Interview: Neil Armfield
Interview by Clint Morris
Interview with Neil Armfield
Director of the Australian film Candy.
be the last film that Heath Ledger makes back home? Quite possibly, it
seems, with the Perth-native having a rather mordant experience on his
latest film – and one he’d never, perceptibly, want to
“A couple of paparazzi [here in Australia] have
sort-of realised that they can get a bit of a rise out of him”,
explains the film’s director, Neil Armfield, on a recent promo
tour in Melbourne. “He’s a boy…. and they attacked
One night, whilst shooting a scene, Armfield says a
photographer went out of his way to ruin not only the take, but to
calculatedly make a new adversary out of the Australian actor.
were in the middle of the third take [during the scene], and this guy
jumps out of the crowd – we had a big crowd in the street, all
well-behaved and just watching what we were doing, maybe we had them
too close, I don’t know – and he gets out his camera, and
yells out ‘flash!’. It was the middle of the take, so
therefore, he ruined the take…but then he adds ‘Gotcha
Ledger!’ and he takes off up the street.
chased him and the guy tripped over, so he [the photographer] ends up
going to the police and telling them that it was physical abuse, which
it wasn’t. Anyway, he is the same guy that [later] turns up at
the Brokeback Mountain premiere.
We all know what
happened that night. Walking down the red carpet with his partner and
co-star Michelle Williams, the couple were squirted with water pistols
by the paparazzi on the sideline. Apparently the abovesaid main culprit
was simply “trying to get Heath to turn around and smack him in
It didn’t end there though, says Armfield.
“The next day, he turns up at their [Heath and Michelle’s]
house. He’s ringing the doorbell all day – they have a new
baby, remember – and he gets a news crew there, and they were
just camped outside the house. He had a bunch of flowers, and said he
wants to apologize to Michelle, but that he wants to teach Heath a
lesson. You know, who the fuck does he think he is?!’”
the end of the day, Ledger and Williams felt they could no longer live
in Sydney, and returned to Los Angeles. “He just felt that
it was too soon to come back to Australia”, says Armfield.
“It’s very sad”.
At least one good thing has
come out of the experience though, and that’s the film itself.
Based on the best-selling book by Luke Davies, Candy – a
semi-autobiographical piece about two lovestruck teens who are
swallowed whole by drugs - is an expressive journey that packs a
Mundine-size punch in its pragmatic storytelling, and offers both
Ledger and co-star Abbie Cornish a chance to illustrate why
they’re two of our most popular exports at the moment.
think they’re fantastic [in it]”, says Armfield, “I
think Heath has this incredible ability to maintain a sort of guileless
charm, despite the fact this character is ultimately selfish and makes
so many mistakes. He just has this beautifully focused concentration.
He is a miracle that guy.
Cornish, who hit the big time in 2004’s Somersault,
is equally as immerse in the movie. “She just opens herself and
takes the audience into these places. She’s quite
“They’re both film stars. They
have something going on behind the eyes. You’re always interested
in where they are”, says Armfield, Currently Artistic Director of
Sydney's Company B at Belvoir Street Theatre.
Granted, in the beginning, Ledger and Cornish weren’t even being considered for the film.
took a lot at every actor, in the age group, around the country. I
thought that because Geoffrey [Rush] was in it, and that we were
looking at getting a couple of recognizable actors to play the parents,
that we should have Dan and Candy be sort of more anonymous…or
unknowns”, he says. “Abbie had tested for it, originally,
but she was just too young. We took a look at her again later though,
and she was perfect. When Heath was suggested, I immediately thought he
was too heroic. Then, I saw Monster’s Ball. I got on the phone and offered Heath the part, straight away. He made an immediate commitment to it.”
main question audiences ask themselves after watching the film –
and this writer can attest to it, having heard it from many
theatre-goers exiting the screening I went to – is
‘Why?’ ‘Why, do people get themselves into these
inescapable situations with drugs’?
It’s a question
Armfield can’t, clearly, precisely answer, but he believes
it’s because people love to escape their problems, and
experience, if even fleetingly, sheer pleasure.
think the film tries to do, is to cinematically create the lift-off [of
taking drugs], if you like, and the intensity of it all –
it’s almost like a spiritual kind of communion.
are some personalties that have the ability to make the pain of the
past disappear, and at the same time, make the future kind of dissolve
into this eternal present, too…. I think all of culture, in
different ways, is addicted to that notion.
closed the Hong Kong festival, a couple of weeks back, and I was coming
through the airport and was passing this new Chanel line - I think -
called Addiction. There’s this beautiful, waif-like, girl lost in
the photo”, he says, “Tell me that this thing hasn’t
been cannibalised…it’s crazy”.
CANDY opens May 25th, 2006.