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WHITE, ALAN: RISK

RISKY KREISKY & CO
Making tv commercials in Los Angeles to pay the rent (not a bad credit in itself) Alan White is an Australian filmmaker who likes to cast actors against type. In his second feature, Risk, he creates a mixture of crime and psycho-thriller, with a touch of humour. Andrew L. Urban spoke to him by phone.

A naïve sexuality and an air of general innocence were the attributes that made actor Tom Long seem right for the role of Ben in Risk, playing the newcomer from the country in a city insurance firm where Kreisky (Bryan Brown) is scamming the company. Driven by frustration that they won’t promote him higher, Kreisky swindles the bastards, with the help of his coolly calculating girlfriend, lawyer Louise (Claudia Karvan).

Does this really go on? “Yes,” says White. The insurance companies he spoke to during research agreed that the scam he cooked up for the script was a viable - indeed, well practiced - one. “But it doesn’t go on, they added. However, after speaking to actual insurance staff I know, I reckon it does,” says White.

"disparate and slightly desperate"

The scam is the story: but it’s the characters that drive this story, three disparate and slightly desperate characters. Ben is desperate to find his way in the big city; Louise is desperate to control her life; and Kreisky is desperate to beat the bastards upstairs.

“Watching what Tom Long’s done, particularly in Strange Planet and combining that with what he does inn Sea Change and Two Hands and then Strange Planet slightly out of character but it showed me there was something physical about him. It was important that Louise was definitely attracted to his physicality. And he’s an observer…he doesn’t make things happen, so there’s always something internal going on, which are not always let in on. Tom gives you a window, though; he says very little in the film, so the physical part of what he does is really important.”

"a hard heart, and crooked intentions"

Bryan Brown was already on board as the bent insurance executive. “Kreisky is a guy with a chip on his shoulder…it was important to get someone who could portray those qualities, someone who could portray that he feels he isn’t quite legitimate, not as well educated as those bastards upstairs.” Plus, adds White, Bryan’s first job in life was in insurance!

But it was Claudia Karvan who had the biggest character challenge, turning up as Louise the lawyer with a hard heart, and crooked intentions. “I’ve always had a great regard for her talent. It was great for her to go somewhere else with this role. I know she at times found it hard to be that nasty ‘cause she’s not necessarily like that, but it was a good journey for her. And I hope that I cast her against type.” White feels that the three leads “looked like they work together…they act like they work together.”

"a noirish film, with some humour"

A combination of caper movie, twisted love story and thriller, Alan White sees it more as a noirish film, with some humour. Risk had its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival in 2000, and in a smaller festival in Texas, and the audiences responded very positively, says White. “I feel it is a mainstream film. . . I see it as an emotional thriller…a new noir, with a light comic touch. It traverses different boundaries and that was my intention with it.”

And while Risk opens around Australia, White is busy making enough commercials to be able to develop his next project. “It’s the Alan White Development Fund, basically,” he laughs. “My priority project is about a girl from New York who comes to Australia escaping an impending marriage. She shacks up in Sydney with a rock band….which is her idea of heaven, but it quickly turns to hell.” Having spent a lot of time playing bands himself, this is a project close to his heart, and is working on the script with a young writer he met in Hollywood. It’s called The Tall Poppy Syndrome.

But he is also working on a script for producer Andrew McPhail, who recently produced the film He Died With a Felafel in His Hand. The new film is called Leftovers, the story of a young boy growing up in Perth in a perfectly ordinary family except for one thing: every six months the family clan gathers together and they eat somebody.

Ah yes, variety is the spice of life for Alan White.

Published May 17, 2001

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