In the 12 years since The Dish, the creative forces of Santo Cilauro, Rob Sitch, Jane Kennedy, Tom Gleisner and Michael Hirsh have produced television gold in the form of talk show The Panel, improv comedy Thank God You’re Here and political satire The Hollowmen. Now their first theatrical outing since 2000, Any Questions for Ben?, explores the quarter-life crisis that is a reality for every young global citizen.
We were lucky enough to sit down with Ben himself, Josh Lawson, and co-star Christian Clark on their experiences making the film, and their upcoming projects. Lawson is, of course, currently starring in US television series House of Lies opposite Don Cheadle and Kristen Bell.
We need to thank Roadshow Films for all the access given to the cast and creative team of this film, and of course, Mr. Henshall and Ms. Gordon for their time and generous answers.
Any Questions for Ben? is released in Australia on 9 January 2012 from Roadshow Films. You can also our full review, along with our interviews with director Rob Sitch and Daniel Henshall and Jodi Gordon.
Listen to the interview above, or read the transcript below.
RG: What attracted you to the film?
JL: Well! I mean, it was an attractive notion not to be unemployed anymore. Yeah, that’s always a nice thing as an actor. When Working Dog ask you to do a job, it’s almost impossible to say no.
RG: I’m hearing that a lot today.
JL: Well, they’re pretty amazing. Their track record kind of speaks for itself. Geez, I wouldn’t want to be the guy who turned down a Working Dog film.
CC: Me? Look, he said it well. Those two words: Working Dog. What they do so well. We see The Castle, those characters…with the family, Hollowmen with politics and Frontline with news. When I read this script, and Jane [Kennedy] kind of talked me through it, it was very clear that it kind of captured something in Australia that – the twenties. You know, those people, the characters. It’s done in such a funny way. As soon as I read that, it was very clear that they’d captured something again in the script. And so of course, I jumped at the chance, you know?
RG: I was just talking to Rob [Sitch] about this point. Did you ever worry about that character who was, in fact both your characters, who lead a lifestyle that a lot of us would envy. Did you ever worry that was going to be a barrier to the audience?
JL: Of course. For me, that was probably the biggest challenge. You know, this idea that you didn’t want people to watch Ben and go ‘What are you complaining about? You’ve got everything’. Stop whinging, basically. I don’t think that’s – we hope that we avoided that. You know, because Ben’s heart is in the right place. He really does love his friends, and of course, he loves Alex [played by Rachael Taylor] and he learns that maybe a bit too late in the film. But I think he tries to fix all of his mistakes. I think the balance that I needed to find with Ben was to make his frustrating, so the audience would go ‘Just pick up the damn phone and call the girl’, but without being unlikeable. Rob and I were constantly monitoring during that, and I think we got away with it. Trust me, Ben is going to frustrate you. He’s flaky, and he says he’s going to do things and he doesn’t, but believe me when I tell you that his heart is really in the right place.
RG: The other thing I’ve been hearing a lot today is just how tightly scripted the film actually was. Did either of you find that difficult?
JL: No, in a way it was liberating. [To Christian] Did you find that? It was like you could relax because you trusted the script so well. I mean, when you read a script and it sucks and they say ‘Stick to the script’, that would be scary. I’d go, I really don’t believe that’s the right decision, we need to change it. But when you read a script and it’s great, and you say stick to the script, it means I don’t have to improvise. Yeah, so for me I found it quite liberating.
CC: Yeah, we had a week rehearsal process and at the start Rob said ‘Go for it, try anything, say anything’, and of course I went in there batting and swinging and trying a few lines. But they’d written such an amazing script that it didn’t really matter, you know what I mean. It was all there.
RG: And Christian, with you – you’ve obviously got a background in television at the moment, so when you come to something like a Working Dog production, how do you approach that differently?
CC: Strangely enough, this is like my seventh film. The first one I got cut from, the others have gone straight to DVD. So this is the first one I’ve actually stayed part of and it’s hitting cinemas. Look, all my other characters I’ve played have been dark, gritty drama characters. The one before that was on Home & Away playing a psychopath, so when I got the opportunity to play a comedy in a big film like this, first of all it’s Working Dog, and I didn’t want to be the guy that stuffed up, you know what I mean? So, I worked as hard as possible with Rob, and he just made…the whole process seem so easy, you know what I mean? By the time I walked away from that rehearsal process, he instilled confidence in me that I deserved to be part of this film and I could deliver the jokes and stuff like that. All credit goes to Working Dog and Rob for doing that.
RG: Josh, you’ve been having a terrific year with television. I just read this morning that House of Lies got renewed.
JL: I read that this morning as well, probably at the same time you did.
RG: So when you’re working with Don Cheadle and Kristen Bell, did you ever think it would come to that?
JL: No. I guess you always hope you can make a living out of it, it was always – we just wanted to keep doing this forever, and I think it would have been on paper, say working with Don Cheadle and Kristen Bell, sounds great, it would have been terrible if they were awful people. But they’re lovely people, and that trumps their celebrity.
RG: So I don’t get that scoop then?
JL: No, sadly not. Luckier than working with celebrities has been working with nice people. To me that’s the luckiest thing in the world.
CC: And the same thing with Will Ferrell.
JL: Oh, Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis, I just did Dog Fight. Again, they were nice. After the initial, ‘Oh my god, their famous’ moment, which wears off after a minute, what remains is I got to work with nice, generous actors, and that’s lasting. Not celebrity. So I think I put working with Christian, and Rachael and Rob and the Working Dog team on par with working with Don Cheadle and Will Ferrell for the simple fact that they were all really nice to me, and I learnt something for all of them.
RG: Christian, after that high praise, the other bit of high praise I was reading this morning was Kelly Dolen describing you as a ‘director’s dream’.
CC: Isn’t that nice?
JL: Who’s Kelly Dolen?
CC: I worked with him on Gates of Hell, he’s got a new film coming out called John Doe.
JL: Are you in it?
CC: Not John Doe, no, but Gates of Hell.
JL: Yeah, no no no. Sorry, I’m catching up. You’re the director’s dream, that’s great.
CC: Look, I just want to do the best job possible. Before I’m an actor, I’m a movie fan, I absolutely love movies. I just want to be be part of them, so any time I get an opportunity to be part of them I go to any length to make sure I do a good job.
JL: Yeah, he works really hard. Harder than most actors that I’ve seen. He really does. Put everything in it. Everything comes second to the project when Christian’s working on it.
CC: I appreciate that, thank you.
JL: No, it’s true.
RG: Well, Daniel was praising you this morning for turning up seven days a week for seven weeks.
JL: On this film? Yeah, but it didn’t feel like work. To take away some of the praise, it just didn’t feel like work to us. I enjoyed turning up to set. In a weird way, even if I wasn’t scheduled that day, I would have loved to turn up just to be a part of that team. I know that sounds like I’m sucking up to them. I wasn’t, I’m selfishly saying I enjoyed every second of it. I loved it.
RG: And I guess for both of you, you’re working together again on the intriguingly titled $quid: The Movie. Is that based on the short film?
JL: It is. It’s based on the short film, it’s shot, it’s done. We finished it many years ago, and I know on IMDB it says ‘in post-production’ or something. It’s because it still is literally in post-production. I don’t think it will every get finished. Am I wrong? It’s just not. It’s never going to get finished.
CC: It’s got to come out on the DVD extras of one of our films. But we did…Josh and Ed [Kavalee] co-wrote another film that is coming out second half of this year called Scumbus.
JL: So look out for that.
RG: And you produced that too, didn’t you?
CC: Yeah. Any chance for me to get to act, you know. Whatever I have to do, you know what I mean? There’s another one called Border Protection Squad which is Ed Kavalee’s first feature film which is very exciting.
RG: Thank you so much for your time!