Fair Tale of Self Discovery

September 10th, 2003 Film, Personalities, The West Australian

TV screenwriter, playwright and theatre director Tony McNamara is not the sort of person you’d expect to tell fairytales.

But The Rage in Placid Lake (released next week) is by his own admission an allegory for a much deeper moral than the story on the surface. And since so many of the old fairytales were allegories commenting on everything from the power politics of the day to the influence of narcotic stimulants, that makes McNamara the Hans Christian Andersen of Generation X.

"It was my intention that it’d be this allegorical, hyperreal world," McNamara says when finally able to relax during his whirlwind publicity tour for Rage. "It’s one of the reason the movie looks stylised. It’s set in Sydney but you don’t see the harbour bridge — I wanted it to feel like Placid’s perception of the world, not a naturalistic idea of the world. And the characters, while they were real to me, all represent some way of looking at the world and some way of dealing with the central dilemma."

The dilemma — and the kernel of the movie — is Placid Lake’s search for his true self. Born to extreme left leaning flower-children parents (played faultlessly by Miranda Richardson and Garry McDonald), Placid is cursed with an inability to fit in. The film is a journey he takes through the orbits of several worlds as he tries to decide who to be.

It seems a role made in heaven for iconoclastic rocker Ben Lee — the part of Placid Lake could have been tailor made for him. But before he was ever a movie script, Placid was born of a stage play called the Cafe Latte Kid. McNamara must have thought he’d found Placid Lake’s double — it was just a matter of Lee proving it.

"I didn’t actually know anything about Ben until I saw him on an interview show," McNamara remembers, "and he just struck me as having this same quality Placid did. Ben’s a ‘no fear’ kind of guy and sometimes he makes a fool of himself, but he generally follows his instincts and things work out well for him.

But there was also more riding on Lee’s performance than just a decent Placid Lake. "I needed someone smart and good with words, but above all he had to act with people like Garry and Miranda so he couldn’t just be okay, he had to be really good. When it came time, he just kept jumping the hurdles and coming through.

In fact, there seems to have been a little Placid Lake in everyone. "When I cast him," McNamara says, seeming distinctly like the embodiment of the lesson his protagonist learns, "I didn’t know what he’d look like on screen but I just went with my instincts."

And does Australia’s latest indie poster boy have future plans lined up? "I love writing so I’ll always be involved with theatre," he says, "but directing a film was fun. When you’re writing you’re stuck in your room alone but as a director you’re communicating with 80 people a day, creatively and economically. I loved it, I felt at home as soon as I walked on the set."

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