Why watching Down Under made its star Lincoln Younes feel “physically ill”
Lincoln Younes and Rahel Romahn in Down Under.
Lincoln Younes has appeared in City Homicide, Love Child, Home and Away and Hiding. IF checks in with him on the publicity tour for his first feature lead role, in Abe Forsythe's Down Under.
How did you get your start?
I did a global rock eisteddfod in Japan when I was in Year 9. I was an incredibly shy kid. Performance was probably the last thing I wanted to do but I always had a real interest in people and in what made them tick. I loved the empathy side of people and trying to understand what’s behind it all. I wanted to play soccer professionally for a lot of my formative years, and then I chose acting, and I moved from Bendigo to Melbourne and my first audition was a show called Tangle, which I got. I played Ben Mendelsohn’s son. I was very fortunate that my first job was with such an incredible calibre of actors.
Ben Mendelsohn seems like a pretty intimidating guy.
He’s hyper intelligent. Which I think can be intimidating if you’re not on his level. But it’s honestly like the best masterclass you could have in acting. I spent that whole season trying to play catch up and trying to learn and observe. I’d love to work with him again having had the experience I’ve had since.
How’s the Down Under festival tour been so far?
It’s been great. I think Abe and I were a little bit wary. It’s quite a polarizing film and the reactions could have been very divisive, but the reaction’s been overwhelmingly positive. So it’s been great, because this is the first film I’ve been involved in in a lead capacity and just that immediate reaction you get to witness in the audience, [is different to] TV where you see the ratings but not the reactions. I’ve been loving it. Tonight’s very exciting for me. My mum and my brother and all of my friends are coming to see it, because Melbourne’s my home town. So this’ll be the first time they see it and I get to watch them watch it.
How did you get involved in the film?
The audition came up. Abe found out that I was half-Lebanese and got me in for an audition. I think it was only one audition and I got the role from there.
Had you met Abe before?
No, I’d been a big fan of his for quite a while, both as an actor and filmmaker, and I always thought he was incredibly intelligent and had a different way of approaching film in Australia. And then I read the script and that alone sold it for me.
What was your first impression when you read the script?
I thought it was incredibly ambitious but so carefully balanced. And knowing his direction, his filmmaking history, I knew it would work. And the script was so flawless I think our only fear going in was that we couldn’t do that justice on-screen.
It’s quite a tightrope walk.
So much so. You have to put a lot more trust in the director and the crew around you and even the cast members, because one misstep and the balance is tilted the wrong way. We had to be incredibly careful in this film that discrimination was dispersed equally. The point of the film, the feeling people should have coming out of it, is hopefully: what was the point? They’re all as bad as each other. It’s a collective problem, not [triggered by] a location-specific minority or one catalyst.
You’re the straight man here. Was it difficult to work out where to pitch your performance?
It was quite hard. It’s the first comedic role I’ve done, and I’d love to delve into comedy a lot more, because I love it. It was hard for me seeing some of the cast members give such big, really fearless performances, and knowing I had to do the same, just on the opposite end of the spectrum, so it would balance out.
It’s a pretty formidable cast. Alexander England is great.
He’s brilliant. They’re all great. That was the thing, watching it back. A lot of the time, when I watch stuff of my own back, you have that subjective, neurotic analysis going on in your head. This is the first time I actually took a step back and just watched the story. The performances across the board are so strong that there aren’t any weak points. So you sit back and take in the story instead of assessing the acting. Which is quite rare.
When you’re shooting a comedy, is it funny on set or are you all wracked by anxiety about making it work?
For us, it was an incredibly fun set. In between takes we’d be improvising and riffing, and it just makes the day go faster.
Did Abe use any of the improv in the cut?
No. It’s incredible because you watch it back and it looks like a lot of it could have been improvised, but that’s just a credit to his script, which we really didn’t stray from at all. That said he really did allow playfulness, as long as it serviced the scene and serviced the film. But to be honest we really didn’t need to deviate that much.
Abe has referenced Chris Morris’ Four Lions as an inspiration for this film, but as clever as that film is it still felt like feature-length TV to me, whereas Down Under has a real image and feels really directed.
I loved Four Lions. I think it’s a brilliant film and it kind of paved the way for a lot of black comedies dealing with quite intense issues. But I think what stood out to me watching [Down Under] back… you never really get to see the monitor on set, but Lachlan Milne’s cinematography, and the camera achievements, which were very ambitious with some of the scenes, I think maybe tipped it.
I’d imagine playing the last half an hour of the film, which becomes increasingly less comedic, must have been a tonal challenge. That first bashing – the sound mix is so vivid.
There’s a definite tonal shift. Piers [Burbrook de Vere, the composer], and the sound designer [Robert Mckenzie], did an incredible job. Throughout the whole film, we’re coming in and out of comedy and tragedy, weaving, and I suppose the line between that gets smaller and smaller. And what you’re left with is this horrid, tragic mix of feeling sick. That particular moment at the end symbolises for us the switch from actions that are reversible and can be fixed, to irreversible, reprehensible actions. The whole film there’s this undertone of unease. You’re thinking: okay, what you’re doing is stupid but if you all turned around and drove back home, it’s still okay. But then there’s a certain point where they can’t go back.
What surprised you when you saw the finished film?
What surprised me was how quickly it goes. It speeds along. It doesn’t feel like 90 minutes, which I think is quite an achievement. What surprised me is that, even though I knew what was going to happen, I felt incredibly sick when the credits started rolling. I felt physically ill. If that can affect me, knowing what’s going to happen, I don’t know what other people’s reactions will be.
It’ll be interesting to see how the film plays outside the festival circuit.
It will be. It’ll be interesting [to see] if they remember the comedic side of things, because the last act is quite sobering. And often that’s what you remember. But I’m hoping they remember both sides.
Did you ever feel any pressure to make the ending more comedic, like the rest of the film?
No, I think the ending is the point, the whole point of the film. I think it really drives it home. I think if Abe had injected more comedy at the end it’d really let the audience off the hook, and that’s not the point. I think the point of the whole film is for the audience to be entertained for 80 percent and then think for the last 20 percent, and walk away hopefully reassessing their views. It’s quite a difficult film to articulate. You need to see it to understand it.
It must have been a difficult sell on paper.
Completely. And I have so much respect for Abe and Jodi [Matterson] and all the producers that got it over the line, because to sell that to a distributor would have been incredibly hard. It’s a credit to how well he actualized his idea.