We’re delighted to be hosting this special preview of the film at Clapham Picturehouse on Sat 15th September, so get your tickets fast – the word is out and they’re flying off the shelves like hot cakes with jet packs attached!
Mark Lamprell is an Australian writer/director who has worked on films such as Babe: Pig in the City (aww!) and My Mother Frank (a film that helped launch Hollywood playa Rose Byrne’s career). This is his first foray into the world of musicals and he’s taken time out of his schedule ahead of Goddess’ Australian release in March to answer a few of FFA’s most pressing questions…
Mark – what inspired you to write a Tasmanian-kitchen-sink-musical? And when you were dreaming up the idea how clear a vision did you have of how it should turn out? Does it live up to your early imaginings?
I saw a one-woman cabaret show which was based on the same idea. It was called “Sinksongs” and the audience absolutely loved it. It was the first time I’d seen a story about a mother being stuck at home with kids, trying to find her identity treated in a really funny but truthful way – with songs! After the show producer Andrena Finlay and I approached the writer/performer, Joanna Weinberg and asked her if she’d like to try and turn it into a movie. Luckily she said yes! As I was sitting in the audience I did get a very clear vision of how the movie could be – I’d just seen Mamma Mia with Meryl Streep - and I could see that this story could be told in the same, wonderfully mad, high-spirited way. Yes, amazingly, by and large the film does live up to my early imaginings – I love it and I hope you guys do too!
Did you find directing your own screenplay easier than working from someone else’s characters?
Yes I did find working with my own screenplay easier than working with someone else’s characters (although I should point out that they are Jo Weinberg’s characters too - she co-wrote the screenplay with me). Because Jo and I had spent so long writing the characters I felt I knew them back-the-front and inside-out. I could tell how they would act in any given situation. That meant I had a real certainty about them that (hopefully) I was able to pass on to the actors playing the roles. I certainly feel like they did a splendid job. In this type of comedy, the acting can easily topple into farce but I think all the performers struck just the right balance. It may look effortless on screen to be big, funny and truthful but believe me it takes a huge amount of skill.
The musical numbers look like they were really fun to choreograph and film – can you give us a bit of insight into how you worked with your team to shoot the perfect musical sequences?
The musical numbers are a hoot aren’t they!? All the dance sequences were devised by our brilliant musical director, Judy Morris, in collaboration with our astoundingly talented choreographer, Kelley Abbey. Judy and Kelley had worked before together on the dance sequences for ‘Happy Feet’ so we knew we were in really good hands. They don’t just design a dance sequence and hand it over to be filmed - they choreograph for the camera. So Kelley may design, for example, a particular small step that you might not notice on stage but because she knows that it will be in close up, she knows it will have just the right big effect. And because Kelley is such a revered choreographer we were we able to access the cream of Australia’s dancers for the sequences. Next you add genius performers like Laura Michelle Kelly and Magda Szubanski and rehearse them till their toes bleed. Then you bring in the brilliant production design of Annie Beauchamp, the fab costumes of Shareen Beringer, Wendy de Waal’s impeccable makeup, and the amazing lighting and camera work of cinematographer extraordinaire, Damian Wyvill. You film it over and over until you get it right ( actually there wasn’t a lot of time to film things over and over but thanks the the professionalism and preparedness of Judy, Kelley and all involved, we were able to get most shots in just a couple of takes.) See? Easy-japanesy!
You worked with two leads very close to the UK’s heart - Laura Michelle Kelly (go Mary Poppins!) and Ronan Keaton (rockin’ his post Boyzone phase!) – can you tell us a bit about the casting process and how they both came on board?
Even though both the lead characters are British, we looked for our actors on three continents – in the US, the UK and Australia. After screen-testing literally hundreds of actors for the lead part of Elspeth, I watched a batch of audition tapes that were sent to us from London. The auditions were quite grueling and required the actors to do a great deal of preparation – we asked to see a comedy scene, a dramatic scene, then we asked them to sing two original songs from the screenplay and we asked them to work on a dance sequence with a choreographer so we could see how well and quickly they could pick up new steps. I’ll never forget sitting in Jo Weinberg’s TV room and seeing Laura Michelle light up the screen. I was so excited I leapt to my feet and said, “That’s it! We found her!” It was one of those moments when you know exactly what you’re looking for as soon as you see it. Laura had just the right balance of warmth, honesty and kookyness with a knock-out voice and some great dance moves. It was a couple of months before I got to meet Laura in person in London and do some workshops with her. She was perfect and she turned out to be absolutely magical on screen. (Would you expect anything less from Mary Poppins?)
So we had our lead girl and now we needed a match for her. Finding him wasn’t easy either. Again we auditioned hundreds of actors. There were some wonderful performances but somehow there just wasn’t that special chemistry with Laura. We were getting quite anxious and quite close to the filming date when I had a 3am epiphany and woke and said to my wife, “Do you think Ronan Keating could act?” This didn’t come completely out of the blue because we had written in a cameo part for a handsome Irish busker called ‘Ronan’. I had been reminding myself to contact Ronan’s people and ask if he would be interested in this small role. But now I was thinking of him for the male lead. I mentioned this to my producer Richard Keddie who thought it could be a great idea, then I called a mutual friend and asked about Ronan. My friend told me that Ronan was definitely interested in acting and put us in touch. Ronan read the script and loved it so I flew to Vietnam where he was singing at a gig. Having screen- tested so many actors previously, I knew exactly what I was looking and - Praise the Lord! - Ronan hit all the right dramatic and comedic beats. He was a natural. I guess when you think about it he has been performing since he was sixteen – for over half his life – and he’s very comfortable in his own skin. He knows who he is and he’s not trying to prove anything. That’s the lovely thing that Ronan brings to acting – you don’t feel him working, he simply transforms.
According to your IMDB filmography, this is the first feature you’ve made in a while – what have you been up to for the past few years and how long has Goddess been brewing?
Well if you must know, I got run over by a car! I spent a very long time convalescing but eventually got back on my feet. I’ve written some films for other directors, written for television, directed a cabaret show, directed TV commercials, and learnt how to ride a surf board ( there a no cars to run you down out in the surf. Sure there are sharks but that just makes me very good at paddling). And through it all, I was working on Goddess. Because it’s an original musical (almost all musicals these days use pre-existing, well known songs) we had lots of work to do. It was a bit of an against-all-odds project from that point of view but luckily we were able to assemble a really passionate, committed team and hopefully you’ll appreciate the results.
Since publicising our screening we have discovered that Ronan has an incredibly loyal and dedicated following on Facebook and Twitter. We asked his fans (via @RKeatingArmy) if they had any questions for you and the two most popular were:
Which scenes did you most enjoy filming and do you have a favourite?
To be really truthful I enjoyed filming all of it. Magda Szubansky who plays Cassandra said to me that it felt like we had been sprinkled with fairy dust. I felt like that too. I really loved working with the all actors and felt genuinely privileged to be working with such talented team of artists and technicians. We worked hard and some days were extremely stressful but we had a lot of fun and a lot of laughs too.
Hmmm. Favourite scene. Don’t really have one but we did have a lot a fun doing the bedroom scenes where the kids come and interrupt Laura and Ronan getting hot and heavy under the covers. When you have two strangers in bed acting like husband and wife things can be pretty awkward, and then when you add two toddlers, things become completely unpredictable. I was braced in the crash position, prepared for the whole scene to turn into a disaster but it was quite the opposite. The kids where hilarious, hit their marks and said their lines right on cue ( thank you kids’ coach, Annie Szota!) and Laura and Ronan were gracious and funny, and felt like a genuine mum and dad with their kids.
What was it like to work with Ronan on his first film?
Terrible! Just kidding. It was wonderful. Ronan is a consummate professional. He comes prepared, brings a genuine humility with him, listens, contributes, and works hard. He’s also a delightful human being, funny and generous, and a joy to have on set. He’ll lend a helping hand wherever he can and there’s no ‘star’ behaviour at all. There’s just something special about the guy and anyone who worked on Goddess would tell you that. I’m so glad I took the (not-very-big) risk of casting him. I think he does a brilliant job in this movie and I hope you’ll agree that he and Laura make screen magic together.
And finally, what’s up next after Goddess? Any plans for more musicals? What are your hopes for the Australian release?
Ah-ha! Yes I do have another musical, more of a dance movie this time. But that’s all I’m giving away for now.
Goddess will be released in Australia on March 7, 2013. Yay! My hopes are, no, my certainty is, that it will be bigger than Ben Hur ;-)
Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us and a huge FFA congratulations on your film - it's a real crowd-pleasing joy-fest!