol­ogy films — The Lit­tle Death ties to­gether sev­eral sep­a­rate nar­ra­tives or fetishes — have been done be­fore but he wanted the con­tent to be orig­i­nal rather than de­riv­a­tive.

“I’ve been a lit­tle tired of see­ing movies where 20 min­utes in you know what’s go­ing to hap­pen,” he says, be­fore “de­fy­ing any­one” to pre­dict where his film will end up.

“The other thing was be­ing able to deal with the spiky mat­ter of kinks — and some that are more ex­treme than oth­ers — while never los­ing its heart. I truly didn’t want to be provoca­tive or con­tro­ver­sial, that was never my ob­jec­tive. But when you set out to do some­thing orig­i­nal, it is go­ing to be con­tro­ver­sial at some point.

“I knew it would be chal­leng­ing to some peo­ple but I didn’t want to make it in a way that would be chal­leng­ing to most peo­ple.”

His ex­pose of the sex­ual lives of five Syd­ney cou­ples sat­is­fies his ob­jec­tives, and its con­tentious con­tent is ver­bal and the­matic, not visual, which may dis­ap­point those ex­pect­ing gra­tu­itous sex and nu­dity.

Law­son also de­liv­ers on his aim to pro­vide an ac­tor’s showcase for his en­sem­ble, which in­cludes him­self, his brother Ben Law­son, Bo­jana No­vakovic, Damon Her­ri­man, Kate Mul­vany, Lisa McCune, Pa­trick Bram­mall, Kate Box and Lachy Hulme. Mul­vany and Her­ri­man are par­tic­u­larly af­fect­ing as a cou­ple ex­per­i­ment­ing with role-play­ing and a ca­reer change.

“What ended up hap­pen­ing is peo­ple found it to be a re­ally in­ter­est­ing new take on the ro­man­tic com­edy.” Law­son says. “Yeah, it has some spiky edges, thank god, be­cause with­out it, it would be just another rom-com that would be for­got­ten. It’s def­i­nitely con­nect­ing with most peo­ple and they’re find­ing the dark hu­mour in it, and some­times the ob­vi­ous, pretty palat­able hu­mour as well.”

The Lit­tle Death opens on Thurs­day.

After years as an ac­tor, Josh Law­son is de­lighted to be in the driv­ing seat

Kate Mul­vany and Damon Her­ri­man, far left, and Pa­trick Bram­mall with Kate Box, left, in scenes from The

Lit­tle Death, which ex­am­ines the sex­ual lives of five Syd­ney cou­ples

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