Set against the colourful backdrop of Melbourne’s laneway and street art culture, What If It Works? is both an offbeat romantic comedy and a sensitive portrayal of mental illness.
Having played the autistic Charlie in The Black Balloon, Luke Ford takes on the equally challenging role of the obsessive-compulsive Adrian, who finds an unlikely soulmate in Grace (Anna Samson), who has Dissociative Identity Disorder.
STACK: There’s a parallel with The Black Balloon in that your character is also based on the director’s brother. Did you meet with him beforehand?
Luke Ford: It was harder to get access to Romi Trower’s brother, Dean. He has a very severe case of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and when an obsessive-compulsive person is in their rituals, time is not a thing for them. We finally got an opportunity to meet and we chatted for a few hours. He was on his best behaviour with his OCD, but I did get a glimpse of a lot of things – the pace of how he speaks, and his intriguing mind.
How much of the story is based on his experiences?
A majority. The relationship with the girl is part of the mystique of the movie, I think. Dean literally destroys his cars when he washes them and the interior – pretty much what you see in the movie. And he’s a massively fast driver who loves to go out in the middle of the night and travel at 200 kph. He’s lucky he’s not dead.
What If It Works? is a strong film from a female first-time director. Can you talk about working with Romi Trower?
Romi is one of the most tenacious directors I’ve ever worked with. She pushed herself to the limit on this movie. She did her back in during rehearsals; slipped a disc really badly and needed surgery, which would mean she’d be out for two months. But she pushed through, filming in pain and in a wheelchair before the disc eventually got so bad and needed surgery.
We halted production, not knowing if this film was going to be made because she was told it was at least a six-week recovery process. A week later she was back filming and directing us on a hospital bed – that’s real determination and dedication! She’s such a powerhouse and did a fantastic job on the film.
Was this role more challenging than Charlie in The Black Balloon?
In some ways, yeah. The preparation time was a little bit less. Both have different aspects of difficulty. Black Balloon was my first real challenge of playing an extreme character like that. That kind of pressure was there, but this this had pressure in that there was a big representation in Romi’s mind, as a director, as to what she wanted with Adrian and how much it relates to her brother.
And even though Charlie has a personality in Black Balloon, this was a leading man character, so there were some challenges that were different. Plus Melbourne’s weather – 2015 was supposedly one of the coldest winters Melbourne had gone through. We’d start at four in the morning and I had no socks on! [Laughs] I wouldn’t warm up until about three in the afternoon.
Do you think the relationship between Adrian and Grace would work?
It’s a tough question. I tried not to justify why it wouldn’t work during filming. They are very extreme conditions. There was a concern for me whether it would be believable when reading the script, but the movie shows that anything is kind of possible.
You did The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor in Hollywood in 2008, but you’ve worked here steadily ever since. Was there more opportunity back home?
It’s a different game if you live in LA; you kind of start from the bottom again. You’re in the audition process, and I’ve never been the best at auditions – a lot of my work comes from a previous performance, like with Black Balloon, and a lot of directors I’ve worked with want to work with me again.
For me, but not necessarily everyone, the work content in Australia is a lot more challenging. I’ve pushed some barriers, so that helps, and there’s always roles I find challenging.
Also, while promoting The Mummy, that was the year the writers’ strike happened and then the possible actors’ strike. Work got really thin and I didn’t really catch a wave during that period. I was getting auditions and offers for horror movies, and I felt that wasn’t me at the time.