Australians & Hollywood: Oral Histories
Australians & Hollywood: Excerpts from Oral Histories
This collection of oral history excerpts celebrates Australian cinema’s long association with Hollywood.
Listen to actors, directors, cinematographers, casting agents, set designers, make-up artists and more share cherished moments from their successful careers across the Australian and Hollywood film industries.
Discover behind-the-scenes tales from Mad Max (1979), Gallipoli (1981), and Moulin Rouge! (2001), and hear about early close encounters with rising megastars like Cate Blanchett, Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman.
The clips in this collection are drawn from the NFSA's extensive collection of oral history interviews.
Presented in conjunction with the exhibition Australians & Hollywood: A Tale of Craft, Talent and Ambition, now showing at the NFSA.
Main image: Jim Broadbent, Baz Luhrmann and Nicole Kidman on the set of Moulin Rouge! (2001).
Director Gillian Armstrong interviewed by Graham Shirley.
In this clip Gillian talks about her persistence and vindication in casting a young unkown actor, Cate Blanchett, as the co-star alongside Ralph Fiennes in Oscar and Lucinda (1997).
One of Australia’s leading directors, Gillian’s films in Australia and the US include My Brilliant Career (Australia, 1979), Starstruck (Austalia, 1982), The Last Days of Chez Nous (Australia, 1992) and Little Women (US, 1994).
Gillian has won numerous awards in Australia and internationally, including from the Australian Directors Guild and the Australian Film Institute. Her films have also been in competition at the Cannes and Berlin film festivals.
Cinematographer John Seale interviewed by Andrew Urban.
In this clip John talks about his long association with director George Miller, being brought in to shoot Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), and talking George into utilising an innovative multi-camera set-up to capture the action.
John is one of Australia’s most celebrated cinematographers. He is in great demand internationally, having worked with directors such as Peter Weir, Anthony Minghella, Sydney Pollack and Wolfgang Petersen.
Director Brian Trenchard-Smith interviewed by Martha Ansara.
In this clip, Brian describes making the groundbreaking but highly fraught co-production The Man from Hong Kong (Australia-Hong Kong, 1975) and nearly coming to blows on set with leading man and martial arts star, Jimmy Wang Yu (1943–2022).
Brian, a cult film director counting Quentin Tarantino among his biggest fans, has made numerous idiosyncratic feature films across 5 decades, including Turkey Shoot (1982), BMX Bandits (1983), and Dead End Drive-In (1986).
Actor Hugo Weaving in conversation with Margaret Leask.
In this clip Hugo talks about his iconic role as Agent Smith in the seminal film The Matrix (The Wachowskis, US-Australia, 1999).
Hugo describes meeting the film's directors, the Wachowskis; rigorous training in LA with his fellow actors, including Keanu Reeves; and shooting at the newly opened Fox Studios in Sydney.
Hugo is one of Australia’s most recognisable actors, having appeared in dozens of roles on TV and in film, in Australia and internationally.
He played Martin in Proof (Jocelyn Moorhouse, Australia, 1991), Mitzi Del Bra in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (Stephan Elliott, Australia, 1994), and Elrond in The Lord of the Rings (Peter Jackson, New Zealand-US, 2001–2003) and The Hobbit (Peter Jackson, New Zealand-US, 2012–14).
Actor Hugh Keays-Byrne (1947–2020) interviewed by Lorna Lesley.
In this clip, Hugh describes his role as Immortan Joe in Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015) and how his old biker jacket helped to form the character.
Hugh originally came to Australia from the UK in 1973, touring with the Royal Shakespeare Company.
He relocated permanently and quickly gained cult status for iconic film roles such as Toad in Stone (1974, Sandy Harbutt), and Toecutter in the original Mad Max (George Miller, 1979).
Casting director Liz Mullinar interviewed by Margaret Leask.
In this clip Liz talks about creating a star system from scratch in Australian cinema, and working across the decades to build up the careers of actors such as Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett and Nicole Kidman.
Perhaps Australia’s leading casting director, Liz has worked with all the major stars and directors of the industry.
Actor Nell Campbell in conversation with Sean O’Brien.
In this clip Nell, also known by her stage name Little Nell, talks about the birth of the 'Time Warp' and her star turn as the tap-dancing character Columbia in the original London stage production, and then in the film version, of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Jim Sharman, 1975).
Nell Campbell has had a long and successful career as an actor, singer and nightclub impresario.
She has appeared in films such as Journey Among Women (Tom Cowan, 1977) and Jubilee (Darek Jarman, 1978); released the EP The Musical World of Little Nell (1978); and ran the legendary New York nightclub, Nell’s.
Actor Barry Otto interviewed by Margaret Leask.
Barry was cast as Doug Hastings, father of Paul Mercurio’s Scott, in Baz Luhrmann’s first feature film Strictly Ballroom (1992).
In this clip Barry describes working with Baz and his partner Catherine Martin, and how their collaboration felt like glorious, in-your-face theatre.
Barry is one of Australia’s favourite actors, having appeared on stage and screen in dozens of roles, including Harry Joy in Bliss (Ray Lawrence, 1985), Roy in Cosi (Mark Joffe, 1996) and Jimmy D’Abbs in Oscar and Lucinda (Gillian Armstrong, US-Australia-UK, 1997).
Make-up artist and designer Lesley Vanderwalt interviewed by Pamela Willis Burden.
She has been integral to the looks created on a raft of their iconic films, winning both an Academy Award and a BAFTA (for Mad Max: Fury Road, 2015) in the process.
Originally from New Zealand, Lesley’s renowned skill as a make-up artist and designer has graced such films as Dark City (Alex Proyas, US-Australia, 1998), Moulin Rouge! (Baz Luhrmann, Australia-US, 2001) and The Great Gatsby (Baz Luhrmann, Australia-US, 2013).
Director Jocelyn Moorhouse interviewed by Lorna Lesley.
In this clip Jocelyn talks about receiving a call from Steven Spielberg, which ultimately led to her directing some of the golden stars of Hollywood in How to Make an American Quilt (US, 1995).
Jocelyn’s directing career has evolved in both Australia and Hollywood.
Production sound mixer Guntis Sics interviewed by Pamela Willis Burden.
In this clip Guntis talks about his long association with director Baz Luhrmann, the challenge of responding to Baz’s spontaneous creative ideas, and the nickname given to Baz by the First Nations actors on Australia (2008): the Comet.
Always in high demand for his exceptional skill as a sound engineer, Guntis has worked on dozens of films.
He has forged a close association with Baz Luhrmann, winning an Academy Award nomination and a British Academy Award (BAFTA) for Best Sound on Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! (2001).
Actor Tara Morice in conversation with Alice Ansara.
In this clip Tara talks about her co-starring role as Fran in Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom (1992).
She discusses the demanding rehearsals required by Baz to develop her ballroom dancing technique, the sheer joy of filming the dance sequences and the astounding worldwide response to the film.
A NIDA graduate, Tara has appeared in many Australian feature films including Moulin Rouge! (Baz Luhrmann, Australia-US, 2001), Candy (Neil Armfield, Australia, 2006) and Oranges and Sunshine (Jim Loach, UK-Australia, 2010).
Actor Damon Herriman in conversation with Lorna Lesley.
In this clip Damon describes the sheer nerves and relief when, after 3 solid years of effort, he receives his Hollywood breakthrough at a casting session for renowned playwright and director, David Mamet.
One of the most successful actors of his generation, Damon has appeared in numerous TV and film roles in both Australia and the US, including Frank Errol in The Sullivans (1976), Dewey Crowe in Justified (2010–2015), and Punch in Judy and Punch (Mirrah Foulkes, Australia, 2019).
Damon has won numerous awards, including Logie and AACTA awards, for his outstanding performances.
Composer Caitlin Yeo in conversation with Adam Bowen.
In this clip Caitlin talks about winning a scholarship to the Hollywood ASCAP scoring workshop, and finding her subtle approach very much at odds with the high drama demanded of Hollywood scores.
Caitlin Yeo is one of Australia’s most successful composers for film and television, winning awards for her soundtracks for the films Bomb Harvest (Kim Mordaunt, 2007), The Rocket (Kim Mordaunt, 2013), and the documentary Getting Frank Gehry (Sally Aitken, 2015).
Make-up artist Peggy Carter interviewed by Lorna Lesley.
In this clip Peggy talks about working on the seminal film Walkabout (Nicolas Roeg, UK-Australia, 1971).
She recalls a wild ride in 4WDs through the desert landscape under the inspiring leadership of British director Nicolas Roeg and an astounding debut performance from a teenage David Gulpilil.
Peggy was the make-up artist on some of Australia’s most renowned films of the late 1960s and 1970s including Age of Consent (Michael Powell, UK-Australia, 1969), Sunday Too Far Away (Ken Hannam, 1975), Caddie (Donald Crombie, 1976) and The Picture Show Man (John Power, 1977).
Cinematographer Russell Boyd interviewed by Frank Heimans.
In this clip Russell talks about one of his favourite jobs in a long career. He discusses shooting Crocodile Dundee (Peter Faiman, Australia, 1986), working with star Paul Hogan and embracing the landscape of Northern Australia.
One of Australia’s most highly acclaimed cinematographers, Russell’s film credits include Picnic at Hanging Rock (Peter Weir, Australia, 1975), Gallipoli (Peter Weir, Australia, 1981), Tender Mercies (Bruce Beresford, US, 1983) and White Men Can’t Jump (Ron Shelton, US, 1992).
Stills photographer Elise Lockwood interviewed by Sean O’Brien.
In this clip Elise talks about her role as a stills photographer on films such as Thank God He Met Lizzie (Cherie Nowlan, Australia, 1997) and recognising through her lens a special star quality in then up-and-coming actors such as Cate Blanchett and Heath Ledger.
Elise has been one of the leading stills photographers in the Australian film industry for over 30 years, shooting iconic images on films such as Broken Highway (Laurie McInnes, 1993), The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (Stephan Elliott, 1994), Blackrock (Steven Vidler, 1997), Lantana (Ray Lawrence, 2001) and Somersault (Cate Shortland, 2004).
Make-up artist Vivien Mepham interviewed by Lorna Lesley.
In this clip Vivien talks about doing make-up on the original Mad Max (George Miller, 1979).
She talks about working in rough and ready circumstances, the actors taking Method techniques to extremes, and their collaboration creating a type of 'Aussie punk'.
Vivien’s other film credits as make-up artist include The Thin Red Line (Terrence Malick, US, 1998), Birthday Girl (Jez Butterworth, UK-US, 2001) and Darkness Falls (Jonathan Liebesman, US-Australia, 2003).
Editor and producer Tony Buckley interviewed by Martha Ansara.
In this clip Tony talks about editing the groundbreaking and revered film Wake in Fright (Ted Kotcheff, 1971).
He discusses the inspiring vision of Canadian director Ted Kotcheff, and how it pushed him to ever greater heights in his astounding editing work.
Tony’s involvement in the Australian TV and film industry stretches back to the 1950s, and includes roles as an editor and producer.
Editor credits include The Age of Consent (Michael Powell, UK-Australia, 1969), Adam’s Woman (Philip Leacock, 1970) and Wake in Fright.
Multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis in conversation with John Olson.
In this clip Warren talks about composing for the film The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Andrew Dominik, 2007), and the challenge of adjusting his mindset from unbridled improvisation to the stricter parameters of soundtrack composition.
Warren Ellis is a long-time collaborator with fellow Australian musician Nick Cave, and the violin-playing frontman of the instrumental group, The Dirty Three.
His credits for film composition (with Cave) include The Proposition (John Hillcoat, 2005), Hell or High Water (Taylor Sheridan, 2016) and Blonde (Andrew Dominik, 2022).
Actor Jeanie Drynan in conversation with Margaret Leask.
In this clip Jeanie talks about her role as Muriel's mother, Betty Heslop, in Muriel’s Wedding (PJ Hogan, Australia, 1994) and how she devised her heartbreaking scene in the church with Toni Collette.
Jeanie is a much-loved actor in the Australian TV and film industry, appearing in Skippy (1968), 2000 Weeks (Tim Burstall, 1969), Don’s Party (Bruce Beresford, 1976), The Picture Show Man (John Power, 1977), and Prisoner (1979).
Art director and production designer Ian Gracie interviewed by Pamela Willis Burden.
In this clip Ian talks about his first collaboration with Baz Luhrmann and Catherine Martin, on Moulin Rouge! (2001).
Ian and his team built the sets, including the Moulin Rouge theatre itself. The film won the Academy Award for Best Art Direction–Set Decoration.
A highly acclaimed supervising art director, Ian’s credits include major Hollywood films such as The Wolverine (James Mangold, 2013), Alien: Covenant (Ridley Scott, 2017) and Mulan (Niki Caro, 2020).
Ian has also worked with Baz Luhrmann on most of his major films, including The Great Gatsby (2013) and Elvis (2022).
Actor Mark Lee interviewed by Alice Ansara.
In this clip Mark talks about his first major feature film role as Archy Hamilton in Peter Weir’s Gallipoli (1981).
A musician and actor, Mark has also appeared in the TV mini-series Vietnam (Kennedy Miller, 1988), the cult film The Everlasting Secret Family (Michael Thornhill, 1988) and numerous stage roles.
Director Haydyn Keenan in conversation with Nathan Smith.
In this clip Haydyn talks about his sheer elation at landing in LA in the early 1980s to raise finance for his feature film Pandemonium (1987). Sharing chaotic digs with band members of the soon to be Crowded House, Haydyn navigates through a system very much different to the Australian film funding model.
Haydyn Keenan is an Australian director best known for his edgy features 27A (1974) and Going Down (1982), and numerous documentaries, including Persons of Interest (2014) through his Smart St. Films company in collaboration with creative partner Esben Storm.