Mr Ubiquitous: IF checks in with Xavier Samuel
Xavier Samuel in Spin Out.
He might not be a household name just yet, but Xavier Samuel has seemingly endless projects in the pipeline. IF talks to the actor about the purple patch that's seen him star in every other Aussie film this year.
Scan the title credits of this year’s Aussie films and you’ll notice one name popping up again and again: Xavier Samuel.
From the titular character in MIFF opener The Death and Life of Otto Bloom, to the lead in Marc Gracie and Tim Ferguson’s B&S ball rom-com Spin Out and in the upcoming sequel to 2011’s Few Best Men, A Few Less Men – Samuel’s having a busy year.
He’s also the lead in David Pulbrook’s thriller Bad Blood – currently in post – and will feature alongside Hugo Weaving in the ABC’s anticipated six-part series Seven Types of Ambiguity.
Despite Samuel’s current ubiquity on local screens, he insists there was no conscious or “grand plan” to return home to Australia, telling IF it’s “just how it rolled”.
“It’s where the most interesting work was for me at the time,” he says.
Adelaide-raised Samuel has spent most of the last few years living in LA, having made a name for himself Stateside by playing the villainous vampire Riley Biers in 2010’s The Twilight Saga: Eclipse.
From there, the actor went on to star alongside Brad Pitt in David Ayer’s World War II tank film Fury, and more recently, played the naïve foil to Kate Beckinsale’s scheming Lady Susan in Whit Stillman’s Austen adaptation Love & Friendship.
Samuel insists that his approach to landing Aussie gigs is no easier than it is booking roles overseas.
“Usually the more exciting the project the harder you have to work for it. I put down an audition for Seven Types of Ambiguity. It’s such an awesome role and it wasn’t like I was going to be offered that straight off the bat. They want to know what you have to bring to the table, which is good,” he says.
“I’m not resting on my laurels, sitting back and waiting for offers to roll in. I’m working hard and putting myself out there for the stuff that I find interesting.
“That was how Love & Friendship happened. I met Whit in Los Angeles and read scenes for him.”
Spin Out is the most recent of Samuel’s films to premiere, having bowed at WA’s CineFestOZ in late August.
The premiere brought the film full circle, with writer-director Tim Ferguson having held the first script reading at the festival back in 2013.
“It’s a great festival,” says Samuel of CineFestOZ.
"There’s a great atmosphere. Because it’s a smaller community, everyone sticks around and talks about the films that they’ve watched.”
“People are there because they’re enthusiastic about film, not because they want to be seen or to spruik anything. It’s a film-watching culture there.”
Samuel describes Spin Out as “outlandish” and an old-school, screwball comedy in the vein of Cary Grant films like His Girl Friday.
And even though Samuel’s other upcoming ensemble comedy, A Few Less Men, is also set out in the bush, he argues the film has a very different feel –more akin to “trying to herd a bunch of cats.”
Samuel plays the ‘straight man’ of the bunch – a job he says isn’t too difficult.
“I actually think being funny is the hard gig (laughs). Actors like Kevin Bishop and Kris Marshall and directors like Tim Ferguson, they have this inbuilt detector where they know what’s funny. It’s a skill,” Samuel says.
“There are challenges playing the straight man, but mostly they’re about keeping a straight face while hanging out with all these hilarious people.”
A Few Less Men, due out in cinemas in February, saw Samuel work with director Mark Lamprell (My Mother Frank, Goddess), who replaced A Few Best Men’s Stephan Elliott.
“Mark and Stephen are almost opposites. Very, very different people and have very different sensibilities, and I’ve got respect for both filmmakers. Mark’s a novelist and a writer. We talk a lot and we’ve remained good friends.”
Speaking to IF earlier this year Lamprell described Samuel as “the Hugo Weaving of his generation”.
“I remember there was a phase where Hugo was in absolutely everything, and I think now with Xavier it’s the same thing,” Lamprell said.
“I love watching Xavier. He’s such a brilliant actor. He’s just amazing. The older he gets, the more interesting he will become to audiences.”
According to Samuel, the A Few Less Men set was a bit of reunion, noting that it’s not often in the screen industry you get to see all the same colleagues again.
“Usually you’re best friends for about five weeks and then you never see each other again. It was awesome really,” says Samuel.
“And the fact that Dean Craig was back writing the script. Dean’s a really special writer. His scripts always arrive and they’re really polished, and you’re like ‘wow, how did he write this; it’s so good and funny.”
Bad Blood, filmed in South Australia in June, was another reunion for Samuel – again acting opposite his Spin Out co-star, Morgan Griffin (San Andreas, Unbroken).
The film itself is a different kettle of fish altogether – a psychological thriller that sees Samuel play a writer whose past comes back to haunt him.
As for what’s next, the 32 year-old actor is still in touch with Drift director Morgan O’Neill, who has long been developing the script for Banjo and Matilda.
Samuel is cast to play Banjo Paterson – a character he says many people have wrong.
“People have some misconceptions about Banjo Paterson – that he was some sort of bushranger or something. But he was a lawyer and a journalist; a member of the upper class.”
No other cast is attached, but Samuel has already acted alongside Aussie screen royalty – Weaving in Seven Types, Naomi Watts in Adore, Rachel Ward in Otto Bloom and Olivia-Newton John in A Few Best Men.
The actor also worked with legendary Aussie director Bruce Beresford (Mao’s Last Dancer, Breaker Morant, Driving Miss Daisy) on the upcoming Mr. Church, starring Eddie Murphy.
“Sometimes you sit back and go wow: I’m working with people I really admire and it’s a pretty grateful position to be in,” he says.
“When an email pops up in your inbox from Bruce Beresford, it’s just like, holy shit.”
In many ways, Samuel occupies the space Joel Edgerton occupied ten years ago – playing lead roles at home, and the occasional smaller role overseas. Is Edgerton someone whose career Samuel has looked to?
“It’s pretty tricky territory trying to follow someone else’s footsteps, because you’re only going to be able to do it your way and everyone’s got a different experience.
“But I do look at an actor like Joel and think: he’s been really smart and made some really smart decisions. But I try not to be too comparative, because if you try to emulate someone you take something away from your own experiences.”