What was it like translating such a successful stage play to the screen?
As always the play needed to be opened up visually, so we made Sydney a character in the film. We tried to be authentic in placing and filming our characters in the suburbs they would be living in. I tried to keep the performances in the film truthful, even though our tone is comedy, I wanted the film to have actors who were equally good at drama and comedy. Our comedy comes from the situation, not the ‘haminess’ of over acting. It was important that our story shift into drama in the middle of the film so the stakes and relationship for the two lead actors were in real jeopardy.
It was also important the actors had real chemistry. That said, we cast Andrea Demetriades as Eve first as I had previously worked with her on a drama, but I knew she had a twinkle in her eye for comedy. We then tested her with six potential Alex’s: Richard Brancatisano had the best chemistry with Andrea.
How did the cast relate to the themes?
The cast related to the themes well as most had experienced this situation in their family. Marriage between cultures is always a ‘hot topic’ especially between Greek Orthodox and Lebanese Muslim decent. We had a female Muslim advisor on-set who would help us get the Lebanese living situation correct. The cast members also heavily researched the material in the script. I rehearsed the Greek family and Lebanese family separately, so when the story required they meet, they meet for the first time on set with the camera rolling.
How did you foster such a realistic tone?
To keep the film authentic it was important for me for to allow the actors to bring their own life experiences within ethnically diverse cultures in Australia to the film. I allowed the actors to improvise at times and to add to comic situations. Again, because these actors are trained dramatic actors as opposed to comedians, their choices are truthful and come from the characters they play and not a ‘joke’ for a cheap laugh sake. As the director you must make sure that every actor (in the ensemble) is playing the same comic tone. This film is not a sketch comedy or a broad farce.
The film has a light and uplifting heart. Were they any such moments during filming?
One of the moments was when Alex meets Eve in the bar. He pulls a stool to sit on at the same time she tries to sit on that stool and she falls to the ground. He then tried to lift her up and uses his hand which has a bottle of beer in it, so the beer ends up poured onto her new red dress. To get this action right we had to do 12 takes and because we only had two dresses — due to our budget — you can understand Eve started to smell like a beer keg. Andrea Demetriades was a real trooper and continued the long night shoot without complaint in that same dress. Her commitment to getting the action right was outstanding. Andrea and Richard’s comic timing was impeccable, which made my job easier.
Do you hope this film adds to the conversation on diversity in Australia?
We wanted to tell a story about positive cultural diversity. At times when one culture migrates to Australia (the Greeks) and is accepted over the years, the next culture that migrates (the Lebanese) can feel like a threat to the previous migrates. When these cultures start to mix on neutral soil ‘Australia’ then things change — they see the strengths and likeness in each other and the similarity in their fears for their children. Those children who are born in Australia help the family break down those barriers as they mix with many cultures and form friendships with each other in culturally diverse schools.
To me an Australian has a genuine respect for all cultures and all religions. We hope that this movie will start conversation, open up discussion about multi-cultural marriages and have the parents laughing about their concerns, realizing that everyone is really the same in the end, regardless of their cultural background.