Richard Roxburgh has a face for 3D. Most actors do.
“They haven’t invented enough dimensions for what I bring to the screen … I think I need more Ds,” he jokes.
It is Australia’s big-budget 3D thriller Sanctum which will give audiences the chance to see his features anew – although they may be surprised that the stereoscopic format is used to enhance the drama rather than for trickery.
At its core, the $30 million production is a father-son rite-of-passage tale centred on master diver Frank McGuire (Roxburgh) and his 17-year-old son Josh (Rhys Wakefield) who become trapped with their team while exploring the South Pacific’s Esa’ala caves.
Roxburgh, who bulked up for the physically demanding role, says he was attracted to the thought of playing a “hard nut” character – one who was also detached from his son.
“There’s a real emotional removal with them – they’re very sort of ascetic, they live in a sort of austere way – and so I found that father and son thing really interesting.”
It also left him physically drained.
“The 3D element represented yet another obstacle to comfort and ease because the technology is new and they’re still honing it. The cameras tend to break down quite a lot and they also tend to overheat – consequently, they had to keep the soundstage temperature to below what would be described as ‘comfortable’.
“When you add in the fact that the actors are hopping about in cold water for 12 hours you end up weirdly, even though it’s a baking hot day and you’re on the Gold Coast, in the sound stage your absolutely frozen for a lot of the time. Just to keep warm in between the takes we’re sort of running on the spot."
The shoot itself required plenty of difficult stunts for the actor, who had only previously completed a recreational scuba diving course in Fiji.
A key scene early in the movie involves Roxburgh removing a rebreather and ‘buddy breathing’ with a flooded full-face mask in an attempt to save the life of Allison Cratchley, who plays fellow diver Judes.
“Now that, even for a diver with a lot of experience, is a scary and horrible thing to do,” he says.
“It’s always just genuinely scary – you can’t stop thinking ‘am I going to take a breath full of water here?’ because you’ve got to keep panic at bay. If you allow it in you actually die [laughs] so it’s horrible.”
The worldwide release of Sanctum on February 3 will cap off a busy few months for Roxburgh, who has just completed a high profile stint in Anton Chekhov's Uncle Vanya at the Sydney Theatre Company as well as performances in ABC legal TV series Rake, telemovie Hawke and NZ feature Ice.
But it is Sanctum which has the potential to become one of the biggest Australian films of the year. The story is based on the real life experience of producer-writer Andrew Wight and has the backing of filmmaker James Cameron, who been busy promoting the film.
Cameron, who has said Sanctum's 3D is technically better than that employed in his blockbuster Avatar, tweeted enthusiastically about the film today: "It's the most intense experience you'll have at the movies (unless your gf gets creative)" in response to a fan.
Sanctum is released worldwide on February 3. Check out the February-March issue of IF magazine for a full feature on Sanctum.