Aussie actor Liam Hemsworth had been searching for a movie to make back home in Australia when he finally came across The Dressmaker. By Caris Bizzaca.
Two things immediately grabbed the 25-year-old’s attention.
The first was how much the role of Teddy, a star footy player in the tiny rural town of Dungatar, reminded him of his grandfather.
“My grandpa was this very hard-working, quirky, funny, Australian guy and it was that element that attracted me to the part more than anything,” Hemsworth says.
The second was how he had never come across anything quite like The Dressmaker.
“(It’s) just a very different film – something that was off the normal path,” he said, with its part-comedy, part-drama, part-tragic story.
“It just seemed like something that was bold and different and unique.”
It’s a sentiment echoed across The Dressmaker cast, including Hugo Weaving and Sarah Snook, who walked the red carpet with Hemsworth at the Australian premiere in Melbourne on Sunday night.
Weaving calls The Dressmaker a “radically different piece” of cinema, comparing it to something like Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds.
“In the way that something like Inglourious Basterds is a hybird of styles and works, I think this is a similar sort of hybrid style,” he says.
“It’s a western… it’s Sergio Leone, it’s got a dark underbelly to it, it’s a serious revenge film, but it’s quite exuberant, very stylish (and) visually bold.”
In The Dressmaker, Kate Winslet dons a (very believeable) Aussie accent and stunning wardrobe to play Tilly Dunnage, who returns to her rural hometown in 1951 after years working in Parisian fashion houses. Armed with her sewing machine she’s determined to reconnect with her eccentric mother (Judy Davis), face the demons of her past and seek revenge.
In the film’s opening shots, Tilly takes a long draw on a cigarette, saying “I’m back, you bastards”.
Not that all of the townsfolk are. Weaving’s kind, cross-dressing cop prefers feather boas to nasty gossip. Although he could never admit it – he, like the rest of the community, are all hiding secrets.
Based on Rosalie Ham’s beloved novel, it’s been quite a journey bringing The Dressmaker to screens, particularly for producer Sue Maslin.
“My journey, I have to admit probably started more than 30 years ago, because I went to school with the writer of the book Rosalie Ham as a little girl,” she says.
“In boarding school, we both came from the big flat wide Riverina plain and we would catch the long bus trip home together…
“(After school) we had no contact for 30 years until one day I read the book.”
Maslin fell in love with the story, optioned the rights and set about trying to finding a director who could bring Ham’s story to life, while balancing both the comedy and tragedy.
“To have the two together, it takes a very rare director to pull that off,” Maslin says.
And yet, she always knew that person was Jocelyn Moorhouse.
It was in part thanks to Moorhouse’s 1991 film Proof (which also starred Weaving), about a blind photographer who doesn’t trust anybody.
“The premise itself is deeply ironic,” Maslin says.
“I mean Joss gets it. She understands how comedy and tragedy work together.”
Weaving says Moorhouse was key to him signing on, purely because it meant working with her again.
“Joss was responsible for the first film I really wanted to do,” he says.
“I was like four years out of drama school and I’d read a lot of rubbish really and Proof was a great script. It was Joss’ first film and she really gave me the oportunity to do something I was really proud of.”
The Dressmaker marks Moorhouse’s return to directing after an 18 year hiatus. Initially she turned Maslin down to make the film… until she read the book. After falling completely in love with the story, Moorhouse not only signed on to direct The Dressmaker, but also co-adapted the novel with her husband/filmmaker PJ Hogan (Muriel’s Wedding).
“I was so excited to do a movie like no other movie. One you couldn’t really define because it’s its own special, crazy, wonderful self,” she says.
“It’s a bit of a rollercoaster actually, but a very entertaining rollercoaster.
“You might think you know what this movie is but you don’t. So just hang on. Enjoy the ride.”
The Dressmaker is out across Australia from 29 October.
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