Mr Aus­tralia him­self Bryan Brown on why it pays to fol­low your pas­sion.

THE VET­ERAN STAR OF STAGE AND SCREEN RE­FLECTS ON HIS CA­REER, WHAT SETS AUSSIE AC­TORS APART, AND WHY IT PAYS TO FOL­LOW YOUR PAS­SIONS.

GQ (Australia) - - CONTENTS -

If God was Aus­tralian, he’d be a dead ringer for Bryan Brown. A salty, windswept, tac­i­turn, take-no-shit bloke from the ’burbs with a clenched jaw and a kind­ness in the eyes. At 71, Brown is old enough to qual­ify for a se­nior cit­i­zen’s travel dis­count but still looks as if he could take on any­one in the pub with a bone to pick. Back in the late ’70s and ’80s, he was at the fore­front of bring­ing lo­cal sto­ries like The Odd An­gry Shot and Breaker Mo­rant to global au­di­ences for the first time. Al­most 40 years later, he’s con­tin­u­ing to put the na­tion’s moral­i­ties, man­dates and mis­cre­ants un­der the cel­lu­loid mi­cro­scope in films such as Aus­tralia Day and Sweet Coun­try. Along the way, he’s flirted with the Hol­ly­wood ma­chine on his own terms in ve­hi­cles like Cock­tail op­po­site Tom Cruise. Still cre­at­ing, still striv­ing and still with some­thing to say about who we are, Brown has joined the stream­ing revo­lu­tion in the new Stan Orig­i­nal series Bloom. GQ sat down to talk age­ing, artistry and am­bi­tion with the thesp who’d bris­tle at the term icon, just as much as he clearly de­serves it.

GQ: Your lat­est project, Bloom, is not only on Stan but was pro­duced by the Aus­tralian streamer. How do you see new play­ers like this im­pact­ing the tra­di­tional en­ter­tain­ment land­scape?

Bryan Brown: They’re here, they’re here to stay and that’s how it is.

GQ: It seems they’re evolv­ing to a point where they’re not just repack­ag­ing US or UK shows, which must be a good thing as far as cre­ative out­put is con­cerned?

BB: I guess it is. You’re go­ing to get some re­ally ter­rific stuff and also some ba­nal crap. That’s no dif­fer­ent to how it’s al­ways been. Stream­ing de­mands a lot of con­tent, but be­cause there aren’t that many great ideas out there – and when there are, the re­al­i­sa­tion of them isn’t al­ways that good – we have to ex­pect the bad is go­ing to go along with the good. That said, when you have new plat­forms, cre­ativ­ity comes to the fore and that makes it a pretty ex­cit­ing space to be work­ing in.

GQ: Your re­cent project Sweet Coun­try was a his­tor­i­cal drama that shone a light on the shame­ful treat­ment of Indige­nous Aus­tralians. It was set in the early 20 th cen­tury, but have we made enough progress with rec­on­cil­i­a­tion?

BB: I don’t think I’m the bloke to an­swer that. All I’ve no­ticed in my own game, which is film and tele­vi­sion, is that there has been a pos­i­tive drive by or­gan­i­sa­tions like Screen Aus­tralia and the dif­fer­ent state-fund­ing bod­ies to sup­port the op­por­tu­nity for Indige­nous film­mak­ers and sto­ry­tellers to get a good shot. That move­ment prob­a­bly started 10 years ago and has given us the fan­tas­tic works of Red­fern Now and Mys­tery Road, plus ex­po­sure to tal­ents like Ivan Sen and War­wick Thorn­ton. They may be Indige­nous Aus­tralian sto­ries, but they still come un­der the ban­ner of Aus­tralian sto­ries, and they’re pow­er­ful, and they’re funny and they’re part of our lan­guage.

GQ: Sim­i­larly, your 2017 film Aus­tralia Day touched on is­sues of race and cul­ture around the con­tro­ver­sial hol­i­day. Where do you think we stand in terms of tol­er­ance in 2018?

BB: That’s not an easy ques­tion to an­swer. You know, I look at cer­tain things and I go, ‘Oh, there’s a great in­tol­er­ance there’. And then I look at other things and I think we are such a tol­er­ant na­tion. We’ve got things in front of us that we have to take on to make us more tol­er­ant. But when I go around the world, I do not see a coun­try with the faces in it that Aus­tralia has, liv­ing a fan­tas­tic life, liv­ing along­side each other. There are not many coun­tries that do that, that have state sta­bil­ity and it’s a big feather in our caps. Does it all work won­der­fully all the time? No. Does any­thing? No.

GQ: In Bloom, you play the hus­band of a woman (Jacki Weaver) with de­men­tia. In real life, you’re also an am­bas­sador for Alzheimer’s Aus­tralia.

BB: In this show, I’m the hus­band of a woman deal­ing with Alzheimer’s, but that’s not why I take on some­thing. My ap­proach is gen­er­ally: ‘That’s not a bad story. That’s a pretty good char­ac­ter to play, and the peo­ple that are mak­ing it seem to know what they’re do­ing.’ In terms of the de­men­tia el­e­ment, it’s more that it rep­re­sents a truth in so­ci­ety which makes the nar­ra­tive con­tem­po­rary and also trig­gers a ma­jor part of the story. But I sup­pose at my age, it’s such a big thing. Par­tic­u­larly, ei­ther the Baby Boomers deal­ing with it them­selves, or deal­ing with it with their par­ents.

GQ: You re­cently re­ceived a Life­time Achieve­ment Award at the Aus­tralian In­ter­na­tional Movie Con­ven­tion. Do you ever think about hang­ing up the boots? BB: I don’t think I would ever choose re­tire­ment. Re­tire­ment might choose me. Peo­ple might one day look at me and ei­ther go, ‘Who the fuck is he?’ or ‘Is he still alive?’ For now, I’m still very ac­tive. I’ve got a film in post-pro­duc­tion now called Palm Beach, which I’ve pro­duced and acted in, which will come out next year. I’ve been asked to play this ma­jor role in Bloom. For some rea­son, peo­ple keep ask­ing me to do things. I loved hav­ing the op­por­tu­nity to play Sweet Coun­try. It was a hell of a drama, and I loved play­ing that char­ac­ter. While peo­ple keep of­fer­ing me char­ac­ters, I go, ‘Yeah, I want to play that. I don’t want an­other Aus­tralian ac­tor to de­fine that bloke. I want to de­fine him.’ As long as that goes on, I’ll keep do­ing it. GQ: Palm Beach is di­rected by your wife Rachel Ward. How’s that work­ing out?

BB: She’s nicer to me on the set than she is in real life. Be­cause, on the set, I’m the ac­tor. I have the power. I can go, ‘I don’t like you talk­ing to me like that. You can come and get me in an hour from my van.’ At home, if I tried that, I’d have a fry­ing pan come across the kitchen. Also, she’s very good at what she wants to do on the set and with the story. Plus, it’s not just on the set where we have the op­por­tu­nity to cre­atively talk about the project, and ar­gue, and push to make what it is we want to make. Talk­ing about cre­ative things or try­ing to cre­ate some­thing is fun, and ex­cit­ing, and de­mand­ing. And I’m a bloke that needs to be de­manded of. GQ: You’ve been to­gether since 1983. For two ac­tors, that’s prac­ti­cally cen­turies. BB: Well, the sim­ple fact is, as a bloke, it’s al­ways, ‘It’s my fault. I’m sorry.’ GQ: You’ve seen the Hol­ly­wood ma­chine up close in films like Cock­tail. Why do you think Aus­tralian ac­tors con­tinue to carve out a niche? BB: The thing to re­alise is that this is noth­ing new. It’s been go­ing on for a long time. There was a resur­gence in the ’80s with re­ally great Aus­tralian films like Mad Max, My Bril­liant Ca­reer and Breaker Mo­rant get­ting no­ticed. Peo­ple were go­ing, ‘Whoa! Those ac­tors are great. We’d love them to be a part of our com­mu­nity do­ing things.’ But it hap­pened

be­fore that too. You know, Rod Tay­lor, a bloke from Home­bush, went over to make his name in Amer­ica in the ’50s and of course Peter Finch. But it all comes back to the fact that we make great films, our ac­tors get no­ticed and once they get over there, they’re am­bi­tious and have fab­u­lous work ethics. They’re ca­pa­ble of play­ing all sorts of char­ac­ters and are English-speak­ing.

GQ: Do you think then that it’s more achiev­able for young ac­tors to­day?

BB: I think so. When I grew up, you wouldn’t think about be­ing an ac­tor be­cause only Amer­i­cans did it. Now, young kids grow­ing up in the sub­urbs, go ‘I want to be in Neigh­bours’ or ‘I want to be in Home & Away’. Then they can think about go­ing, ‘Oh, maybe I want to be on a 40-foot screen’. And then they’d go, ‘Oh, but they’re only mak­ing 20 movies here, but they’re mak­ing a thou­sand there. Why don’t I go and have a shot at that?’

GQ: What do you know now that you wished you knew as a younger bloke?

BB: I prob­a­bly wish I knew that I wasn’t a bad look­ing bloke. But, ac­tu­ally, I’m glad I didn’t know things be­cause be­ing naive made me do things that I wouldn’t have done. GQ: Like?

BB: At 25, I lived near Bankstown [in Syd­ney’s west], de­cided to sell the car and go to Eng­land, say­ing I’m go­ing to be an ac­tor. I then just knocked on doors and eight or nine months later had a con­tract with the Na­tional The­atre of Great Bri­tain. Now, I go, ‘What was I think­ing?’ So, naivety is re­ally great. Then I went, ‘Oh maybe some­thing must be in Amer­ica’. And it turns out there bloody was. What I re­alise now was that I was ad­ven­tur­ous and op­ti­mistic, and I’m re­ally glad for it.

GQ: Any ad­vice for peo­ple who might be at a sim­i­lar point in their lives?

BB: Fol­low your need. I didn’t re­alise I needed to ex­press my­self in some way, and when I was at the AMP sell­ing in­surance, they had a lit­tle drama club and I went down there, and they got me to do some­thing. From that mo­ment there was a place for me. I needed to be an ac­tor. Luck­ily, I didn’t try to be a pain­ter. I’d have failed. Luck­ily, I didn’t try to be a poet. I’d have failed. Lucky I didn’t try to be a nov­el­ist. I’d have failed. But I needed to ex­press my­self, and I found the form that al­lowed me to do it. Af­ter I found it, I didn’t have a choice. That was what I was go­ing to have to do.

GQ: What does style mean to you at this stage of your life?

BB: It comes down to how I feel com­fort­able go­ing out into the street. And that usu­ally means pretty sim­ple, pretty clas­si­cal.

GQ: What do you make of the cur­rent state of Aus­tralian pol­i­tics? BB: Ridicu­lous. GQ: Fair enough. What are you cur­rently watch­ing?

BB: I still keep go­ing back to Scan­di­na­vian stuff. Bor­gen, The Killing and The Bridge. But I’ve dis­cov­ered things like Be­low the Sur­face and an Is­raeli one called Fauda re­cently, which was pretty good in a lot of re­spects. At the mo­ment, there’s a French one called The Bureau that I just bloody loved.

GQ: Can you be a reg­u­lar punter and just en­joy a film or a show, or do you find your­self ask­ing, ‘Why are they do­ing that?’

BB: I try not to let any of that hap­pen when I’m en­joy­ing a show, but I know within half an hour whether I’m go­ing to turn it off. GQ: What about down time?

BB: I do a Pi­lates class three or four times a week. I’m usu­ally the only bloke among 30 girls. I still surf on a long board. I al­ways do an hour’s ex­er­cise a day no mat­ter where I am.

GQ: You must be very proud of the Bryan Brown The­atre out at Bankstown in Syd­ney. Do you think that our sub­urbs are fi­nally get­ting the fa­cil­i­ties they need?

BB: Lis­ten, you’ve got to fight for what you want. Noth­ing will ever be given to you. I’ve been go­ing back­wards and for­wards to Bankstown a lot lately and I’m al­ways blown away by the vi­tal­ity and the buzz that ex­ists in the sub­urbs, par­tic­u­larly in the Western sub­urbs. You just feel it in the air. There’s just, life. And that life, there­fore, needs to ex­press it­self in a good way, oth­er­wise it’ll look for a bad way.

GQ: Your old mate Sam Neill. He called you an id­iot re­cently on Twit­ter be­cause you turned up to the red car­pet of the wrong film – his film. Care to re­tort?

BB: Well, I’m aw­fully glad he said that be­cause I think it prob­a­bly very well de­scribes our re­la­tion­ship. We en­joy be­ing able to give each other shit. And that’s be­cause we en­joy each other very much. GQ: That was dis­ap­point­ing.

BB: But it’s all you’re get­ting. n Stan Orig­i­nal’s Bloom airs on Stan this sum­mer

“I needed to ex­press my­self, and I found the form that al­lowed me to do it.”

Brown as Ray Reed, a high-school teacher and for­mer as­tronomer who dou­bles as his wife’s carer, in this year’s Stan Orig­i­nal pro­duc­tion Bloom.

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