Close-up: An Interview with Alastair Osment

In a world first collaboration between three Asian movie powerhouses, new feature On The Move is sure to make an impact on the international festival circuit this coming year. It just had its Australian premiere at the Brisbane International Film Festival, after first premiering at the Beijing International Film Festival in March.

Close-up Culture caught up with actor and producer Alastair Osment to talk everything from working with Elizabeth Moss in Top Of The Lake: China Girl and improvising with Richard Roxburgh in Rake to creating work with Australian talent in productions The Bookshop and Animal.

Q: ‘On The Move’ is comprised of three self-contained short film segments directed by a group of filmmakers from across two continents and three languages. How does a production like this take place on a practical level?

A: The Australian section of the film, otherwise known as Rider, was filmed in Brisbane at the end of 2016. With an incredible cast and crew of screen professionals including Emily Gruhl (Picnic at Hanging Rock, Angel of Mine) and David Soncin (River, Love Child).

It was initially developed by Griffith Film School post-graduate students Morgan Healy and Elizabeth Simard, and with the assistance of consulting producer Trish Lake (Gettin’ Square, The Burning Season) and script consultant Anthony Mullins (Safe Harbour) from Matchbox Pictures the project went on to be what it is today.

That’s really where my involvement finished. But once principle photography had been completed on all three-segments, the Australian, Chinese and South Korean producers met in Malaysia to discuss how to piece it together as a feature, as well as develop a plan for distribution – whether they would aim for commercial release in cinemas or focus on the international film festival circuit.

It’s a huge feat and it’s taken a certain type of magic to bring it all together. I’m really proud of the finished film.

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(Alastair Osment as Lou in On The Move. Photo by Chelsea Balfour)

Q: Your performance in the film as Lou is both charismatic and mischievous. What can you reveal about your character and your experience playing him?

A: I play Lou a financial analyst for a big firm that looks at the corporate sustainability of companies. The film begins with Lou heading down to the Gold Coast from Brisbane to meet up with fellow executives to celebrate the completion of a large contract. I’m being driven by John, a former journalist at the Queensland Times now a ride-share driver.

Over the course of the hour long journey much is revealed about these two characters and the consequences that their previous choices have had on one another lives. Intersecting storylines, similar to Paul Haggis’ Crash and all filmed within a single location, it was a great challenge to undertake.

Q: You’ve worked alongside ‘Game of Thrones’ favourite Gwendoline Christie and two-time Golden Globe and Emmy award-winning actress Elizabeth Moss in ‘Top Of The Lake’. What are those experiences like, working with actors of that calibre?

A: Absolutely remarkable. There’s a strange duality that takes place when you’re in a scene with someone like Elizabeth Moss. On one hand you’re in the scene responding and reacting within the emotional reality, but then on the other hand you’re there thinking ‘Holy Shit! She’s incredible!’. It’s been one of my life’s biggest joys to be able to not only work with Elizabeth, but to also watch how she rehearses behind the scenes.

I had a similar experience when I was working on Rake with Richard Roxburgh. His comedic timing is impeccable, and to be able to improvise around the dialogue and explore the scene with him and writer/director Peter Duncan was a truly wonderful experience.

Working with actors of that calibre simply elevates your own work.

Q: There’s a picture on your Instagram with the creative team behind ‘The Bookshop’ at the Noosa International Film Festival last weekend. What should audiences expect from this short film?

A: A lot of fun! It’s a romantic comedy set in a bookshop. I play Donald, a writer desperately hoping to get his manuscript published. He has a plan to get his manuscript in front of Abbey, a publisher who frequents his local book store. He is certain that once she reads it, he is guaranteed ‘worldwide acclaim and riches’! Little does he know that he could be missing out on something more important right there before his very eyes.

We were awarded Best Comedy at the Noosa International Film Festival, by an esteemed judging panel including Academy-award winning cinematographer John Seale (The English Patient, The Talented Mr Ripley, Mad Max: Fury Road). It’s nice to get that sort of recognition, but really the film was so much fun to be apart of! It was received really well and was a crowd favourite at the festival.

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L-R Emily Gruhl, Benjamin Powell, Ashley Pollard and Alastair Osment

Q: That sounds very different to ‘On The Move’ and ‘Top Of The Lake’. Do you prefer playing comedic or more dramatic roles?

A: As an artist I’m always trying to redefine myself. As soon as I’ve done one project, and explored that world or genre for a while, I want to do the exact opposite.

I think that comes from my training at WAAPA. I studied a three year acting degree at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, Australia’s top drama school, and whilst there we were always thrown in the deep end. Forced to learn to adapt. Swapping from farce, to Greek tragedy, to the classic American dramas, and everything in between. We would work on a new play every five weeks, with a full rehearsal schedule and staged production at the end of the block. So, I would say I really enjoy doing both! To borrow Thoreau’s words, I long ‘to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life’!

Q: We are in a great period for Australian creatives in general. How exciting is it to be part of this Australian creative scene at the moment?

A: I think Australia is very similar to the UK, in the sense that there are so many hugely talented artists and storytellers but fairly limited opportunities. That forges this incredible drive to create our own work and find an audience outside of our native country.

A perfect example of this is Animal, another project I’ve recently been involved in, which just won Best World Short at the Austin Revolutions Film Festival. I play the lead role in essentially what is a father and son relationship drama. The director Henry Young grew up in the Australian outback and after having gone through the experience of watching his father, a man who has spent his whole life working the land, lose his eyesight, developed this beautiful film. To say we had limited recourses was an understatement but Henry’s drive and passion to tell this story made it all possible. I’m so glad it’s getting the appreciation it deserves.

It’s a testament to courage and determination of Australian filmmakers that so many of us have gone on to find acclaim on the international stage, Joel Edgerton with Boy Erased, Jennifer Kent The Babadook, Justin Kurzel Macbeth, David Michôd Animal Kingdom to name only a few.

Q: Lastly, please give UK audiences one last quick-sell on why they should be excited to see ‘On The Move’.

A: On The Move is so unique in its concept. Never before have I seen a cross-cultural production like this. In a world where we can so often feel disconnected from each other it is a truly moving experience to witness such an incredible collaboration come to fruition.

All three countries were given the same stimulus material to work from, Rickshaw Boy by Lao She. It is utterly compelling to see how it has been interpreted in each country and to see just how similar-minded we all are. The three films were made completely separately from each other, as the production teams did not want to influence each other during the making of the projects, and it’s astounding to see just how closely each idea works with one another.

A truly remarkable experience to be a part of and even a more remarkable one to watch. I doubt you will see something like this achieved again any time soon.

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Title image courtesy of Alex Vaughan

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