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 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.”