I must admit I wasn’t expecting much. But being an avid supporter of Aussie genre films, I felt it was my duty to give the DVD There’s Something in the Pilliga a chance. Thankfully any preconceived notions I had about ANOTHER “found footage” film weren’t realized and I was most pleasantly surprised. One of the key points that differentiates this particular film from the hoard of others is the wonderful performances of all concerned. There’s isn’t a dud to be seen. Highlight acting-wise, in my estimation, was that of Leoni Leaver as “Liz”. A great naturalistic performance by an actress who will hopefully go far. Somehow she consented to answering some of my inane questions, presented here for all you Love & Pop types…
Crimson Celluloid: I must say that when I saw the DVD for There’s Something in the Pilliga sitting on the shelf, I didn’t hold out much hope for anything too good. I have come to loathe the “found footage” genre. But I was very pleasantly surprised. What kind of reactions has the film received?
Leoni Leaver: I’m glad you were pleasantly surprised! It has been really positively received, which is fantastic! The genre itself has got quite a big cult following, which helped! For an actor, filming in that style was great, very different, and challenging. I loved it! The found footage style on the big cinema screen did make a few people a little sea sick, but it didn’t put them off the film thankfully. One happy viewer even said he “enjoyed that feeling that it gave him.” On the flip side, some people said they enjoyed the style as it made them feel like they were right there with us in the action because of the movement. Of course, not everyone is going to enjoy the genre and style, but like the director Dane Millerd says, “It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is going to be a lot of people’s shot of whiskey!”
CC: A good part of the success of the film is the very naturalistic performances of the cast. What can you tell us about the audition process? What do you think, all modesty aside, lead you to be cast as Liz?
LL: Why thank you, that is lovely of you to say, what a compliment! That’s the first rule of acting, don’t get caught acting! I am hoping that it was my show reel and CV from StarNow that caught the directors eye, but who knows? I think I had a photo on my profile that looked like what the Director was after for Liz too, so my short denim shorts finally came in handy. The role of Liz had already been cast, however, luckily for me the actress had pulled out. Dane said that he had wanted me for the role from the beginning, but was worried about the distance, as I was from W.A. at the time. Once again lucky for me, he decided to take a risk and gave me a call. I auditioned via Skype and as they say, the rest is history. I moved to Melbourne and drove to NSW for rehearsals and filming in my broken down Kombi. I had also been planning to dye my hair red, and when Dane said he wanted red for the film I knew that it was meant to be. However, I always pride myself in being a highly professional and prepared actor that can transform into any role I am taking on, with or without a change in hair colour!
CC: It seems, to this casual viewer, that a lot of the dialogue was improvised. That may not be the case and it may just be a case of very realistic performances. Was there much space for improvisation?
LL: Actually we were pretty close to script most of the time, we were definitely given the freedom and creative licence to change certain words if they didn’t fit our character, but we didn’t really need to, that’s good writing for you! I am pretty sure we added quite a few more profanities that weren’t in the script though. Naughty potty mouths, the characters made us do it!
CC: What can you tell us about the shoot? Was it especially gruelling?
LL: Absolutely! But I think we are all suckers for punishment. Unfortunately in this industry, you don’t get to do what you love full time and there can be a lot of lull times when you’re not doing anything creative at all. So when you do get the chance to act, you don’t mind pushing yourself as much as you can and working 24/7. For me, I think all up it was a total of 9 days camping in the bush filming, one day we were filming from 6am until 3am. Everyone was working so hard as a team though, and we kept driving each other along. It was a really positive experience. I would do that all day every day if I could! I have a motto that I usually live by when I’m on set, if I don’t come back at least a little bruised, tired and sore from a film shoot, then I haven’t done my job properly. I love a little consensual battery on set, and prefer to do my own stunts, which I was stoked to get a credit for in the film! Go hard or go home I say!
CC: What did director Dane Millerd bring to the table in terms of assisting you in your performance?
LL: Dane is one of the best directors I have ever had the pleasure of working with, he has an eye for actors and how to treat each other differently to help them bring out their best performances. He clearly outlined the type of character Liz was in the beginning, so I knew what type of woman I was creating during my development stage. Dane is a very open, caring, and generous Director, and gave everyone the opportunity to speak their mind when aiding the creative process. He knew we were all talented in our own right, so when we spoke it was because we believed in what we were saying, and it was more often helpful then not. Dane and I had a great relationship on set and understood each other’s way of working. We were both on the same page for the direction of Liz the whole time. Dane knew that if he had to give a direction I would just say “Yep” and he could walk away knowing that the direction would be taken on board and delivered. He also allowed the actors to work together a lot to draw out performances in each other as we worked similarly. Another motto I live by on set, if the director is happy, then I’m happy!
CC: Liz is an interesting character. In what ways are you similar to her and in what ways do you differ?
LL: She sure is! As soon as I read the role I knew I was going to have a lot of fun with her. Liz definitely has traits of a younger me. I grew up in a small country town like she did and have always been quite loud and extroverted. She is certainly more occa than me, I hope, and I sure as hell don’t swear as much as she does, though others may beg to differ on that one. I am more of the tree hugging hippie, non bra wearing variety, not the short denim shorts, push up bra, drug taking, climbing into cars with random men type. That’s not to say that I haven’t had my fair share of crazy parties and silly decisions when I was younger but I would like to think that I am stronger and wiser than she is, and would stand up to someone like Jay a bit more than she does. We definitely differ in the fact that she would still be a smoker where as I am now a non smoker! I would love to go back and re-take running through the bush now with healthy lungs!
CC: I’m a great aficionado of “accidental” nipple-slips in movies (it’s a guy thing), I was pleased to see your areola had a brief cameo. Was this planned or something you only noticed once the film came out?
LL: WHAT! My areola came out!!! That wasn’t in my contract! First of all, thanks for noticing, can’t say I’ve ever had a compliment on my areola before. Secondly, yes it was an accident I’m afraid but an accident that doesn’t bother me in the slightest. I am not afraid of nudity in film as long as it is tasteful and works for the film and my character. I have played a naked zombie wife before in award winning short “Perished” which was fun! Kate Winslet is a perfect example she has had many amazing roles that have required nudity but it is artistic not vulgar because it suited her role. I am also proudly a part of the large following #freethenipple if men are allowed to walk around with their nipples hanging out on a daily basis and it isn’t offensive then why can’t my girls be free also!
CC: Prior to working on this film you’ve mainly worked in short films. How did working on a feature differ from what you had expected?
LL: It didn’t really differ from what I had expected at all. I just got to do what I love for longer, which was a dream come true. Being able to work alongside people who have just as much passion for what they are doing as you do, in the same field, is always highly engaging and inspirational. Give me feature films all year round I say!
CC: Since the film was so low-budget, was there a great sense of camaraderie among the actors?
LL: You have no idea! Not just the actors, all the cast and crew became extremely close. We camped together in close quarters for 9 days, we became family out there, those people will stay in my heart forever and every time I’m over that side of the country we always try to catch up. It helped that we all had the same goal. To go camping in the bush, put all of our skills together and make a cool horror film, and to have fun doing it! We achieved this 10 fold. Every night we would finish filming, have a camp fire, debrief about the day, sing, laugh, eat, go to bed, get up and do it all over again. There is something truly special about being around not only like minded creative artists, but also beautifully souled people who had all come from different backgrounds, we all just, clicked.
CC: What advice would you give someone about to embark on their first feature film work?
LL: Dive in head first, grab the opportunity with both hands, be professional, work bloody hard, do your home work and character development, be grateful for the opportunity, have heaps of fun, and walk away knowing that you gave your absolute best. This is how I treat every acting opportunity I am given, be it short film or feature, the best part about doing a feature film is that it goes for longer, so you get more time on set doing what you love!
CC: The relationship between Liz and Tammy was thoroughly believable. Was there a considerable rehearsal period in which to hone your characters and their relationship?
LL: We did most of our bonding on set, as I came into the production stage late. I had a couple of skype rehearsals and one day of face to face rehearsal with the other actors before filming. We all clicked straight away so it was easy to work together. Everyone worked hard before filming so Rebecca Callander (Tammy) and I knew what kind of relationship our characters needed to have to pull off the on screen relationship.
CC: What can you tell us about your upcoming work and the proposed Pilliga sequel?
LL: I can’t say too much just yet I’m afraid! I am in talks about two feature film projects on the horizon, some very interesting roles indeed. I am now travelling more to Sydney and Melbourne for auditions and hoping to be in the right place at the right time. I am hoping to land an Australian Drama television show for 2016/2017. I am extremely honoured to have been offered to reprise my role in the There’s Something in the Pilliga sequel, dates have not been locked in yet but I know it is going to be, once again, an amazing experience that I am looking forward to immensely! I have been chasing this dream of mine for over 20 years and I will continue to chase it down until I have my Oscar. I believe I was born to do this, I feel so at home on set and on stage and I believe that I have what it takes to “make it”. Like I said, right place, right time! You can keep up to date with all my up coming acting news on my acting Facebook page.
Thank you very much for your time, I have thoroughly enjoyed your questions and look forward to doing it all again when my next feature film project is released! A huge thank you to my family, friends and fans for their continued support! XXX LL