A Conversation with Emily Taheny, Luke McKenzie and Marion Pilowsky
Interview by Austin Frape
I had the chance to talk with Australian actors Emily Tahney and Luke McKenzie, as well as writer and director Marion Pilowsky, who are all currently touring with their new Australian romantic comedy, The Flip Side. The film tells the story of a chef named Ronnie (Tahney) who once had a relationship with an English actor, Henry (Eddie Izzard), and had an opportunity to have a new life in London away from Adelaide, but things ended badly between the two. Sometime later, Ronnie has a new relationship with a part time teacher and writer, Jeff (McKenzie), and they find themselves playing host for Henry and his French girlfriend, Sophie (Vanessa Guide) while they are touring a new movie of his. Tensions rise as old feelings resurface and the urge for closure becomes more apparent as they embark on a road trip to outback South Australia.
The four of us discussed the inspirations for creating the story and experiences working on the film based in South Australia, and how using the locations benefits the filmmaking. Emily, Luke and Marion were very lovely people and were very kind as I did my best at interacting with three people in one interview for the first time.
(To Marion Pilowsky) What inspired you to create the story of The Flip Side?
I guess if I distilled the reason, it would be because I wanted to examine the cultural difference between Europeans and Australians and the way they view each other. I wanted the film to be from the point of view of a woman who stayed in a small town, who had an opportunity to leave but her heart got smashed to smithereens instead and thought there was something better for her out there, the kind of unknown thing that never happened. That kind of drove it, and also the characters being different aspects of myself; narcissistic and selfish being Henry (everyone laughs), venerable and ambivalent being Ronnie, kind hearted is Jeff, only a little bit of me in that (everyone laughs), and tactless and blunt which is Sophie. So you know, you kind of write versions of yourself regardless of gender and it was just about making those things go together.
(To Marion Pilowsky) I remember at the premiere that you mentioned you moved from Australia to London, was that an aspect of life that you drew inspiration from?
Yeah, absolutely, I quickly learned that if you’re an Australian and if you go to London, even though they do love us, there is a slight condescension, referring to us as “The Aussies”, “The colonials”, like it’s not overt, but it’s there. They have a different view of the world than we do, and I think because we’re just so far away from everything. Like, there’s a line in the film where Sophie says to Ronnie “How could you live here? Where’s the energy, where’s the culture? It’s so isolating” and Ronnie goes “Is anyone isolated anymore with the internet?” and straight back, the European goes “Yeah, but your internet’s shit!” (Everyone laughs). So it’s like those types of touches that sort of create moments of inspiration.
(To Emily Taheny and Luke McKenzie) What attracted you both to work on The Flip Side and the roles of Ronnie and Jeff?
ET: There was a lot of similarities there between Ronnie and me. I’m from Adelaide originally and I kind of know what it’s like to have had a relationship that hasn’t resolved and how it can haunt you in a way and how you can’t really move on with someone else while that situation is still bubbling away and the what ifs and wondering if the grass is greener on the other side. So I thought that I would love to play that role because I had that experience. (Everyone laughs)
LM: For me, it was that Marion and I worked together on a couple of projects before and we gelled creatively and when the script came along, I think my first excitement factor for the film was playing Jeff. Because he’s fun, the balls up in the air for Jeff and he sees the world with rose coloured glasses, but then the… FLIP SIDE of that (Everyone laughs) is that Jeff is not the one dimensional character that you would expect in this type of story as he does have a good backbone in him in the end of the film and he does the right thing and stands up. I think it was that kind of duality, playing the fun and outgoing guy who has the foundation underneath it.
(To Marion Pilowsky) In the film, you utilized various locations in South Australia like Barossa Valley, Adelaide Hills and Port Elliot, what was the process of using these locations in The Flip Side?
While we were in pre-pre-production, which is the work you do before you officially have the money to start making the movie, the co-producer, Georgia Humphreys, and myself had gone on a number of location recces just to get a sense of where we would be doing things and how they are related to each other and making sure the locations don’t look too similar. You see that in quite a few films where you don’t get a sense of the geography of the place and it was very important to get that. So we tethered down key locations like the motel in Elizabeth, the bowling alley in Barossa and the winery, Port Elliot, Semaphore, so places I knew exactly where I wanted to go and it’s just working the locations to character. So the house you would expect the couple to have if they were renting and hadn’t bought one yet, the restaurant that Ronnie owned had to be located next to more successful restaurants, so the shop that never quite works, or the care home and how it had to be expensive and upscale looking because Ronnie hadn’t paid the bill in six months. Port Elliot had to be a special beach because it was the one Ronnie and her mum always went to, rather than just going to Glenelg or Brighton. So lots of choices are made for specific reasons and it’s just great how many wonderful locations South Australia has.
(To everyone) Lastly, what do you feel makes Australian cinema unique in comparison to a typical Hollywood production, especially having it in South Australia?
LM: This film specifically shows that Australian crews are incredible at making things look bigger and more expensive than it is; I think that is quite unique for us. Our industry is very unique, to start with, like we have government funding, so that helps change the scope of the story, so we have gatekeepers that help us tick the boxes for making the film culturally relevant, showcase this, showcase that.
EM: We did have quite a bit of freedom making The Flip Side though.
MW: We did. We partnered up with Fox and this was their first Australian movie they’ve made in 10 years and it was unusual, but it was a very collaborative experience. But to go back to your question, what makes Australian cinema unique, physically, we have very different light. When you watch a European film, it makes you feel different; it has a completely different light. It’s almost impossible in Australia to make a film that isn’t bright, which makes it hard, since you’re trying to make it filmic and of course, film is all about shadows and light and shade. Meanwhile, everything here is just blasting (Everyone laughs).
EM: And the story is very uniquely South Australian. There are gags in the movie that only locals would get and it makes it feel that it has more personality. Plus, you get to see more of the state on film that you wouldn’t normally see.
LM: Doing our bit for SA tourism (Everyone laughs).
The Flip Side was released on the 30th of August, make sure to check out this charming and witty romcom and help support the local arts.