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GRIFFITHS, RACHEL: ME MYSELF I

IT'S ALL ABOUT THE MAGIC
Rachel Griffiths, who played Muriel's girlfriend in 1993, now plays a young mother in Me Myself I, but she has played much else since her film debut, from an English cellist to a New Yorker, and she feels pretty confident about it all - and loving the magic of cinema, she tells ANDREW L. URBAN.

Rachel Griffiths does NOT want to know how magic tricks work - nor does she really enjoy talking about the mechanics of how she performed scenes with her 'other' self in her film, Me Myself I. When she saw The Matrix with a boyfriend (note 'a'), for example, he kept leaning over to her and whispering tricks of filmmaking to explain how Keanu appears to be flying through the air. "I went 'NO! Keanu's flying, OK! That's what's happening!' I think it's a boy thing: for him it's all about how they do it, but for me it's all about the magic."

"feeling confident and relaxed"

We're sitting in a 10th floor hotel suite looking across Circular Quay at the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and she's wearing a fluffy off-white top with a crew neck and a black leather skirt. On her feet, she has a pair of black strap sandals with a leather flower. It's all part of the other side of being a star: doing press junkets, giving interviews to all sorts of media in a row of interviews from breakfast to gimmeabreak.

"It's very tiring," she says with grace, "unpaid, and rather lonely. You also have to travel a lot, which again takes you away from home…and you're not doing what you love doing." But Griffiths is not really complaining. Especially in Australia; "in America the journalists are all very big personalities and are demanding - here it's less exhausting."

With 12 films in seven years behind her, Griffiths is finally feeling relaxed about herself as an actress - "feeling confident and relaxed about what I am and what I can do." And she has loved the variety of roles, as all actors do. "I love playing such a range of women - from a kind of upper class English woman from the 50s, and an East Coast New Yorker…it's really interesting, like having a window into so many people's lives."

And Griffiths will happily discuss the broader aspects of her character Pamela, and working with writer/director Pip Karmel. "The first things we discussed," she says, "are things like the tone of the film and how she saw that being placed. When I read this script I could see it played so many ways. That kind of 'what if' comedy is not a genre we've really done a lot of in this country. Americans are much more confident with it in that their actors are more used to the genre - like Splash and Groundhog Day and Multiplicity and right back to It's A Wonderful Life or Wizard of Oz -with that fantasy element and real suspension of disbelief."

"to lift a character off the page"

Griffiths clearly admires Karmel's talents, honed as a film editor (on such films as Shine): "She has a grasp on craft which some first time directors might not have. To me the script showed that it was written by somebody who had reflected on things for a long time. And certainly she understood what shape a film needs to have - whether that all comes from her being an editor or going to film school or just being film literate, I don't know."

But the script was only the start: Griffiths sees her part of the job as an actor as fleshing out the written characters of a screenplay. "It is our job to lift a character off the page and make it live. Even the most realised character on paper is still only on paper - our job as actors is to make them credible and give them an emotional life and hopefully make you care about them."

In approaching each role, Griffiths take a different tack - "it really depends from film to film. Sometimes you feel the character so close to yourself that you really don't have to do much. Sometimes you need to play the piano brilliantly or go and learn some skill if that's an enormous part of the role, like having to convince the audience that you are playing the cello - or the flute, or have an accent. I think my biggest preparation for Me Myself I, for instance, was - especially as I'd been doing so much intense work - was to watch a lot of comedies and start to work out how actors play that romantic comedy. How they make moments poignant and never drag the film into some kind of domestic realism. Not to say there aren't moments where an audience might be moved to the brink of tears. It's a hard line to walk."

You might think, though, that playing a mother - as she does in Me Myself I - may be especially demanding. But Griffiths is pragmatic and blunt about that: "Well, in this role, it's a woman who has no idea of what she's doing," she says with a laugh, "so that was fine. But seriously, I love working with kids, it's great fun. But I wasn't having to convince anyone that I was a terrific mother. In fact I think the comedy comes from me NOT knowing what to do." (Her mothering is conducted as the 'other' Pamela thrown into the role by the freak of fate that enables her to see her life as it might have been had she married her old ex, Robert.)

"healthy vine"

Herself a filmmaker - her short, Tulip, has won numerous awards and has been widely distributed - Griffiths is adamant that the Australian film industry is a "healthy vine" - it just needs fertilising with enough resources to keep growing.

The screenplay for her second short - about a man who has a nervous breakdown on the way to work - has just been finished; "it's about how fragile our minds are…and it's on the funding trail," she says optimistically.

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