Gill Pringle brings us the latest from the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival.
It’s the morning after their film 1% premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and Ryan Corr and Abbey Lee profess to feeling a little hung-over as the “morning after” expresso martinis scattered about the table will attest.
“I’ve been up for 24 hours and I’m running on fumes,” laughs Lee, ever the trooper, who sits down with STACK anyway at a lounge overlooking the crowds of fans gathered in Toronto to see their favourite Hollywood stars walk the red carpet.
Lee, of course, made her feature film debut in George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road some two years earlier and has since starred with Brenton Thwaites in Gods of Egypt and with Idris Elba in The Dark Tower. But her role in first-time filmmaker Stephen McCallum’s 1% feels more personal and inclusive than any of her previous big budget films.
“Working with George Miller of course was an amazing experience but we were filming Mad Max in Africa. For 1 % we got to spend two months together in Perth and became a real team,” says Lee, 30. “I learned a lot on this film and really grew as an actor. Acting was not an ambition of mine early on and it fell into my lap by accident at the age of 25, so now I’m catching up,” adds Lee, who was approached by a casting agent on the streets of New York.
“The film for me has always been about brotherhood and love in a setting which you wouldn’t normally perceive to be domestic.”
Set in a futuristic underworld of outlaw motorcycle gangs, the ambitious film follows the heir to the throne of a biker club (Corr) as he struggles to modernise the gang’s outdated methods. Cast as his girlfriend, Lee looked to Corr for guidance.
“He’s so heavily trained and puts so much into his performance. My lack of training didn’t really matter for my first few roles, but there’s only so long you can get by with just being ‘raw’. At some point you really have to start working on your skills,” says the former model whose usual blonde hair is today dyed a deep orange, having recently returned from Colombia where she’s been shooting her next film, Sebastian Gutierrez’s drama Elizabeth Harvest.
“Acting has totally changed my life,” says Lee, who readily gave up the big cheques she was used to bringing home from the fashion houses and catwalks. “My life took a 360 degree turn from the moment I landed on the set of Mad Max. I had no experience or knowledge of what was needed of me. I only had my instincts and a very open heart and mind. The minute that I landed there, I realised what this experience meant to me and how it was what I had been looking for my whole life.”
“Abbey is really good at what she does. I think people really underestimate how good she is just because of her background,” says NIDA-trained Corr, whose own credentials include Hacksaw Ridge, Wolf Creek 2 and The Water Diviner.
Having learned a lot over three short years, she quickly won over everyone on the set of 1%. “We were calling her ‘Mama Lee’ by the end of the shoot,” says Corr. “We shared whatever experience we have with her and she, in return, would make sure us boys ate properly and was always bringing us healthy food.”
Corr had never ridden a motorbike prior to filming 1%. “I’ve spent plenty of time on dirt bikes but this was the first time I’d sat on a Harley Davidson. I’ve got to say, I fell in love. It feels pretty amazing.”
He laughs at the notion of going “method” and hanging out with any real motorbike gangs. “I don’t think that would go down too well. ‘Hi guys, I’m an actor, can I hang out? Oooh, is that leather?’”
Inspiration, he says, was all in Matt Nable’s script. “And we did have a few tough guys who came and assisted us on set, some as extras and others who helped us out with the vernacular of the script so we could create authenticity to the world.
“I think the most important aspect of this film is that it’s no good if you feel like you’re watching actors playing dress-up and pretending to be hardcore. We have to believe the world and I think through Stephen’s direction and Matty’s script, we do believe the world. It’s very gritty, real and human. The film for me has always been about brotherhood and love in a setting which you wouldn’t normally perceive to be domestic.”
If the critics at TIFF weren’t necessarily kind in their reviews of the film, then the audiences were enthusiastic. “I think the issues are very relatable. We all understand family, love and loyalty.”
1%, which will screen at the Adelaide Film Festival on October 11, is one of five Australian films selected for inclusion at this year’s TIFF, among 350+ entries from around the world, including New Zealand’s impressive Waru – eight vignettes told by eight different Maori female filmmakers. Alongside 1% there is Warwick Thornton’s Sweet Country; Simon Baker’s Breath; Cocaine Prison, a documentary from Australian-based Bolivian director Violeta Ayala; and Priscilla Cameron’s The Butterfly Tree (below), starring Melissa George and Ed Oxenbould.