GROMMET FINDS HIS DARK SIDE
THE BUSSELTON ACTOR DISCOVERED IN LOCKIE LEONARD STEPS OUT OF HIS COMFORT ZONE FOR AN AUSSIE MOVIE THAT TACKLES RACISM. BY JAY HANNA
SEAN Keenan may have built his career playing quintessential Aussie surfer types, but the Busselton native heads down a darker path in the new film Australia Day. The 25-year-old actor — who was plucked from his primary school classroom to take on the role of wide-eyed grommet Lockie Leonard in the children series of the same name before starring in Puberty Blues — says he relished playing against type as Dean Patterson, a young man whose violent acts are motivated by fear and racial hatred.
“Dean is not the type of part I would usually go for or be offered, so that really interested me,” says Keenan, who is currently relaxing in LA after a day spent scouting for agents.
“It was against the grain for me and I relished that challenge of accentuating traits that aren’t really part of my personality, like his aggression and the over-bearing side of his personality.”
In Australia Day, Dean, who is the eldest of three siblings, wrongfully believes his sister has been drugged and sexually assaulted by a teenage Persian boy on Australia Day. Rather than report the incident, Dean decides to take matters into his own hands, enacting revenge in brutal fashion.
“Dean feels like he needs to domineer and it drives him further and further down a path that rationally he should know he shouldn’t go down,” Keenan says.
“It’s a cultural fear and it’s a fear for his family. It’s completely irrational, but as things spiral he feels like he needs to be even more overbearing rather than pulling things back into line.”
While Keenan enjoyed playing a character that was so markedly different to his previous roles, he admitted he felt the need to shake it off at the end of the intensive four-day shoot.
“I definitely needed some kind of tonic,” he says. “I went on holiday to Sri Lanka after. It was nice to just wash it all off. I felt I had to balance this guy out because he is at the far end of a spectrum and he is quite far down that path.
“It wasn’t pleasant saying some of the lines that I had to say and doing some of the things I had to do.”
Australia Day, which also stars Bryan Brown and Matthew Le Nevez, features two other intertwined narratives involving a young Indigenous girl who is on the run after fleeing the scene of an accident and 19-year-old Chinese woman who is trying to escape from her employers.
Written by Stephen Irwin and directed by Kriv Stenders (Red Dog) the film, which will have a cinematic release on Thursday for one week before screening on Foxtel on September 27, explores topical issues of national identity, cultural diversity and racial tension which have all been brought into the conversation about our controversial national holiday.
“I was really interested in the kind of dynamics and social issues that it was putting on display,” Keenan says. “It is a pretty poignant time for that conversation to be encouraged.
“And hopefully at the end of the day it can allow for more understanding because this is a pretty volatile time, everywhere.”
Next up the in-demand young actor will again team up with Stenders and Irwin for the highly anticipated two-part miniseries
Wake in Fright. Based on the book by Kenneth Cook, the Channel Ten miniseries is a reimagining of the 1971 film, which Martin Scorsese famously claimed left him speechless.
Due to screen in October the outback horror story follows the rapid downfall of school teacher John Grant who is attempting to make his way back to the city before being embroiled in a series of dark and disturbing events in the rural town of Bundanyabba.
Keenan says he was asked to audition for the lead role of John Grant, made famous by Gary Bond in the original, the very day he first heard about the film’s existence.
“I was working on set and one of our prop guys pulled a DVD copy of Wake In Fright out of the St Vinnie’s we were shooting in front of. He said to me, ‘Have you heard of Wake In Fright? It’s
the best Australian movie ever made’. I’d never heard of it, but that afternoon I got home and I had an audition for Wake In
Fright. So I borrowed the DVD and watched it,” he says. “It’s a snapshot of Australia that I don’t think anyone else has nailed. It’s so unique, but so Australian. It’s a privilege to be able to play some part in that story and I am so happy that we are able to bring back.”
Keenan says he was put through the wringer during the shoot and not only had to deal with swallowing mouthfuls of flies, but numerous glasses of foul-tasting non-alcoholic beer.
“It was a strenuous shoot,” he says. “I was in every scene and we were shooting for five weeks straight. It was a marathon. We were out in the desert where they shot Mad Max and the original
Wake In Fright and we were doing car chases and dog chases and all sorts of things.
“I’ve had my fair share of running in the desert for a little while. And I’ve had my taste of flies. And also my taste of fake beer. I think in one take I drank 14 schooners of Schlossgold (non-alcoholic beer) and I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.”
Less taxing has been his role as back-from-the-dead Charlie in the ABC’s paranormal drama series Glitch. The series recently returned to our screens for season two after being picked up by Netflix and making waves in the US.
“It was really nice to go back and visit those characters again,” Keenan says. “It took that Netflix enthusiasm from the States to fast track that second season. And it is great that it’s being appreciated for what it is, which is a good series with an international appeal. It shows a side of Australia that I think is quite different to what we usually see on our screens — that gothic outback Australia.”
Keenan says the buzz around the series has helped open up doors for him in the States.
“They all know about it and they are all waiting for season two over here,” he says.
“It puts everyone on the map. It’s great that there’s platforms like that where things can be viewed internationally. This is the next big step in distribution.
“It’s great for actors and it’s great for producers and directors. Hopefully we should be seeing a lot more Australian content and a lot more Australian films.”
And undoubtedly a lot more of Sean Keenan. Australia Day is in cinemas on Thursday and screens on Foxtel on Sept 27.
Sean Keenan on the set of Australia Day and, right, Lockie Leonard, Puberty Blues and Wake in Fright.