Since carving a distinct figure in the spotlight back in 1996 with Shine, a part biopic based on the life of pianist David Helfgott, filmmaker Scott Hicks turned his attentions to Hollywood, where he received critical acclaim in quick succession with Snow Falling on Cedars (1999) and his adaptation of Stephen King's novel Hearts in Atlantis (2001). Returning to his South Australian home, Hicks decided to take some time out to concentrate on family life. Just shy of 10 years later, the Ugandan born director seems to have rekindled his passion for storytelling and cinema with his latest film, The Boys Are Back. LWLies caught up with Hicks during last year's LFF to gain some perspective on Hick's most personal project yet.
LWLies: What were your personal motivations for making this film?
Hicks: I think the most powerful thing for me was the take on fatherhood. I’ve been a father all of my adult life, since I was 18, and I have two children from two different fathers. So from a personal point of view I just felt the script was full of moments I’d never seen in a movie before, it deals with fatherhood in an extremely unconventional and touching way. There are some lines that are so unique and that you just haven’t seen in cinema before. But there is also an unflinching sense of realism in the book, which in fact I didn’t know existed until after I’d read the script.
How much of the film was extracted from the memoir?
Well put it like this, if you read the script you would totally recognise the voice of Simon Carr, Allan Cubitt who wrote the script really captured that. But the book is not a conventional narrative, it’s more a collection of anecdotes and experiences and reflections. So what Al had to do was take all these beads out of the book and thread them on a narrative. But it’s not really about the plot in the film, it’s about showing the relationships and allowing them to affect you.
So you never considered applying a more conventional narrative, specifically with regards to the development of Joe’s love life, as it were?
We actually shot an alternative ending, which was much more of a traditional, happy ending in that sense, but it was just too neat and if anything was off the point. This is not about Joe finding new loves and making new relationships, but building the ones he’s already got by bringing the boys back together. It’s about beginning to move on, only not all at once, but rather one step at a time.
How important was it for you to get Clive on board?
Huge. I mean I was very, very eager to get to him and it was just wonderful that he responded so strongly to it. He loved the material and he was onboard pretty much straight away, but it actually took four years before we got round to filming, because he would be busy and then I was on a film, but we never let it go.
How did you come to cast Nicholas? Did you go out specifically with the view to casting a newcomer?
He’s a phenomenon that kid. It was a huge search because I wanted to find a six year old, but my interest in casting was the younger, the better; I wasn’t interested in having an eight year old playing a six year old. There’s a difference in their perception of the world at that age that I felt people who notice and it was important that we found someone audiences could identify with and relate to in that way. But the thing is in Australia you’re never going to find a six year old who’s done anything before, so it was a matter of looking at hundreds of kids and making a choice, which proved to be very difficult until we found Nicholas.
As such a young, totally unexperienced actor, it must have been overwhelming for him at times. Were there any troubles on set with him?
Sometimes it was a struggle. It’s a big deal for a kid to do a movie like this and sometimes he didn’t want to do it. But you have to be patient and you have to be flexible and firm and you have to be kind. It’s not dissimilar to being a father in that way, so it didn’t matter that it was difficult at times.
The location for the family home in Australia is stunning. How did you come across it?
It’s where I live, basically. I live in South Australia and when I’m not making a movie over seas it’s where I go back to and recharge. There’s one scene actually, when they’re climbing on the rocks, which was shot from the balcony of my beach house. Clive always said it was just so I didn’t have to get up that day, but truthfully there was nowhere better for the shot.
Do you think fatherhood as an ideal is something that has become forgotten or is ignored in contemporary cinema?
To an extent yes. It’s funny you say that actually because I was just this morning reading an article about single fathers. It’s a real problem today and a colossal ting that is frequently ignored. What this story is about is someone taking a choice and making a decision and learning how to become father. You might make mistakes but there is no rule book. You just have to do it. Joe makes a lot of mistakes, but he gets to a point that he realises he is the one responsible for everything becoming a mess and he’s the one who has to make it all come back together. You learn how to become a father, you’re not a father just because you have a child, and ultimately you can learn how to become a father all over again.