THANK GOD YOU’RE BACK

He gave us The Cas­tle and The Dish, but it’s been 11 years since Rob Sitch made a movie. What’s taken so long?

The Advertiser - SA Weekend - - COVER STORY - WOR D S HÉLÈNE SOBOLEWSKI

ON

the cusp of turn­ing 50, Rob Sitch is feel­ing the seren­ity. It’s been a long time be­tween films for the di­rec­tor and writer, but he has spent it ob­serv­ing a chang­ing world, ready to jump in when a new idea took hold.

And Sitch, the man be­hind The Cas­tle and The Dish, is well at­tuned to de­vel­op­ments in the na­tional psy­che. The Cas­tle added the phrases “the vibe of the thing”, “tell him he’s dream­ing”, “that’s go­ing straight to the pool room”, and “how’s the seren­ity” to the na­tional lex­i­con. Now he is about to re­lease his third film – and the first for 11 years – Any Ques­tions For Ben?

Sitch may be re­flec­tive but he’s far from ready to swap the film in­dus­try for his love of fish­ing, the hobby he turned into a se­ries in A River Some­where. “I think if I was by my­self I’d, I don’t know, sit un­der a tree some­where,” he says. “But I do en­joy turn­ing up to work and mak­ing things. That’s prob­a­bly what we re­ally en­joy. It’s tricky to make things and it takes a lot of guts. We’re al­ways talk­ing about new ideas.”

As top mutt at Work­ing Dog Pro­duc­tions, Sitch and his team of well-known co­me­di­ans – his wife Jane Kennedy, Santo Ci­lauro, Tom Gleis­ner and Michael Hirsh – are ce­mented in Aus­tralian en­ter­tain­ment his­tory. As well as their films they are re­spon­si­ble for TV se­ries such as Front­line, The Hol­low­men and Thank God You’re Here. The team’s ideas are born from ev­ery­day ob­ser­va­tions, which Sitch says have of­ten been mis­taken for satire. “Santo made the ob­ser­va­tion that when we were do­ing Front­line, peo­ple cat­e­gorised us as satirists,” he says. “He said it’s not so much a satire as an ob­ser­va­tion . . . I think that ties in more with what we do than any­thing else. We don’t just say, ‘we’re go­ing to wake up and make our ob­ser­va­tions po­lit­i­cal to­day’. It’s prob­a­bly that what we do is that we get to­gether and ex­change ob­ser­va­tions and hope­fully they’re funny.”

For their new film, Sitch and his team have been ob­serv­ing the chang­ing dy­nam­ics in re­la­tion­ships and fam­i­lies. Di­rected by Sitch, Any Ques­tions For Ben? is part of a loosely themed tril­ogy. The Cas­tle is about a nu­clear fam­ily, The Dish about the of­fice fam­ily and Any Ques­tions For Ben? about a fam­ily of friends. The film, star­ring Josh Law­son and Rachael Tay­lor, is about a chang­ing world where tit­u­lar char­ac­ter Ben re­thinks his life choices fol­low­ing an un­der­whelm­ing ex­pe­ri­ence at his for­mer school.

For a long time Sitch and co-writ­ers Ci­lauro and Gleis­ner had been lin­ger­ing on this wider con­cept of fam­ily as they searched to make a “con­tem­po­rary film”. “In this case we’d been deal­ing with lots of young comics on Thank God You’re Here and we felt like the

Rob Sitch ex­plores the con­cept of fam­i­lies

in his films.

same peo­ple even though we were sep­a­rated by a cou­ple of decades in age,” he says. “But the lives we were liv­ing at the same age were com­pletely dif­fer­ent. We have the same DNA but the world has com­pletely changed. We were fas­ci­nated by that pe­riod, say be­tween (the ages of) 20 and 30, where ev­ery­body knew that prob­a­bly no one was go­ing to have a baby or get mar­ried. It was al­most as if, metaphor­i­cally, they’d been given an around-the­world ticket. They can do what­ever they want for 10 years, but as we talked fur­ther we found they still come up against the same dilem­mas. So that’s where the idea came from. We love that world.”

Sitch sounds re­laxed, easy­go­ing, on the phone but an­swers ques­tions as if he’s telling a story in which he doesn’t ap­pear. It must be those ob­ser­va­tional skills, for­ever com­ment­ing on what’s hap­pen­ing around him to avoid talk­ing about him­self.

When asked what it was like for him at school, what it was like be­ing young, he re­sponds with a story about find­ing out he and New Zealand ac­tor Sam Neill had the same head­mas­ter, al­beit at dif­fer­ent schools. They got a laugh out of it though, and that is a very im­por­tant in­gre­di­ent in Rob’s life. “Part of the film is envy and homage at the same time,” he says. “I think there’s never been a bet­ter time to be in your 20s.”

That is not to say Sitch, who turns 50 next month, is en­vi­ous of the cur­rent set of 20-some­things. He’s had his time and used it wisely to have the suc­cess­ful ca­reer and happy home life with his wife and five chil­dren (four boys in­clud­ing twins and a girl, all aged 10 and un­der). “(My 20s are) in the rear view mir­ror for me but I do think be­ing a par­ent is more complicate­d than it was,” he says. “It’s complicate­d at ev­ery stage. When we were grow­ing up, you played cricket and foot­ball and if you were ex­otic you played ten­nis. Kids do ev­ery­thing now.”

Sitch met Kennedy when they were in their late 20s in the early ’90s and they were work­ing on the ABC TV’S The Late Show along­side co­me­di­ans Tony Martin, Mick Molloy, Ci­lauro, Ja­son Stephens and Gleis­ner.

Since hav­ing chil­dren, his wife has bro­ken into the over­flow­ing cook­book mar­ket with Fab­u­lous Food Mi­nus The Boombah and OMG! I Can Eat That? They’re used to work­ing to­gether but Sitch says he leaves the cook­ing to her. “I can cook a bit but it tends to be with a lib­eral sense of boombah,” he says. “I think had she done a stan­dard cook­book she wouldn’t have done one. But that con­cept be­came pop­u­lar among ev­ery­one she knew. Lit­tle things like cau­li­flower rice; it was like a magic trick. When any­one goes on a diet they think they’re star­ing down let­tuces and car­rots. I think her last mis­sion was not to do that.”

In be­tween The Dish and Any Ques­tions For Ben? Work­ing Dog did four years of Thank God You’re Here which was shown in 20 coun­tries. Then there was a se­ries of three travel guides on made-up coun­tries that were trans­lated into “about 20 lan­guages”. He’s just wrapped up film­ing with his friends Jane Turner and Gina Ri­ley, who he’s known “for yonks”, in Kath and Kim: The Filum, in which he plays a “very suave Euro­pean sil­ver fox type guy who wants to se­duce Kath”.

But Sitch is al­ready think­ing of the next project. “I joked the other day that the only place left is the fu­ture. You never know. My mum used to say as soon as the car was in­vented, we’d have space­ships (soon af­ter). I still have a Hyundai Getz.”

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