How did you originally come to play Mick Taylor?
When Greg McLean, the director, was much younger, he saw a play I did. I played a hard arsed Northern Territory policeman, quite a simple Australian policeman, on stage. Most people knew me as playing nice guys – I played nice guys basically till Wolf Creek; I had a couple of baddies throughout my character – but he saw that and when he wrote the screenplay, he thought I’d be right for it. We had a bit of a yap and I was convinced he was on the right track, so I did the film.
Did he tell you what he saw in your performance?
That I understood the outback, that outback character, that Crocodile Dundee kind of guy – but he’s the anti-Dundee, Mick Taylor. As it turns out, I was raised in the country and I lived in the outback and I understood it. I shot kangaroos when I was a kid, so I know all about it. And I’m an actor, and our ability is to impersonate human beings very well – the better you can do that, the better actor you are – so I know that personality. I don’t know psychopaths and serial killers but I understand what we call the larrikin knockabout outback bloke.
Did you do much research into serial killers?
I read Sins of the Brother, the book about Ivan Milat [an Australian serial killer on whom Mick Taylor was partly based]. I’ll never understand a serial killer, but I tried to find the justification. Then I did what I always do: I built the character from when he was born to page 0 which is just before you step onto the script page 1. I had his whole life mapped up and found justification for why he was like he was. But I’ll never understand how people can do what they do in that serial killer psychopath world. It’s beyond me.
He doesn’t judge himself – he thinks what he does is fine and he has mild justification for it.
I didn’t change anything, not a tiny little scrap of him, because he’s very shallow. Ask him “How do you feel, Mick?” And he’ll say, “I feel like a beer.” If you said, “Do you think it’s your mother who made you like this?” he’d probably just smack you in the mouth or call you an idiot.
He’s not into analysing himself in any way, shape or form – he’s very happy go lucky, he’s quite satisfied with his world. I don’t think he believes in God, I don’t think he believes he’s going to Hell because he thinks he’s going to just die and rot. He can do whatever he damn well pleases because he doesn’t believe in the Devil – because he is the Devil. He’s not afraid of dying, he doesn’t care if he gets killed – it’s a bummer because they’ll have won the game for a change. He doesn’t particularly want to get sick and die slowly. He doesn’t mind the Russian Roulette element of it.
Wolf Creek was a worldwide hit – did you expect it to get the attention it got?
No, but nobody does really, because if you knew a film was going to be a hit you’d make one every day and be an extremely rich man. If you knew if something was going to be a hit or a failure, Johnny Depp would never have made The Lone Ranger! I’m sure he didn’t say, “Let’s make The Lone Ranger because it’s a piece of shit and I’m going to get paid a lot.” I’m sure he really believed the film was going to work, but it didn’t.
I thought it was a good script and it had the possibility to be fairly successful, then when they showed me the amount of money they had to make it and the lack of experience they all had, I had further doubt on that, so it was a huge surprise to find that Greg McLean was such a brilliant director. That was probably the real eye-opener that he exploded the script on to the screen.
That was a surprise and it went on to become an iconic horror film and I think that’s because Greg is a bit like Tarantino in that respect – he makes a genre film but he has a style that’s all his own and quite unique. I think that shines pretty well in what he does.
I think Greg also understands social media and the reality TV world that we’re in, and the instant news that we have. You get shot in the head, I’ll be watching it on the news in two minutes’ time with somebody shooting it with an iPhone. He’s aware of his audience, and it’s a youth audience for the horror genre.
For instance, there’s what we call the Mad Max sequence in Wolf Creek 1 where I pursue the girl in the Statesman and it’s very Mad Max-ish. There’s a lot of different hard cuts, and lots of shots in that but when Mick gets out and walks up the road to shoot her, then Greg holds the whole damn thing in a wide, and when I shoot her in the road in the back, it’s like newsreel footage. It’s cold and it’s horrible. That’s where he’s got something going for him.
That’s the difference between what Greg does with a horror film and what other people do.
You presumably had no qualms about coming back to play the character in the sequel?
For the sequel movie I had no trouble, but for the TV show, I had my doubts when he rang and said he was thinking of turning it into a six part television show. I said, “Getting a bit gratuitous now, isn’t it – we’re trotting them out like Norman Gunston (a very famous character played by Gary McDonald).” So I said I had to be convinced, and they sent me the scripts – and I had to eat my words. The scripts were really good and I think this series is right up with the films, every bit as good if not better.
The turnround and focus on the girl is not what people will expect. Was it odd playing Mick with a different director?
I didn’t feel overly comfortable because Greg and I are Wolf Creek when it boils down. He can’t do it without me and I didn’t think I could do it without him. I certainly wouldn’t do it if he wasn’t involved – I wouldn’t feel comfortable and need a whole load of convincing – but with the delays in filming he couldn’t direct as much of the filming as he would like.
It was left to Tony Tilse – but that worked out fine because Tony is a very accomplished high end television director. We have a series here called Underbelly that he was a big part of. He was very clever with it and we had a cinematographer who’s a very good feature cinematographer, Geoff Hall, and we shot the TV show like six little feature films. As far as I’m concerned, they’re brilliantly shot. Tony knew the two films and wanted to pay homage to those films and keep the flavour of it happening somehow with a budget and a timeline that was almost impossible.
Tony’s capacity to economise and tighten things up, probably better than the script had it in the first place, and Geoff Hall’s amazing ability to shoot with a Steadicam and never go twice for framing got us through.
How long was the shoot?
Ten weeks I think. They were big sequences we were doing; no one was scrimping on action.
Was there a challenge in playing him on the small screen?
There wasn’t a challenge. It’s like riding a bike now; I can turn him on and off like a tap. I know he works and it’s very comfortable.
It’s no different to the movies: the clapperboard goes in, the lines come out and the camera shoots it and then I go and sit down until they’re ready to do the next bit. It’s absolutely no different, the process for me, and as I said, I know Mick backwards. I didn’t have to make Mick grow or shrink or anything else, I just had to be Mick. I didn’t find it difficult at all.
There’s a lot of noise about a second series, so I think they’d get a bit pissed off if we threw a Wolf Creek 3 amongst that. I suspect we’ll have to see it through. If they knock us back on the series we’ll go straight into doing a film, I believe, but I don’t think they’ll knock us back. It’s gone gangbusters in Australia.
Some of the crits from over there [in Britain where it’s run on FOX] were really good – there was one shmarmy one, but that’s how it goes. I either like glowing reviews, or absolute opposites. I don’t like middle of the road ones. I love it when someone gives us minus half a star – that’s almost an achievement.
When you’re looking at a script, what do you look for in a part?
I look for two things: 1) that it’s well written, and 2), that it’s got something unique about it, not some boring old twaddle that I’ve seen before or it’s a remake of somebody else’s ideas. I think that’s what make great films – they somehow or another find something that hasn’t been felt before, or seen before.
Something unique, and a challenge; it’s got to be entertaining.
You know the difference between an arthouse film and a commercial film? People want to see commercial films; that’s it. That’s the difference!
People who make arthouse films may think people should see their films!
I don’t like anyone telling me what I should do. I’ll see a film if it’s great. I don’t care where it comes from.
You’re known now for playing Mick – do you mind being associated in people’s minds with a serial killer?
It’s a double edged sword, mate: hopefully they keep bringing Wolf Creeks around because they pay me well, and it’s cool that I’m in my sixties and I’ve created an iconic character in my career. This is the only life that I know of, and it’s good to know that I’ve had a good successful career and I’ve created a film icon – and it makes me feel good.
But a lot of the small minded dick-headed producers can’t see beyond me playing Mick Taylor and don’t put me in things that I know that I normally would be in. It does cost me a bit of work sometimes but I counteract that by setting up my own film company and setting up my own film projects. It’s ok. It is what it is.
I directed a film called StalkHer (right). It didn’t do very well unfortunately but I think it’s a good film. It was released last year. I made a film before that and I’m about to try and make another film called Who Cares Sal? which has a Down’s syndrome guy in the lead. Down’s syndrome people have been in plenty of films but we don’t know of any that have held a film and this particular bloke won the Best Actor at Tropfest in 2009, so he’s a good actor, Gerard O’Dwyer who’s going to play the lead. I’m setting that up.