Margaret Pomeranz Talks to the Aussie Cast of Mental to Chat About All Things “Mental”

| 4 October , 2012 | Reply

We were lucky enough to attend a preview of this Australian classic Mental. The night began with champagne and live music from one of the stars of the film, newcomer, Sam Clarke who is what I would call a male version of Missy Higgins. He has his Aussie accent cracking it in the songs that are unique, quirky and fun. Amongst the soundtrack of original songs, he also performed the famous “Smelly Cat” as made famous by Phoebe Buffet from Friends!

We watched the film of such a crazy family that was both funny and heartbreaking and then Margaret Pomeranz came in to ask the stars about the film with a major focus on the Writer/Director PJ Hogan.

Margaret Pomeranz: This movie is very similar territory to Muriel’s Wedding would you say?

PJ Hogan: Yeah, it’s not Muriel’s Wedding 2, but they essentially have the same DNA, I mean Toni Collette is a feature in both. I mean really, Muriel’s Wedding was based on the story of my family and so is this! Almost everything you saw happened, believe it or not, my mother, when I was 12, had a nervous breakdown. One morning we woke up and she was gone, my Dad said we would tell everyone she was on holiday. He was up for election in the local polls and he said that nobody is going to vote for a man whose wife is bonkers, so that’s the story, we kept mum about mum. This left Dad stuck with us and we were really like five little ratbags, he stopped for a hitch-hiker and when we got back from school, there was this stranger sitting on our couch, rolling a cigarette with a knife sticking out of her boot and she just said: “Bit of mess in here isn’t it?” and set us about cleaning. That was the real Shaz, she stayed in my life for 20 years and to this day she remains the most inspiring and outrageous person I’ve ever met and Toni nails her to a tee!

Actually Toni and I discussed her on the set of Muriel’s Wedding and I would tell her other stories of my family and we’ve been talking about this for 20 years. It took me a while to crack the story and it took a long time to figure out what part of the story to tell.

MP: And Toni was committed to this all this time?

PJ Hogan: Pretty much, I mean there was always the chance that she would say the script sucks because she has really become so much more famous now. She asked me for scripts throughout the years and I wasn’t really ready but when I finally sent it, she read it really quickly and said “I’m in!” and we put it together.

MP: What a great performance by everyone in the film.

Rebecca Gibney: Oh look I loved the script when I read it, I really related to the character Shirley, she’s a real people pleaser and I related to her on that level. It was a magical ride on this film with PJ.

Deborah Mailman: Yeah, I was doing another job, so I just came in for my parts and it was an absolute no brainer, so much fun, and I had the best time. I could be this outrageous and ludicrous character.

MP: Sam, I love that scene where you’re torturing Liev with your music and what a fantastic performance from Liev, I did not recognise him at all in this character.

PJ Hogan: I didn’t think of Liev for this role, but he got hold of the script and he approached us. I said “Two problems. One, we don’t have the money to pay you and two, you’re American.” The agent said, don’t worry about the first problem and then when I spoke to Liev, I quickly realised that he is an actor first and then the person. I knew that if he wanted to do this, then he thought he could pull it off, so I decided to roll the dice. We shot the scenes with Sam and Liev in one day and one of the scenes is completely improvised.

MP: Was it a big risk making this film?

PJ Hogan: I feel like comedies just aren’t what they should be so it wasn’t a risk to me. I think other film makers before me have taken greater risks. I am shaped by the film makers I love like Billy Wilder. It’s comedy with suicide, drama and audiences expected and accepted that. I grew up with a mother who had a breakdown, a sister with schizophrenia, a brother with bi-polar, I have two autistic children, so I’m tellling you, you’ve gotta laugh or you go mad. I know that my view of the world is slightly askew because of my upbringing. I feel like comedy films don’t give you the full meal anymore so this doesn’t seem like a risk to me at all. Now Muriel’s Wedding is popular, but back in the day…

MP: When I first saw it, I thought it was too black.

PJ Hogan: Muriel’s Wedding was pretty much panned when it came out but I know noone liked it at the time. I learnt that sometimes, you never know, you do the best you can. I’ve also made films that didn’t connect at the time, but do now, like Peter Pan which wasn’t big at the time, but is giving me lots of residuals now. I always think it’s hard for you to review films because you have to react in the moment and really, it can change over a year.

MP: How easy or hard was it to find the five daughters?

PJ Hogan: I didn’t want professional kids, I wanted the innocence of young kids. The professionals are 10 looking 40 and they’re not children anymore. I set up an Internet site, went on radio, had people send in tapes to the address. There was a speech for each character, the agency went through it, found some for us to look at and interesting enough, Lily Sullivan, Coral, came in late and recorded her audition and hated it and didn’t post it. Her mother posted it. She’d never been on set before and there she was with Rebecca, Toni, Anthony, Liev and she was amazing.

MP: Rebecca, you had to put on some weight for the role, how was that?

Rebecca: Oh yeah, easy to put it on… not so easy now. It’s taken me a year to take it off. When we were filming on the Gold Coast, I could hear people saying as they went past “Look at her, she’s let herself go, that poor Rebecca. Age has done terrible things to her.”

Well, congratulations on an amazing film, we have all enjoyed it so much.

Mental is out in the cinemas today and check out what we thought of the movie here, as a hint, we gave it 5/5.


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