June 16, 2012

This is a Knife!: An Interview with John Jarratt

To most people outside of his native Australia, or those who have never really dabbled in Aussie cinema, John Jarratt seemingly came out of nowhere and terrified us all with his portrayal of Mick Taylor in WOLF CREEK, but he's had quite the extensive career in both television and film that dates back to the 70's. I was fortunate enough and honored to interview John recently for the Gentlemen's Guide to Midnite Cinema podcast - and lived to tell about it. We discussed a number of things, including his role in Quentin Tarantino's DJANGO UNCHAINED, his impending return to the "Creek", and certain moments of his career that he looks back on with fond memories. At the bottom of this post are links for you to download the audio version of the interview which includes a few bonus questions not covered here. Enjoy!

The Death Rattle: You're leaving for the states in a few days. Are you working on anything that you're at liberty to talk about?
John Jarratt: No, it's not a secret. Yeah, I'm going to do DJANGO UNCHAINED, which is a Tarantino Western. I'm playing an Australian - (Tarantino) loves Australians. I'm playing alongside Anthony La Paglia and Jamie Foxx, who's the lead actor in it. Yeah, it's quite a fun little sequence, and we get to play Aussies running a mine in America in the Mississippi.

Death Rattle: Do you have a decent-sized role in DJANGO UNCHAINED?
John Jarratt: Well, it's a really nice little sequence. You know how Tarantino films are episodic; it's a bit like that. There's a great little sequence and it's at the end of the movie just before the final scene in the film, and it's with really good actors - La Paglia and Jamie Foxx of course. Looking forward to it. It's gonna be brilliant.

Death Rattle: Another important upcoming project you're involved in is WOLF CREEK 2. When do you start shooting? Can you talk a little about that or is it still in the early stages?
John Jarratt: We were almost ready to go and then the private investor pulled out at five minutes to midnight and made a mess of things, so we had to regroup. So we're now filming in January of next year, but it's very good, it's more of a road film. It's still Horror, but it's more of a chase film. My character Mick chases this guy in a big truck and on horseback and all sorts of things. It's very good. I think it's even better than the first one, which is saying something.

Death Rattle: Will WOLF CREEK 2 be a direct sequel that takes place right after the first one, or does it pick up a few years down the road?
John Jarratt: It could be years later, it could be five minutes later, it doesn't really matter. Mick's just up to his usual tricks, you know?

Death Rattle: For WOLF CREEK 2 you'll be reuniting with director Greg Mclean, who you also worked with on ROGUE as well. What's your relationship with him been like?
John Jarratt: He's been my boyfriend for about four years. We get along really well. No, not really. He's a good little dude, you know? I get along with him fine. He's very clever and very likable, and he was determined to not do WOLF CREEK 2 until he had written something that he thought was as good or better than the first one, so that's why it's taken so long. But, no, he's brilliant to work with. He's a bit of a genius, I think.

Death Rattle: Speaking of which, the character you played in ROGUE was the total opposite of your character in WOLF CREEK. Which did you prefer playing, and in general do you prefer playing the good guy or the bad guy?
John Jarratt: The bad guys are a lot more fun. You do a lot of rough and nasty, horrible things, and there's usually a lot of good humor to be had through all that. I like to go for the laughs as well. They're much more interesting and much more colorful, rich characters to play. I love playing those kinds of guys, but I just love making films that are well-written and worth doing. It doesn't really matter what the genre is or the character is, as long as it's interesting.

Death Rattle: You've been in a few genre films in recent years, like NEEDLE from a few years ago, but one that I'm curious about is BAD BEHAVIOUR, which you starred in with Roger Ward. It hasn't gotten a release yet and there's not a lot of information out there on it. Can you shed some light on it?
John Jarratt: Yeah, it's a little indie film. A little backyard movie, really. They didn't have a lot of money, but they had a bloody good script. For me, it's the script, the script and the script. A young guy wrote it and put it together remarkably well for the amount of money and time we had to shoot it. It'll be out on DVD, it's still sort of (screening at festivals). They'll never release it in the cinemas or anything, but it'll be on DVD in the not-too-distant future from what I can make out. It picked up six awards as Roger probably told you. And Roger's brilliant in it. He's fantastic. He's 75, but he carries on like a 50 year-old and a very fit 50 year-old at that. Yeah, it was an interesting little film, and I think if you manage to pick it up it'll be an enjoyable little watch.

Death Rattle: So BAD BEHAVIOUR still hasn't gotten a distributor yet?
John Jarratt: Yes, they've got a Sales Agent for the States and the rest of the world, but I can't remember who it is. It's been a couple of years since I made it, so I haven't really kept up with what's happening there, but I believe it's about to be released internationally on the DVD market. Or half the people you're talking to will probably download it and make us all a little bit more broke.

Death Rattle: You've done a lot of TV work in the past, and I'm sure you find television and films to be both rewarding in their own ways. Based on your experiences, what are the pros and cons of each one and which do you prefer doing, if any?
John Jarratt: Well, in the 90's I did a show because in between acting I built about nine houses. I like building, I come from a family of builders. It's kind of my hobby. I did a show with my then wife, building houses and doing DIY stuff, mainly because I wanted to earn some money, and they pay a lot of money for that sort of crap - television, you know? Before that, I had only done tele-movies and mini-series. I hadn't done series television, and I prefer mini-series to a tele-movie or short-run series. I don't like being in long runs. I did a long run in McLEOD'S DAUGHTERS because I needed the money - I was being divorced and giving another house away to one of my wives. [laughs] So, I did that for a few years to get back on top

Death Rattle: You graduated from NIDA (National Institute of Dramatic Arts) back in 1973, and one of your earliest movies was SUMMER CITY with Mel Gibson and Steve Bisley. Did you break into the business with them?
John Jarratt: No, I'd done stage and a few films, including PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK. I was 25 years-old at that time and Mel was about 20 and Steve Bisley is the same age as me. They lived around the corner from me and I befriended them. I went and saw them at NIDA and they were very good actors on stage, so I actually cast them in SUMMER CITY. I should've been a casting agent. So, that was their first film and that's how they got the job: because I knew them.

Death Rattle: What are your memories of shooting PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK?
John Jarratt: Vague ones! No, well, I made one movie before that, and this was my second film and it was with Peter Weir, and it was absolutely brilliant. The guy was a genius then, and making the film was very exciting. Russell Boyd went on to become an Academy Award-winning Director of Photography. It was an incredible experience, and I thought "Wow! If this is what making movies is all about, working with guys like Peter Weir, bring it on." I never came across a director nearly as good as him until I worked with Greg Mclean about thirty years later. [laughs] No, it was a great experience. Still one of the best experiences I've had.

Death Rattle: During the "Ozploitation" era, which is documented in NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD, you worked on films like NEXT OF KIN and DARK AGE just to name a few. What was that time like for you? Was the work considerably more steady back then?
John Jarratt: Fantastic! Yeah, I averaged about three films a year. There was a lot of work and I was in a lot of varied movies. I was very lucky - a great period of my life. "Ozploitation" - Quentin Tarantino made up that term because he has Ozploitation nights at his house where he shows all these movies. That's why he was involved in that doco. Australia is a place that makes amazing movies of the highest quality for the least quantity. [laughs] We can make amazing movies for Mel Gibson's lunch money. That's always been an extraordinary part of our industry, and it gave Tarantino a lot of his inspiration for what he does. It did bring a lot to the world and to the international stage as far as filmmaking is concerned, and I think films like MAD MAX just changed the way movies were made all around the world. George Miller is still relevant, and Mel is, obviously - lucky bastard, he was MAD MAX. It was a grand period to be making films in Australia.

Death Rattle: Speaking of Tarantino, he's given you a lot of praise in the past. I think he's called you his favorite Australian actor. What's your relationship with him been like over the years?
John Jarratt: It all started back in 2002 or 2003, something like that, whenever KILL BILL came out. It was before WOLF CREEK by the way. He got off the plane (in Australia) and said [imitating Quentin Tarantino] "I wanna meet John Jarratt, he's my favorite Australian actor!" And I got a phone call saying he wanted me to be at the premier of his film that night, and I was a thousand miles away from Sydney, where I lived, in New South Wales. I picked up my cell phone and I said "I can't come, I'm up here." And then I got home and got another call that said "Mr. Tarantino's very upset you can't come, so would you like to meet him for a drink in Sydney tomorrow?" I said "Hang on" and looked at the time. "Yeah", you know, "I'm free." [laughs] "Of course I will!" And so I caught the plane down and had a drink with him and he talked to me all about Aussie movies. We had a very pleasant evening and we'd kind of become friends and I've known him ever since, and the bastard's finally written something for me to do in one his movies, which is nice. I'm really looking forward to that.

Death Rattle: Recently, you were at the Shock Horror convention in Sydney. Do you make appearances at conventions often?
John Jarratt: No! No, I'd never been to one before, and Greg Mclean was at the Melbourne one and they were gonna do a Q&A, and he said "Go on, you gotta come along and help promote our movies" and blah blah, etc. So, I kinda went along and felt a bit sheepish about the whole thing, but it was okay. A lot of nerdy people running around. There's a few bright ones amongst them and a lot of fat, smelly, sweaty ones. It was, uh... an "experience". [laughs] It was okay, I had a few laughs. Roger Ward was there - he's always good entertainment - and they did ask some really good questions, actually, while I was there at the Q&A, so it wasn't all bad.

Death Rattle: What kind of prep did you do when you played Mick Taylor in WOLF CREEK? Was that an easy role for you?
John Jarratt: He's an anathema to me. He's an evil bastard, and he does things to human beings that I don't particularly like. I'm a father of six and I don't like those kinds of people, so I had to go into a place that was a long way from me - you take the evil out of Mick and he's not that far from me; he's just a jovial outback character who was a nice guy and didn't cut people up. That part's not hard. I could do that easy. And people often ask me "Are you a method actor?", and I usually come back with "No, I'm a professional actor." But in this case I did have to go a little bit method, and so I did a very long back story - I always do a back story - and I found justification for him so he felt okay about what he was doing. So I had to kind of stay in that place, you know what I mean? Also, you can't just jump out of character and go over and have a coffee in between takes and someone yells out "Hey, John, put the coffee down and come over and cut this girl's tits off." You can't just suddenly drop back into it, so I had to go to a very strange place. I was relieved when it was all over and done with, but I'm gonna go back there and do it all again, so there you go.

Death Rattle: Speaking of which, what is Mick's history? What kind of back story did you create for him?
John Jarratt: I had to do it very quickly. But he just comes from the typical alcoholic father and mother who mistreated him and kicked him around, brought up in a little one-horse town in the middle of the outback. Grew up (with a) chip on both shoulders, became a hunter - that's how he made a living, killing feral animals like horses and buffalo and exterminating these feral animals that upset the farms in the outback. He never got along very well with women, and he had to go and drive about three or four hours to the nearest town to buy a whore, and it was pretty hard work. And all these tourists started coming here, and he was sitting around in the pub saying "Like feral animals, they should be shot like kangaroos and buffalo and horses." So he thought "Yeah, that's a good idea", blowing away all these mangy tourists and backpackers and doing the world a favor. Plus he can have sex with them, so it's not as bad as shooting buffalo and getting nothing out of it. That's kind of how he looked at it, y'know? Not that I think it's the right way to go, but it's the right way to go for Mick.

Death Rattle: For the people who only know you from WOLF CREEK and ROGUE and the more accessible North American films you've done, what other movies of yours would you recommend to people that don't really get talked about or get the attention that they deserve?
John Jarratt: They're probably hard to get! I don't know if you'd get 'em. I was in a film called ALL MEN ARE LIARS, which is a comedy, where I played this outback rock n' roller called Barry O'Brien. It was a very funny film. The other thing is a mini-series called THE LAST OUTLAW. I played Ned Kelly, and that was a brilliant thing for me. Mel Gibson auditioned for it, and it was between him and I and I got it, but that was before Mel was well-known. Those are things I look back at and have an appreciation for.

Death Rattle: Is there anything you'd like to say to your fans out there, or would you like to let people know what we can look forward to from you?
John Jarratt: Yeah, obviously keep your eye out for DJANGO UNCHAINED. It's tremendous, I think it's gonna be one of (Tarantino's) best films. The script's fantastic. WOLF CREEK 2, of course, should be out next year, and they both should go international, so keep an eye out for those and I hope you enjoy 'em.


  1. Another excellent interview, Aaron. One of your best yet, in fact. Wolf Creek was such a gruelling film, I felt like I needed a shower afterwards; Mr Jarratt's performance was so intense. I’m definitely looking forward to its follow up. And I had no idea he played Albert in Picnic at Hanging Rock! Such a captivating, dreamy film.

    1. Thanks for the kind words and for reading, James!

  2. Great interview! I didn't know about much about Jarratt so this post was very informative. He sounds like a really nice, down-to-earth guy. Good job!