Veronica Sywak Interview

Veronica-SCrimson Celluloid: What was your initial reaction when approached to do Welcome to the Jungle? How does a nice girl from Sydney end up in a film where she gets eaten by cannibals?

Veronica Sywack: I auditioned like everyone else. The screen-test was interesting – no script – just a chat to camera. At this stage, I had no information about the project or its mechanics. I didn’t know if it was TV or film and I certainly did I know that Gale Anne Hurd or Jonathan Hensleigh were attached. All I knew is that my second screen-test was successful, and that I was being flown to Fiji for a meeting. I landed in Nadi airport not knowing who I was going to meet or what the project was about. I was introduced to Gale and Jonathan and had a ½ hour meeting before they had to catch a flight back to LA. To add to the excitement – I think they may have had a military escort to the airport….

It looked to the untrained eye that it would have been a pretty gruelling shoot. Did you do anything in advance to prepare for the film physically?

The shoot wasn’t physically gruelling, it was mentally taxing. Making films generally is, you really pour emotional energy on screen which can leave you feeling depleted. But some of the locations were pretty spectacular and remote. The film was shot in highlands of Fiji which are just magical – so not so gruelling really. Making a film or playing a character can be a massive head fuck – so much of your work is based on feigning sanity.

I must admit that usually when there is extensive character development in a film I find myself reaching for the fast forward button. However I found the dialogue and characters interesting. The acting seems effortless, was much of the dialogue improvised? If so, how did you find working that way?

I found it to be a huge challenge. But basically all you have to do is adjust your point of view. By that I mean, once you build a characters emotional anatomy, you just peer through it. Does that make sense? You program yourself to think a certain way or through a particular lens and you run with it. But improv is like sprinkling seeds and seeing where they grow – or what sort of plant or flower or weed it grows into. I must say, it’s a wonderful way to interface with a director, often as an actor you are sparking off other actors, but with improv, Jonathan was always my source. You really have to shed any boundaries you may have and just go for it.

What were some of the main problems the actors faced during the shoot?

Jonathan and Gale were fantastic and really looked after us so it was super smooth behind the scenes. I tried to spend as much time as I could by my self. I enjoy my own company. No problems for us. The shoot was seamless. Gosh – my answers are boring huh? The four of us actors worked really well together, and Jonathan did a fantastic job of orchestrating the dynamic between all of us.

The dynamic between the characters is interesting in that it deteriorates as the film progresses. Was there any off-screen tension between the actors? Have you stayed in touch with any of them?

We live in different parts of the world but we all seem to use social utilities to stay in touch. But we all got along great – they are a wonderful bunch of kids and I adore them.

I liked your character Bijou, how do you feel about her?

I have a tendency to despise every character of mine that appears on screen. Firstly, its not fun watching yourself and secondly, observing an entity that looks like you and sounds like you but does not behave like you can be very disorientating. But I based Bijou on an ex boyfriend of mine who embraced excess and eschewed any personal responsibilities. She energetically attached herself to external power sources ( firstly Mandy, which failed because she hooked up with Colby, then booze, then Mikey) in order to survive. She was a non contributing zero – I really wanted the audience to feel joy when she was skewered on that pole.

What’s it like seeing your corpse on screen? It must be a surreal experience?

Yeah I remember the first time I saw the film in LA. Jonathan and Gale were kind enough to let me stay with them and as soon as I had landed at LAX, Sandi ( who played Mandi) picked me up in her hot little sports car and drove me over to their house. After the usual pleasantries and cordial banter we settled in to watch the film. All my airs of decency and congeniality soon vaporised the moment I saw that scene. I remember hitting the floor, covering my eyes and moaning like a swamp monster. I was truly horrified. I have never watched the scene in full. And I always stop the film before that scene when I watch it with friends.

I assume that your corpse was all special fx and not merely a case of you sitting on some kind of rig. Did they do a body cast?

They did a cast of my head in Sydney and it was sent over to LA. Have u ever experienced a headcast? All of your senses are deprived and you breathe through a straw. Fantastic mental workout. Great for meditation.

You’ve worked on a lot of Australian TV, from All Saints through to Sea Patrol and Packed to the Rafters. What’s scarier…dealing with cannibals in the jungle or working with Rebecca Gibney?

DO NOT MAKE ME ANSWER THAT QUESTION. I didn’t share any scenes with her, and I am sure she is truly lovely but…. I would rather work on something that is transgressive that implodes formula and convention than an Australian drama that is designed to be forgettable and consciously projects itself at the LCD – and is proud of doing so.

What would you say are director Jonathan Hensleigh’s best and worst points as a director?

He is both very amenable and very specific. He has this lush intensity which is creatively intoxicating. He is very passionate about his work which I found to be really energizing and inspiring. I have never met a director so committed to their vision and is so very hardworking. You also feel safe with him as a director, you can address any concern with him and he will always be open minded and available to augment your personal creative experience.

Given that Gale Ann Hurd was producer and Hensleigh was the director were you surprised that the film didn’t get a wider release?

 Say what? The film was sold to virtually every territory. I get all of my fan mail from this film and I am surprised by types who get in contact with me. Sweet faced French teens to Viking metal loving German youth. I had an English software developer propose to me and he sent unsolicited naked images of himself, asked me to apply cherry lipstick and “kiss” the image of his penis and send it back to him. Um – no deal.

Rumour has it (or wishful thinking has it) that you have extensive nude scenes in your next film Melt. What can you tell us about this film?

The gorgeous Rachael Taylor is part of the project, as is stunning newcomer Adrienne Pickering. Aden Young is also attached. That is as much as I can reveal really. And as far as nudity, there shall be none if I am involved with the picture. I have very conservative ideas on nudity and will absolutely not commit to it on screen. I am also attached to another film which I can’t talk about at this stage. However, I am playing the title character and I am overjoyed to be working with the producer and director.

You gave a stellar performance in the low-budget film The Jammed, it must be rewarding that for someone who regards acting as “a hobby” to get such recognition and praise?

I am clever enough to know that recognition and praise are just illusions. I don’t buy into it. It’s just an extension of my job. My abilities as an actor are very nascent – my acting chops are still in the pimply teenager faze.

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