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Jindabyne - Gabriel Byrne interview

Gabriel Byrne in Jindabyne

Compiled by Jack Foley

GABRIEL Byrne talks about appearing in Australian drama Jindabyne, adapting to director Ray Lawrence’s unique style and what he thinks audiences will take away from the experience…

What is Jindabyne about?
The story is about four men who come upon the body of a woman in the river and, not out of any sense of badness or lack of feeling, decide to leave it in the river and not report it to the police until they get back from their fishing trip. Like many situations that we find ourselves in, in life, we’re unaware of the consequences of our actions until those consequences come home to visit us in all kinds of unexpected ways. So, the film is really about how this incident haunts these men and the lives of the people who are closest to them.

Tell us about your character, Stewart.
Stewart is a working class, ordinary man who owns a garage. He used to be a rally driver and he has given up that life to become settled in this community. Not a simple man but a man who lives a pretty simple, predicatable life up until this moment. As a result of this incident, he’s forced to examine who he really is morally, emotionally and socially. Stewart and Claire [his wife] have had their troubles like any couple in a long-term relationship. They love each other but as a result of this incident they’re forced to examine not just who they are individually but who they are as a couple.

What drew you to the project?
I met Ray Lawrence in New York. When we met he talked about how he saw the film as a ghost story, the idea that this incident that’s taken place haunted the lives not just of then men it happened to, but all the people on the periphery by implication. It sounded intriguing. I’d seen Lantana and I knew that he would make something really interesting. This is a film that makes you think about your life. I remember Ray saying: “I think you should do this film. It would be really nice if you came to Australia and did it. It would be a work experience but I think it would be an important spiritual experience for you.” That’s what stuck with me. Nobody has ever said that to me before as a reason to do a film.

What was it like working with Ray Lawrence and his one-take process?
This is the least conventional film I think I’ve ever done and it’s letting go of all the things you can usually rely on. The whole thing is about letting go. It’s a scary sort of process for most actors. All the things that actors like to depend on, like make-up and lighting and so forth, the security and comfort of eight or 10 takes, that’s all gone. Every actor is different. Some actors get it on the first take, others are just warming up after take five or six or 10 – but you don’t have that security.

It allows you an incredible freedom and, ultimately, it’s your responsibility. You can always ask for another take. Ray doesn’t give much direction. He doesn’t even say “action”. I’ve never worked with a director who never said “action” before and he usually talks about the scene after it’s over. So yes, it’s scary. Ray will say he’s not directing the film, that he’s trying to contain what’s happened, but I think that everything, everything, in a way comes from his vision. Ray thinks unlike any other director I’ve ever worked with – he shoots like no director I’ve ever worked with and his vision is unique to him.

Did it affect the way you approached the character?
In a more conventional approach to making a film it’s like climbing a rock, you have more places to grab hold of. Here, you don’t seem to have any places to grab hold of. I think that the closer I moved to thinking about the character as myself, the more sure the journey felt… I have done something [in my life] and didn’t think about the consequences of it but some time later I realised, “how could I have done that?” What did I do? It’s something you never forget.

What do you think people will take from this story?
Everybody, I think, comes to a different conclusion. It brings up all kinds of questions about morality and, in Stewart’s case, his marriage and what is responsible behaviour. Guilt, regret, community, ritual, marriage, sex, love, friendship between men, friendship between women, all those issues to a greater or lesser degree are raised. The audience’s reaction to it will be complex. On the one hand, you have people who will disagree with the actions taken by the men. On the other, people will understand it. Hopefully, people will identify with the reality of the dilemma that these people are forced to confront.

Read our review of Jindabyne

Read our interview with Laura Linney