JOSH LAWSON MEETS HIS ‘LITTLE DEATH’
The Little Death, Josh Lawson’s first feature as a director, has left him wishing for more, he tells Michael Bodey
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 —
I’M CRITICAL OF AUSSIE FILMS AS WELL … AND IF YOU ARE TOO, COME AND SEE THIS FILM
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