Daniel Radcliffe may not have seemed an obvious choice to play Yossi Ghinsberg, the 22-year-old Israeli backpacker who got lost in the Amazon in the survival thriller Jungle.
But director Greg McLean was confident Radcliffe would nail the demanding role after admiring the actor’s bold choices of movies after the Harry Potter franchise.
Demonstrating his range, he played a lawyer whose wife died in childbirth in The Woman in Black, American poet Allen Ginsberg in Kill Your Darlings, Igor in Victor Frankenstein, a talkative corpse in Swiss Army Man and a technological prodigy who resents magic in Now You See Me 2.
“I thought he was someone who is clearly looking for big challenges and risky roles,” McLean tells IF on the line from Los Angeles, where he is lining up several film and TV projects for next year.
“This is the kind of role that you can do and if you get it wrong it can be quite bad. So when we spoke on the phone I could tell how much he was into the story and how far he’d be willing to go to get it right.”
Based on Ghinsberg’s memoir Lost in the Jungle: A Harrowing True Story of Adventure and Survival and adapted by Justin Monjo, the film opens on November 9 on 28 screens via Umbrella Entertainment.
Alex Russell (Goldstone, Rabbit) and Joel Jackson (The Wrong Girl, Peter Allen: Not the Boy Next Door) play fellow backpackers and Thomas Kretschmann (Avengers: Age of Ultron, Dracula) is a mysterious Austrian who claims he can help them find a lost Indian tribe.
“Daniel was a real trouper,” McLean said. “He is not a method actor but he wanted to put himself physically into the state Yossi might have been in after not eating for 20 days in the jungle. He goes through a big mental and physical transformation, all in the sake of authenticity. He had his dietician and his trainer working with him so you can lose weight where it’s not dangerous but you are still ultimately starving yourself. He was amazing at keeping it together and being focused.
“In the rafting sequences he is on that boat and in the river being knocked around by those rapids.
“Before we went to Colombia he studied the Israeli accent for weeks and spent a long time with Yossi trying to understand him and what his psychology was at the time of his experience.”
The director also could not be happier with the performances of Russell, Jackson and Kretschmann, describing the German actor as a wildcard as a character is simultaneously dangerous, crazy, charming and alluring.
Jackson will attend a premiere screening on November 9 at the Ritz Cinema, Randwick and participate in a Q&A following the screening.
The movie had a limited theatrical release combined with premium VOD in the US and UK and went straight to home entertainment in some European markets.
The filmmaker accepts this is the reality now for many independent films, explaining: “These days you can get on to so many platforms to quickly. You could be on about 15 digital platforms where people can access your movie instantly.
“There are a lot of low to mid-sized genre or speciality films like Jungle which are having very healthy lives on multi-platform releases.”
McLean was the showrunner on the second series of Wolf Creek, scripted by Nick Parsons, Shanti Gudgeon, Greg Haddrick and Mark Dapin, which will premiere on Stan on December 15.
Lisa Scott and Kerrie Mainwaring produced for Screentime in association with Emu Creek Pictures. McLean, Kieran Darcy-Smith (Wish You Were Here, Jack Irish) and Geoff Bennett (The Secret Daughter, Love Child, Brock) each directed two episodes.
Tonally the new series is much closer to the 2005 movie and according to McLean is “horrifically scary and also very funny.”
The plot follows John Jarratt’s pig hunter Mick Taylor as he commandeers an outback safari tour by a group of international tourists.
Tess Haubrich and Charlie Clausen play an American couple who are trying to revive their marriage. Matt Day is an English psychologist, Ben Oxenbould is the original tour guide, Stephen Hunter is a Kiwi tourist and Laura Wheelwright is a Canadian backpacker.
Another Wolf Creek movie is in development, which will probably have a different director. “If the fans want it, we will do it,” he said.