ROLF DE HEER
All Hail The King!
“It was fun. Fun in a serious way - filmmaking always has to be that way.”
That’s Australian film icon Rolf de Heer’s quick description of the production process on his new film, The King Is Dead!, a darkly comic tale of the suburbs that pits a young couple (Dan Wyllie and Bojana Novakovic) against the neighbours from hell, in the form of King (Gary Waddell) and his unruly clan.
The film sprang to life out of the ashes of a previous, now abandoned, project. As de Heer explains, “Each film is different. With this one, I had a script to write that didn’t work, it wasn’t going to work - that’s another long story. And they said, ‘No, don’t return the money; just write anything you want. Just give us something’. Which is very nice, because then you can have fun: you can have a play, have an experiment. So I had a think, and this notion came into my head. I was living in suburbia, and I’ve had lots of bad neighbours in my life - and I’ve had lots of good neighbours as well - and it just struck me: this image of a bloke with a fishing rod, casting the thing into the next door neighbours place, pulling clothes off the washing line in order to make the neighbour paranoid. That isn’t in the film, but that’s sort of where it started - the plotting against the neighbour in order to get rid of him.”
From that tiny seed, the film sprang to life, becoming along the way a kind of cautionary tale about community and communication. In the process of writing, de Heer came to realise he knew the perfect actor for the role of King: Australian screen veteran Gary Waddell (The Proposition, Gettin’ Square).
“When I was writing, the actor Gary Waddell occurred to me, part of the way through, as King,” de Heer recalls. “So I wrote it down on a little note. I’d seen him in a film back in the ‘70s, and he gave an extraordinarily energetic, kinetic performance in Pure Shit, one of the great classics of Australian cinema. Then I’d met him around the time of Ten Canoes, and I remembered that meeting, and his face, and what he was like, and he began to inhabit that part, despite the fact that I was only writing. But I tend to go with that sort of stuff, and so ultimately that part was sort of written for Gary. So when I cast, the first thing I did was ring Gary.”
That casting, though serendipitous, made filling the remaining roles more difficult, with each subsequently added performer needing to work in conjunction with Waddell’s portrayal of King.
“Everything else had to be cast around him,” de Heer explains. “Even though Max and Therese are the leads. It was a difficult process for me, because the threat dynamics in the film are complex. In the first instance, you’ve got to have Max and Therese working, truly, believably, as a couple. Dan will work with some Thereses, Bojana will work with some Maxes, but not all. To juggle all this stuff, was difficult, and it all started to click into place near the end of pre-production. It was a difficult and complex process.”