Amiel Courtin-Wilson’s new feature film, Hail, takes its inspiration from the lives of his two stars: Danny Jones and his partner Leanne Letch. They tell Brendan Swift about their journey and special relationship.
If you believe in God – God created the world and made two really good hearts: he gave one to Mother Teresa and the other one was given to Leanne. Leanne’s got three children and their father died an untimely death. And instead of her calling back on the government, she thought, “if this is the best that the world’s got to offer me, I have to do something for myself.”
So she took her children to the country, where there was open spaces and fresh air and, not only did she bring up those three, she went about finding street kids that had suffered some sort of abuse or couldn’t go home because they were gonna get belted or their parents were drunks or drug addicts etc. etc.
And then as they grew and left and went about their own way, her brother – he was a motor mechanic and at 21 years-old, the jack came off the car and hit him behind the ear and came out the other side of his face and turned him into a hemiplegic with massive brain damage. So Leanne beautifully looked after him. Then one day he had a second accident in his wheelchair and spent another 22 months in hospital and rehab and then we brought him home for 16 months after that.
But that 22 months, she spent seven days a week at that hospital, teaching him to eat again, to toilet, and do all that stuff… and this is not somebody who went there every now and then, this is seven days a week. She used to come home on the last train and try to hold down a full time job.
And that’s the reason that I love her, because people like that don’t exist in this world.
So with Leanne, that’s why she’s my partner. Nobody does stuff like that. And it’s gone unseen. Nobody knows the blood, sweat and tears that she put into it.
Leanne had so many reservations about, like, that she’s middle-aged now, and actresses are meant to be tall, thin and beautiful. You know how society subscribes to that fucking waif looking stuff.
I sat down with Leanne and said, “For God’s sake Leanne, don’t worry what people think”. The thing is you can’t stop people thinking, people will think – that’s what people do. That’s why we’re different from the other species on the planet. You probably won’t meet 99.99 per cent of the people who do think whatever. So don’t worry about what goes on.
I believe people are sick of looking at these fucking stories where you know what’s going to happen 15 minutes before it happens. And sick of looking at really pretty-looking people. So it’s about time that the world got to see the people who live in it.
It’s pushing boundaries. It’s making people think. If you can make them stop and think, you’ve done your job. If there’s some emotion that comes up, you’ve done your job. And still to me, the beauty of it is Leanne being involved – that’s just fantastic.
I wasn’t told I was going to be in a movie. They were filming Danny and I just thought I was helping them out by getting different footage. And I don’t think they had this storyline back then when they were filming with me, so I thought it was all play.
I mean, Amiel and I and Danny – we were all very good mates. I’ve got a disabled brother as you saw in the movie. I was his full-time carer. And we had Amiel over at Christmas time and he sort of filmed us doing all that kind of stuff and yeah… I don’t know where the storyline came from but I guess it was Danny’s and my closeness and love for each other and that’s where he got this love-scary-vengeful story. It felt more like a love story more than anything else.
I’m amazed I was in it as much as I was. I think that scared me a little bit because I didn’t think I would stand up to the standards. But then I didn’t know what standards they wanted either.
I’ve known Amiel for a long time – I wouldn’t let him down. And Danny said, “No, look it’ll be fun”. And I’ve never had to do anything to do with films or anything like that. It was just an experience to me. I thought, you do it once, you won’t get a second chance – so why not?
And then I met the crew and I think that really convinced me because I’ve never been in a work scene where everybody was so committed and so lovely, and honest, and there were no secrets. We were like the mum and dad of the whole team because we’re the oldest and Danny is from the street and I know the streets and they want our opinions. We weren’t just the producers or actor – we were friends.
Everybody thinks acting is having a script and working with a script and working in a sequence and doing what the director is telling you to do. But all we’d get from Amiel – like the birthday scene – “you’re having a birthday on the same day, and we’ll just take it from there” – and that was our script. That was it. So whatever came out of that was how Danny and I worked it.
It brought us closer together – more mentally intimate. There were a few times where I would say, “Danny, did that really happen? Is that part of your past?” and stuff like that. But I think there’s more fiction than there is fact in there.
But we really are in love. We’ve been together for a long time and we do fight. So I’m glad that was in there as well.
Hail will have it's UK premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival on June 21. For more information click here.
This article first appeared in IF Magazine #142 (August-September 2011). Interviews conducted by Brendan Swift in Adelaide during the BigPond Adelaide Film Festival in February 2011. The festival paid for Brendan Swift’s return flights from Sydney to Adelaide and six nights accommodation at the Hilton Hotel. Interviews transcribed by Hannah Jones.