Eric Bana and director Robert Connolly discuss the scorching new Australian crime-mystery, The Dry, with STACK.
Jane Harper’s best-selling novel The Dry might be dark and suspenseful yet director Robert Connolly – charged with adapting the crime thriller for the big screen – views his film as a wonderful New Year’s gift to Australian audiences.
Starring Eric Bana and an extraordinary cast of homegrown talent, he surely has a point.
“I think it’s been such a tough year for so many people and there’s a big question now about what cinema is, as people talk about whether or not to stream.
“But Roadshow loved the film and came to us and said, ‘There’s an opportunity to open on the biggest day of the year and we think Australians want to see an Australian film’,” says the Melbourne-based Connolly, whose movies include the box-office hit Paper Planes (2014) and award-winning drama Balibo (2009).
“Roadshow has had great success with some of the biggest Australian films of all time, and they said this is what they want – this big film, it’s Australian; it’s got Eric; it’s got this amazing cast; and it’s based on this massive best-seller.
“And I love this idea of why can’t we restart Australian cinema by supporting exhibition with a big Australian film on the biggest day of the year? It’s a roll of the dice and, terrifying as it is, it’s also very exciting and exhilarating, so we’ll see how we go.”
Marking Bana’s first Aussie film in 12 years, when he last collaborated with Connolly on Romulus, My Father, the actor thanks his wife Rebecca Gleeson for introducing him to Harper’s book.
“She’s always a couple of steps ahead of me,” he tells STACK. “She’d read the book, along with a bunch of her friends, and loved it, and told me that I should read it because it was most likely one day going to be turned into a film.”
Having shared office space with Connolly in Melbourne for the past ten years, Bana had no idea that his friend would be the person tasked with turning it into a film until they caught up over lunch and the actor expressed his enthusiasm.
Cast as The Dry’s protagonist, Aaron Falk, he plays a federal agent who left his hometown Kiewarra over 20 years ago, reluctantly returning for the funeral of his childhood friend.
Bana believed the story’s themes of coming home and how difficult that might be are central to the story.
“I think it’s something everyone can relate to. I love the notion of this school reunion that no one wants to return to and, to me, that’s how it felt with Aaron. It felt like he’s going back to his past but he’s forced to go back, he doesn’t really want to be there for many reasons.”
Ask Bana if he’s ever attended a high school reunion of his own, and he laughs. “They don’t appeal to me. I went to one and I’ve actually kept in touch with a few very dear school friends, so I feel like I’ve got my gang and I don’t need to increase the numbers.
“But I think a lot of people can relate to that and I think that Gretchen is representative of the life that he left,” he adds, referring to the character played by Irish-Australian actress Genevieve O’Reilly. “She could have left and gone to the city but she stayed and has tried to make the most of her life in that town, and there’s a beautiful relationship between the two of them, which really attracted me when I read the book.
“So I think it’s something that all people relate to and also this notion that we don’t truly move forward until we’ve dealt with the things that have happened in our past. And the dual narratives we have with this story, with the young characters and with ourselves, it’s emotionally really wonderful.”
Filmed at locations in the Wimmera region of Victoria, about four and a half hours drive outside Melbourne, Bana says he had such a great experience, and wishes he could work more in Australian films.
“If you look at the quality of writing on Romulus, My Father and The Dry, you’ll see they don’t grow on trees in any country. I’m not at all surprised that it took that long to find something, because this is a really hard project to find; projects of this quality, original pieces of work that are adult, that are sophisticated, that have characters in them that every actor wants to be a part of.
“My friendship with Robert began on Romulus, My Father and we had such affection for that film and the way that it played out with Australians. So, yeah, I’d love to do more.”
• The Dry is in cinemas now