Rachel Griffiths is best known for her long-running roles as masseuse Brenda Chenowith in HBO's Six Feet Under and Sarah Walker Laurent in ABC's Brothers & Sisters. But now, the Australian actor, writer and director is swapping Disney-owned ABC to Australian public broadcaster ABC with controversial political drama Black Bitch.
Deadline spoke to Griffiths about the show, which she has co-created and the way that a shift in Australian politics has informed the drama as well as the rise of populism around the world. She also discusses stepping out from in front of the camera as she lines up a raft of projects set down under.
Black Bitch follows an Alex Irving, played by Cleverman star Deborah Mailman, a charismatic and contradictory Indigenous woman who is thrust into the national limelight after a horrific shooting and is quickly chosen by Australia's embattled Prime MinisterRachel Anderson, played by Griffiths for a senate role. ButAlexwants to be more than just a political stunt: she wants to make a difference. So, when thePrime Minister's cynical calculations betray her,Alexsets out for revenge that will send the political establishment into meltdown.
Griffiths originally came up with the controversial title twenty years ago, when she was making a film about a woman who had 'black bitch' scrawled on her house. “I was working on a documentary that was covering an Indigenous land rights guy that was in a controversial mining lease in wehy mining state and was narrating that and just became aware of the issue,” she said.
The story deals with gender and race and representation as well as how women of color have an extra barrier to deal with in a patriarchalsociety. “That title seems to encapsulate the vilification attempts to delegitimize and the extra barriers faced by woman of color participating in public life. It sort of feels like nothing has necessarily changed or certainly hasn't changed too much in that time,” she added.
“We haven't had a show in Australia that was quite serious political satire. It was not born of being particularly cynical. I mean it's a true drama and it's not a cynical look,” she added.
While the story is particularly Australian, the rise of populism around the world — from Donald Trump in the U.S. to Boris Johnson in the UK and beyond, means that the series should be welcomed outside of its home market. “I think this is an interesting thing that's happening around the world — the idea that I'm an outsider and I won't buy in any of that bullshit,” she said. “This virulent strain of anti-parliamentarianism is at its peak, I think, in the post-war period. So it's about the roles of the outsider and the populist. It asks who makes Parliament better, is it outsiders or is it better insiders and what happens when Parliament gets hijacked by people refusing to play by regular law. I think in the context we're in, it's an assault on our parliamentary democracy.”
Griffiths added that all over the world the ruling elite are under attack and political norms are being dismantled and even outsiders such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and The Squad in the U.S. can represent the people better than traditional politicians.
She said that Alex serves as the voice of her people, reinstating what democracy is supposed to be about rather than what it evolved to become, a system run on personal interests and driven by thirst for power.She believes that Mailman, who is one of Australia's most decorated local actors, is perfect for the role and that hopes that it will help her break out internationally. The two previously worked together on 1997 feature Radiance.
The title is controversial but Griffiths says that it is a deliberate reclamation of the derogatory racial slur, an act ofempowerment for the central characterAlex. In Australia, public broadcaster ABC is going to call it Total Control locally, but Keshet International is marketing it with its original title.
It is directed by Mystery Road director Rachel Perkins, who was raised in an activist household with her father being a veryactive player in progressing Indigenous rights in Australia. It is produced by Indigenous production company BlackfellaFilms, which previously produced Jimmy McGovern's Redfern Now for ABC.
Griffiths moved back to Australia in 2012, wanting to escape the 80-hour weeks of shows such as Six Feet Under and Brothers & Sisters. She admitted that the budget for the show was much lower than what she was used to in the States, but there were many positives. “The commissioning execs and executive producers have been extraordinary and supportive and you know you hear about getting vast amounts of kind of stupid notes from and I've never been a co-creator and never read those notes before but they've been fantastic and it's been a fruitful collaboration,” she said. “If one doesn't have that EP title, the television protocol is that you get the script and are told to shut up and say the line so I'm a girl who had a lot of thoughts and feelings and it's nice to have somewhere for them to end up.”
She hopes that she can bring some of the norms of the U.S. television system — such as the writers' room — back to Australia and wants to encourage producers to give writers and talent more “agency” to prevent losing them entirely to the Hollywood system.
Having said that, she is willing to go back to the States for work and in 2016 starred alongside Guy Pearce and Mary-Louise Parker in ABC miniseries When We Rise, which focused on LGBT rights. She also starred in Hacksaw Ridge.
“I continue to do work overseas such When We Rise and for me coming back, I've worked really hard to try and get my own content up. I have several other projects in development and I'm attached to direct other shows and as an exec producer so that's been exciting — just to be part of telling stories that I have a connection to.”
She believes now is the right time to tell local stories, particularly as they have more chance of traveling around the world than ever before. “Particularly now you know with streaming platforms, where we hope that the content we make will go back to the world. You know having a high-level attachment cut through somewhat.”
In terms of Black Bitch, Griffiths is already starting to break stories for a second season and has plotted out a third season. She now hopes that the rest of the world will get to see it.
When Australian robber Ned Kelly was executed in 1880 at the age of 25, his last words were reported as “Such is life.” Director Justin Kurzel's sizzling, violent epic “True History of the Kelly Gang” questions that myth, suggesting that the legendary Australian criminal would never shrug off his fate, since he was a fighter right through to the bitter end. The movie hovers in a curious paradox, coming across as both operatic tribute and horrific condemnation, but it's never less than a nasty crime drama with plenty of grimy characters to keep the stakes compelling throughout. Imagine “Bonnie and Clyde” in the Australian outback — a disturbing glimpse of criminality that provides a subversive taste of its appeal.
Working with his regular screenwriter Shaun Grant, Kurzel has constructed a taut and vivid overview of Kelly's harsh upbringing and how it transformed him into a vengeful monstrosity, played by George Mackay as Mick Jagger by way of Freddy Krueger. The movie's jagged narrative and expressionistic asides minimize Kelly's robberies in favor of getting inside his head, yielding a distinctive punk rock period piece that sympathizes with its anti-hero by remaining close to his dark mindset for much of the story. It's a furious, decade-spanning ride that works in fits and starts, propelled by undeniable kinetic energy on par with the messy legacy of its subject.
In that regard, “Kelly Gang” marks a welcome return to form for Kurzel, whose unsettling debut “Snowtown” similarly got cozy with a killer mindset. In the ensuing years, the filmmaker's “Macbeth” and “Assassin's Creed” adaptations led him astray, into the arena of humorless big-budget curiosities. “Kelly Gang,” by contrast, has a remarkably unified vision; it uses Peter Carey's novel as a starting point for a rush of grimy lyricism, evoking the conditions that set Kelly on his murderous path. Narrated as a letter to his infant child, “True History” allows Ned to explain his circumstances in his own depraved terms.
His instincts take root in his childhood, as the petite blond grows up in the remote countryside where his promiscuous mother a frantic, cartoonish Essie Davis often comes to blows with his reckless father Ben Corbett. Played by astonishing newcomer Orlando Shwerdt, the young Ned is an eerie introvert who absorbs the impoverished frustrations around him, eventually stepping up to become the man of the house when his dad drops out of the picture. But the real turning point in Ned's coming of age arrives in the form of pernicious bushranger Harry Power, played by a vulgar, bearded Russell Crowe in one of his wildest performances ever. The role makes a good case for Crowe embracing the curmudgeonly side of his screen presence. His sniveling Falstaffian creation serves as Ned's entry point into criminal adulthood, at least until he lashes out and learns to think for himself, and then Crowe manages to shrink the intimidating figure into a pathetic creature. Kurzel's stylistic approach to the story reaches its apex in an astonishing nighttime shot of Harry riding into a shadowy landscape so thick with darkness it may as well be the inner lair of “Under the Skin.”
But while Harry vanishes into that void, Ned illuminates it with his fiery adult persona. As “True History” jumps forward to Ned's young adulthood, the movie embraces its contemporary resonance with the deafening distortions of the rock band that Mackay and his fellow actors formed over the course of the production. Turning up the volume and spiking the material with a contemporary aesthetic, Kurzel elevates the movie with a striking modern aesthetic.
At the same time, it's here that the movie sags into a less involving second half, as Ned wanders his old abode and uncovers the cross-dressing criminal antics of clandestine hoodlums compelled by a profound desire to instigate chaos far and wide. As Ned steps up to become their leader, he grows more determined to lash out at anyone attempting to control his trajectory, taking on a leering constable Nicholas Hoult who screws with Ned's family and eventually incarcerates his beleaguered mother.
“True History of the Kelly Gang”
Overlong at 124 minutes, “True History” minimizes Ned's crimes even as he builds up a motley crew of outrageous henchmen, and the curious excision makes it hard to invest in the full picture of his saga. But the movie comes alive again for Ned's bullet-riddled standoff with local police, a jarring eruption of light and noise that unfolds from the center of the action. The visceral nature of the confrontation makes for the most absorbing display of masculine belligerence this side of Nicolas Winding Refn's “Bronson,” but more deeply felt throughout. Ned's not exactly justified in his savage disregard for human life, but “True History” has the gall to get close enough to him that his relentless drive overtakes the drama.
From the title card preceding its opening shot, “True History” makes it clear that the title is a lie — almost everything that follows draws from Ned's own interpretation of his mythos. At the same time, the movie unfolds as an immersive inquiry into how much truth even matters when parsing the lasting impact of a legend. Whether he's seen as folk hero or villain, Ned sits at the center of “True History” as a grand mystery that history books will never resolve, and this movie is content to dangle it as an open question.
“True History of the Kelly Gang” premiered at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival. IFC Films will release it next year.
Rooted to the bloody tissue of real life and enameled with traces of early Jane Campion, “Babyteeth” is the kind of soft-hearted tearjerker that does everything in its power to rescue beauty from pain; the kind that feels like it would lose its balance and tip right off the screen if it stopped being able to walk the line between the two. And yet, despite a handful of shaky moments and a story that sounds like a supercut of all the worst tropes in contemporary independent cinema, Shannon Murphy's primal and surefooted debut never falls into either mawkishness or sadism. It keeps you on your toes from the moment it starts, brings together a winsome but wounded group of people who are all struggling to slay the “tiny gods” in their heads, and then forces them through an ordeal that might just break their hearts. And yours.
Milla Finlay “Sharp Objects” star Eliza Scanlen, who seems to have a thing about teeth is a 16-year-old Australian high school girl who's sick with an unspecified cancer, and has been for a long time. She also still has one of her baby teeth, an aberration for someone her age. Moses Toby Wallace, acing a role that Shia LaBeouf could have played in an American version of this story is a 23-year-old drug addict with a rat tail haircut and a face tattoo that says “La La Land.” Wait, that can't be right — he seems more like a “Good Time” guy. Maybe it's “Leland?” and he's just really into Ray Wise? Or “legend?” Moses, it turns out, can be a hard man to read.
But his affection for Milla is clear from the moment he nearly knocks her into an oncoming train one morning. She may never get to live, and he isn't afraid of dying. The bond between them is palpable and convincing from the moment that Milla lets Moses shave her head with a pair of his mom's poodle clippers; she has another round of chemo coming up, anyway. Still, that kind of anarchic, too-high-to-think-twice energy is something new and maybe even necessary for someone who goes to a prim all-girls school and isn't allowed to live each day like it might be her last.
Naturally, her psychiatrist dad Ben Mendelsohn as Henry and retired musician mother Essie Davis as Anna are just thrilled about Milla's new friend. It's the final straw for two parents who are already terrified of losing their daughter, and have each started to retreat into their own private shells; Henry even took his wife as a patient, if only so he could numb her with Xanax until she was 90.
An early scene where Milla invites Moses over for a family dinner feels like a recipe for disaster on several different levels, but Murphy has a firm hold on every beat. Anna is too high to do anything but laugh at the fact that her teenage daughter brought home a junkie who looks like he was kicked out of Die Antwoord. Henry just sits there and tries to process what's going on. Milla and Moses, meanwhile, speak to each other like no one else can hear them. They always do, as the natural contours of Rita Klanejais' carefully balanced script — which she adapted from her novel of the same name — keep all of the major characters suspended between vulnerability and self-possession. This is a movie that's off-kilter but always raw; delicate, but never precious.
From that unstable start, “Babyteeth” wiggles loose in ways both expected and not. Milly and Moses grow closer, her parents get more concerned, and the cancer inches towards the center of the picture. But the film never allows you to become too confident in your bearings. Some curveballs are more obvious than others, like a very pregnant neighbor who has a dog named Henry, and a violin teacher whose ineffectual role is cobbled together from spare feelings of wisdom and regret. The latter of these characters at least provides a conduit for the film's rich musicality, which runs the gamut from Mozart to Merrill Garbus.
When a crucial party scene is scored to tUnE-yArDs “Heart Attack,” it clicks into place that the rest of the film might easily be as well, as Murphy's direction is as vibrant and unsettled as any of the band's songs. Chapter titles like “Nausea” and “Fuck this” break the narrative into discrete, diaristic entries that allow the movie to reset every few minutes, and sometimes threaten to disrupt its flow. That almost but not quite! twee flourish also helps cordon the characters into their own little boxes, and Murphy's brilliant cast is never allowed to take the cute way out of a complicated moment. Davis and Mendelsohn are challenged with trying to hold on to something that's slipping through their fingers, the two of them always trying to pose Milla for photos in the hopes of keeping her when she's gone. The full impact of their performances doesn't show itself until the very last scene, but that semi-manipulative coda sure makes up for lost time. Scanlen is sensationally feral and resilient, foaming at the mouth but feeling everything around her; she enables Milla to feel powerless and indomitable at the same time. Wallace is just as strong, refusing to let his demons peel off the way that a lesser film would ask them to. He's also the funniest part of a film with a wicked sense of humor a botched robbery attempt in the first 30 minutes achieves a kind of slapstick hilarity.
But it's the age difference that provides “Babyteeth” with the centrifugal force it needs to hold together. It isn't right for Milla and Moses to be together, and the movie never pretends otherwise. Murphy punts the issue down the field for much of the running time, as a kiss is as close as these star-crossed lovers come to crossing the line. Moses represents everything that Milla wants to squeeze out of life, but his feelings aren't so clear. Does he think of her as a little sister? Does he just hang around because her house is full of stealable drugs? Would that kind of flirty, transactional friendship be any better or worse than the alternative?
Some of those questions have answers, while others are left to your interpretation. Above all, it's clear that nothing really happens when it's supposed to for Milla. Her last baby tooth is holding on for dear life, she might be dead before her junior prom, and her parents are still hot. Time is relative — there's just never enough of it. While the middle stretch of Murphy's film is splintered in a way that can make it emotionally diffuse, the last scenes are all the more poignant for their sudden intensity, in the same way that it's hard to see how fast sand is sinking through an hourglass until there are only a few grains left.
The distinct rhythm of this honest and moving film allow “Babyteeth” to naturally contract as it pushes towards the ending. It's something of a tiny miracle that Murphy and Klanejais find a way to tell this story in a way that doesn't become schematic. Instead, it ebbs and flows according to a simple and consistent logic: Hope forces you out, and despair pushes you in. And only one of those things is worth keeping when someone else doesn't need it anymore.
“Babyteeth” premiered at the 2019 Venice International Film Festival. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution.
Amazon is going Down Under for the latest additions to its stand-up comedy slate.
The tech and retail giant has added 10 comedy specials from Australian performers to its growing library of stand-up performances. All 10 shows will film in September in Melbourne and premiere in early 2020 on Amazon's Prime Video streaming platform.
The specials are Joy, from Tom Gleeson; All Talk, from Celia Pacquola; Self-Diagnosed Genius, from Tommy Little; Judith Lucy vs. Men, from Lucy; Fly, from the duo of Lano & Woodley; What's Wrong With You?, from Anne Edmonds; Bossy Bottom, from Zöe Coombs Marr; Very Very, from Tom Walker; Live, from Dilruk Jayasinha; and Savage, from Alice Fraser. All 10 are produced by Guesswork Television Hannah Gadsby: Nanette.
"Amazon's comedy series and stand-up specials have excited our customers around the world, and we're looking forward to welcoming this talented group of Australian comedians to the Prime Video family," said James Farrell, head of international originals for Amazon Studios. "These are hilarious performances that we know our customers will love in Australia and around the world."
The stand-up specials come on the heels of Amazon commissioning its first original series from Australia, LOL: Last One Laughing, to be hosted and executive produced by Rebel Wilson. It's also set for an early 2020 debut.
Amazon is a newcomer to the stand-up space, where rival streamer Netflix has become a huge player. Prime Video's first-stand-up special, Jim Gaffigan: Quality Time, debuted in August and was followed a week later by specials from Alice Wetterlund, Alonzo Bodden, Mike W. Winfield and the "IMomSoHard" duo of Kristin Hensley and Jen Smedley. A special from Broad City co-creator and star llana Glazer is awaiting a release date.
Amazon has announced a series of 10 stand-up specials featuring Australian comedians to premiere exclusively on Prime Video in early 2020.
Set to be filmed this month at the Coopers Malthouse Theatre in Melbourne, the specials will feature performances by Lano & Woodley, Zoë Coombs Marr, Judith Lucy, Tommy Little, Anne Edmonds, Tom Walker, Celia Pacquola, Dilruk Jayasinha, Alice Fraser and Tom Gleeson. See details of each below.
“Amazon's comedy series and stand-up specials have excited our customers around the world, and we're looking forward to welcoming this talented group of Australian comedians to the Prime Video family,” said James Farrell, Head of International Originals for Amazon Studios.
Here are details about the specials and the comics, per Amazon:
Joy Tom Gleeson Gold Logie winner. Chief celebrity interrogator. Host of the highest-rated Australian quiz show on TV. All-round hard man especially in Cairns. There's not much Tom Gleeson didn't do in the last year — and Australia can't get enough of him. Celebrities such as Karl Stefanovic, Lee Lin Chin and Andrew Denton keep lining up to be dragged over the coals by Tom on The Weekly's Hard Chat. Sci-fi movie geeks and Led Zeppelin buffs are dying for the chance to impress Tom and have their shot at returning a quip on Hard Quiz, now Australia's highest-rated quiz show. Despite his ruthless grillings, he's still got a lot of love to give. He campaigned mercilessly to help Grant Denyer win the Gold Logie and he bloody won it, before scoring his very own little gold statue in 2019.
All Talk Celia Pacquola Celia Pacquola's All Talk was a highlight amongst the 600-plus shows at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, earning Celia a nomination for the 2018 Melbourne Comedy Festival Award for Most Outstanding Show. She also recently took home the Helpmann Award for Best Comedy Performer, beating out a star-studded line up of some of Australia's top comedians. Celia is a multi-award-winning performer, but it is her genius as a writer that makes her stand-up so damn good, taking stories in unexpected and delightful directions. Sharp, frank, honest, deft and smart as hell, Celia is as good as it gets.
Self-Diagnosed Genius Tommy Little Idiot or genius? For many, the jury has been out on Tommy Little, but he's here to set the record straight. I mean, would an idiot bungee jump nude on live TV? Or sign up to run one of the toughest marathons in the world, in minus 20 degrees Celsius in Antarctica with no previous experience or training? We rest our case. Despite not knowing how to spell the word genius, Tommy is without a doubt a genius. Miraculously, Tommy is back on Australian soil after surviving the Antarctic marathon and has a cracking story to share. A life of bad choices and dubious decisions has proven to be professional gold for Tommy, who effortlessly mines his life for big laughs across the country. His 2019 tour, Self-Diagnosed Genius, proved to be his biggest yet.
Judith Lucy vs Men Judith Lucy After reflecting on her entire history with men, Judith Lucy has concluded that maybe it's time to shut up shop. “Whatever it is that I'm selling, a lot of straight guys simply aren't that interested in buying it. And I'm including people like my father.” Judith Lucy vs Mentoured in 2019, exploring stereotypes, Judith's own desires and recounting her full history with the opposite sex, leaving it up to the audience to determine whether she should ever date again.
Fly Lano & Woodley After 12 years apart, Colin Lane and Frank Woodley have reunited to realise Col's dream of making some important theatre, telling the epic story of the pioneers of flight, the Wright brothers. The only thing that could possibly get in the way is... well... Frank. Fly has all the ingredients that have made Lano & Woodley Australian favourites for more than 20 years, with a magical chemistry and polish that had audiences whooping with uncontrollable laughter and jumping to their feet at the conclusion of every performance.
What's Wrong with You? Anne Edmonds Eddo let her alter ego Helen Bidou take her spot at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival last year but now, against her better judgement, Anne has returned and she wants to know... what's wrong with you? Not just you, but the whole lot of you. Humanity has clearly flushed its own head down the drain and she can't decide whether to pull you all up or leave you down there. Clear eyed and in no mood to suffer fools, Eddo is as angry as she is over it.
Bossy Bottom Zoë Coombs Marr After returning to the stage as herself last year after years of performing with a neckbeard in her award-winning guise as 'Dave',Zoë Coombs Marr earned a nomination for Best Comedy Performer at the 2018 Helpmann Awards with Bossy Bottom. Playful, surprising and a little bit silly, it was an absolute hit with fans and critics from Melbourne to Edinburgh.
Very Very Tom Walker After a massive 2018 delighting and frightening audiences around the globe with his show, Honk Honk Honk Honk Honk, Tom Walker is back and, this year he's decided to strip things back a bit. With a few less words in the title just two, Very Very and many less words in the show he keeps saying this, this brand new hour promises to be, well, frankly, we don't know. We do know, however, that Tom teaming up with the award-winning comedian, theatre maker, writer and all-round creative genius Zoë Coombs Marr to direct the show is making for the most exciting and exhilarating new partnership in comedy. Put Very Very at the top of your list. Accolades: Winner of the Best Newcomer Award, Melbourne International Comedy Festival, 2016; Nominated for the Barry Award for Most Outstanding Show, Melbourne International Comedy Festival, 2018.
Live Dilruk Jayasinha Dilruk Jayasinha has quickly become one of Australia's favourite comedians. So much so that he won the 2018 Logie Award for Most Popular New Talent. His small screen star may be soaring but Dil's finest work is all on stage. His live shows have been received with popular and critical acclaim, and his most recent tour culminated in knockout performances at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and London's Soho Theatre. Accolades: Winner of the Graham Kennedy Award for Most Popular New Talent, TV Week Logie Awards 2018.
Savage Alice Fraser Alice Fraser's critically-acclaimed solo show, Savage, is about life, death and paper towels — an hilarious and heartbreaking show that straddles the line between comedy and tragedy. In 2015, Savage sold out seasons and earned astronomical critical acclaim at comedy festivals in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra, as well as getting glowing reviews from some of the hardest critics in the business during Alice's debut season at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Shoot is under way in Sydney, Australia, on rom-com Long Story Short, starring Rafe Spall I Give It A Year, Zahra Newman, Truth, Ronny Chieng Crazy Rich Asians, Noni Hazlehurst A Place To Call Home, Dena Kaplan Dance Academy and Josh Lawson Anchor Man.
Lawson directs his original screenplay, which is backed by Screen Australia and sold by Studiocanal. Jamie Hilton is producing alongside Michael Pontin and Isabel Stanfield for See Pictures, marking a second collaboration with Lawson after their Toronto break-out The Little Death in 2014.
The story follows Teddy Spall, who wakes up the morning after his wedding to discover that every few minutes he's jumping forward to the next year of his life. He must use every precious moment wisely to keep from losing the love of his life, and to learn to love the life he's losing.
Create NSW and Spectrum Films are also also part of the production team. Executive Producers are Josh Lawson, Sonia Borella, Josh Pomeranz, Charlie Tynan and Will Gammon.
Lawson's first feature The Little Death won the SXSW Audience Award and premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in 2014 and was released in more than 30 territories. It has been remade in four languages, most notably the 2017 box office smash, Kiki Love To Love, which did over 1M admissions in Spain.
Lawson said, “It really is a dream come true to be making this film with a cast and crew of this stellar caliber. We're all excited and grateful to be able to tell a story with such heart and positivity, and to set it in Sydney makes it all the sweeter.”
Spall added, “Josh's screenplay is miraculous, and I couldn't be happier to be playing Teddy. It's wonderful to be staying with my family on Sydney's stunning beaches and working with such an amazing team of people.”