Anthony Hayes in ‘Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan’.
Anthony Hayes has been acting since he was nine. While there is no danger of him giving up that stellar career, for the present he is concentrating more on his other passions: writing and directing.
In the past five or six years he has been in the fortunate position of choosing roles he really wanted to do – in the movies Cargo, War Machine and The Light Between Oceans and TV’s Mystery Road and Seven Types of Ambiguity – rather than just for a pay cheque.
Now his primary focus is writing and directing, starting with Gold, a thriller in which he will co-star with Sam Worthington about two guys who discover the world’s biggest gold nugget in the Australian desert. After that he hopes to make Stingray, a crime thriller he wrote and was set to direct in 2016 until the financing fell through.
He’s also developing a raft of projects, including three with writer Daniel Krige. One is a TV series based on the Myall Creek Massacre in 1838, when white settlers murdered 28 Aboriginal men, women and children – one of the rare cases where killers were tried and hanged. UK brothers Harry and Jack Williams, whose Two Brothers Pictures made the acclaimed BBC drama The Missing, have commissioned it, and are developing it with Hayes and Sarah Hammond (Fleabag) .
Others include Americarnage, a film about gun control and politics in America and The Refugee, a retelling of the birth of Jesus and his flight to Egypt.
“I am loving writing and directing more than acting, especially the solitary nature of writing,” Hayes tells IF.
He wrote Gold with his partner Polly Smyth after Stingray was aborted, aiming to make a movie that was more contained and had a small cast as a three-hander. Worthington, who shares the same US manager as Hayes at Anonymous Content, heard about the project and said he was keen to do it.
Hayes has written the role for a guy aged 55-60 but readily agreed to change that to accommodate Sam, with whom he first worked in Dein Perry’s Bootmen in 2000.
A high profile actress yet to be revealed will play the “third wheel,” a stranger who turns up at the men’s camp site. After something happens to her, her twin sister comes looking for.
It’s due to shoot in South Australia in September with the support of the SAFC, produced by Deeper Water Films’ John and Michael Schwarz and Hayes’ Rogue Star Pictures. Saboteur Films’ Mark Lindsay is busily negotiating pre-sales at the Cannes film market.
Hayes will next be seen in Kriv Stenders’ Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan, produced by Red Dune Productions’ Martin Walsh and the Schwarz brothers, which will premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.
In the Vietnam War movie he plays Colonel Colin Townsend, who clashes with Richard Roxburgh’s Brigadier David Jackson. He enjoyed the shoot and marvelled at the scale of the production.
His mate David Michôd cast him as US Army Lieutenant Commander Pete Duckman in the $100 million Netflix movie War Machine, which starred Brad Pitt as General Glen McMahon, who thought he could win the war in Afghanistan just as President Obama announced he would be pulling troops out of the country.
The movie did not turn out as Hayes expected: It started out as a comedy-of-errors with a McHale’s Navy sensibility without much of a plot, but evolved into a more story-driven work in search of a dramatic arc. Spending three days in a Black Hawk helicopter with Pitt was a thrill.
His latest TV gig is Blackfella Films’ Black B*tch (working title), a six-part drama for the ABC which stars Rachel Griffiths as Australia’s embattled Prime Minister who makes a Captain’s pick to parachute Alex Irving (Deborah Mailman), a charismatic and contradictory Indigenous woman, into the Senate.
He enjoyed playing the conservative Immigration Minister who challenges the PM for leadership of the coalition in the series directed by Rachel Perkins, with whom he collaborated on Mystery Road and Redfern Now: Promise Me.
In Yolande Ramke and Ben Howling’s Cargo he played a racist, sexist, domineering bully who is prepared to harm a baby girl just to see the hurt it will cause her father (Martin Freeman), just one of an extensive gallery of villains he’s portrayed.
“It’s fun playing those kinds of characters,” he says. “Someone can be a good husband or good father and still be a racist. I try to find the characters’ charm and warmth, which makes them even scarier.”
He is grateful to another friend, Ben Mendelsohn, for landing a role in Derek Cianfrance’s The Light Between Oceans. The director originally offered the part to Ben, who told him he thought Hayes would be a better choice.
After roles in the soap Paradise Beach and children’s series such as Ocean Girl he graduated to playing Stevie Sprague, brother of the violent psychopath Brett Sprague (David Wenham) in Rowan Woods’ 1998 feature The Boys.
Aged 19 at the time, he recalls: “I felt out of my depth, alongside David Wenham, Toni Collette, Lynette Curran and John Polson. Rowan told me: ‘Don’t be yourself for the next six weeks, be Stevie Sprague.’ That changed my whole outlook on acting.”
Another movie on his development slate is The Struggle, the saga of an English man in Cuba who tries to take his wife and son out of the country and gets mixed up in the Cuban boxing mafia. He’d like to shoot it in Cuba.
He’s also developing with Bunya Productions TV series Internal Affairs.