The Cairns-born star of The Giver is the latest Aussie actor to break into Hollywood in a big way
To get an idea of the film-biz feeding frenzy around Brenton Thwaites, consider the fact there are six movies releasing this year in which he either stars or plays a significant role: supernatural horror film Oculus; revisionist Disney fairy tale Maleficent; indie sci-fi thriller The Signal; young adult dystopian flick The Giver; Helen Hunt’s surfing comedy Ride; and Australian crime caper Son of a Gun.
Add to that Thwaites’ recently wrapped starring role in big-budget fantasy film Gods of Egypt, slated for 2016 release, and it’s fair to say that the former Home and Away regular is in the middle of an exciting time. “It’s very exciting, and you know why?” the 25-year-old tells Time Out on the phone from LA. “I’m flying back to Australia in about two hours. My three-year [working spree] has come to an end. I’m going to spend some time with my family, camp on a beach for two weeks and turn my phone off.”
The exhaustion is understandable. Thwaites moved to Hollywood in 2011, where for a while his only screen credit was being picked on in the studio audience of Rove LA for scribbling in his journal. After the requisite months of auditioning and making contacts, he landed the lead in a TV remake of 1980 romance The Blue Lagoon, about marooned teenagers discovering sex in paradise.
Ironically, Hollywood was where Australian writer-director Julius Avery went to cast the lead of Son of a Gun, his thriller in which a hardened criminal (Ewan McGregor) befriends a young man in a Perth jail and embroils him in both a prison break and a gold heist in Kalgoorlie. “All the young Australian actors are there, so I had to go over,” says Avery. “Brenton is a big kid, he’s six foot one, and all the stuff where he’s being badass is relatively easy, but he had a real childlike quality as well. And when we worked on the love story, he nailed it every time.”
Thwaites recalls interceding in a fight the night before his audition and getting a shiner on his forehead for his troubles. Coincidentally, the scene he was reading the next day called for the character to talk about a scar left by his abusive father. “He pulls back his hair and shows this chick his scar. I pulled back my hair and actually had a bruise there, and Julius was like: ‘Whoah! Man! You can only take this stuff so far!’”
The chance to work with McGregor, who signed on after Avery wrote him a personal letter, was a major drawcard for Thwaites. “Ewan’s one of those actors I’ve looked up to since I was a kid. We did a day’s stunt driving to prepare for our getaway scene – he’s mean behind the wheel! – and that’s when we really started to get along.
“He’s an actor that really digs deep, and these are dark characters, so at the end of the day it was important to have a beer, debrief a little.”
Thwaites got into acting as a high school student in Cairns, joining Maggie Shephard-King’s N-QADA (North Queensland Academy of Dramatic Art). “He was part of a group of four students that came along,” the drama teacher recalls. “I was casting for Romeo and Juliet and as soon as he walked in I went ‘Aha! There’s the Romeo!’ I love his laid-back attitude – he’d skateboard to class – but also his work ethic. He’s unaffected, very natural, and I hope he stays that way.”
Son of a Gun wrapped in early 2013 and Thwaites soon found himself in South Africa playing the lead role in The Giver with director Phillip Noyce and a cast including Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges. “Jeff has been trying to make it for 18 years, it was a passion project for him,” Thwaites says. “He encouraged me to bring as much of myself to the character as possible.”
Was it intimidating to work with two of the biggest names in the business? “It was – beforehand. Just the anxiety of it. But once you’re in it, you realise they’re just actors, and actors are just people.”
Son of a Gun opens Thu Oct 16.