Anthony Hayes talks BENEATH HILL 60, THE SQUARE, MYLES BARLOW and new projects!!

Simon de Bruyn, Contributing Writer
Actor, writer and director Anthony Hayes has many nicknames.

While "Tony" or "Hayes" are obvious, he's also been called "the John Turturro of Australian acting" given his tendency to nail standout supporting roles and the fact that filmmakers tend to offer him roles they have earmarked for him, rather than audition him. Luis Guzman could be another comparison.

His roles playing bearded, mulleted, working-class criminal types have spawned a moniker: "The King of Western Grit" -- and his most hardcore fans have created an online shrine as a homage to this idea.

Nominated for four Australian Film Institute awards and winner of two, he's played bogans and crims, soldiers and cops; in David Ceasar's Prime Mover he played three separate roles, and in his most recent work on the box -- in the dark black satirical comedy series Review with Myles Barlow -- he played himself, albeit a mad drug-dealing criminal version.

In the past year you may have seen Hayes in Nash Edgerton's brooding noir The Square; or in his brother Joel Edgerton's directorial debut The List; in surreal outback road movie Prime Mover; as a captain in the trenches in Beneath Hill 60; playing an amped-up version of himself in Myles Barlow; or as Guy Pearce's sidekick detective in blistering crime drama Animal Kingdom.

He's just finished filming Burning Man for director Jonathan Teplitzky (Gettin' Square), and a handful of his films are currently out in cinemas or new to DVD in North America, Australia and New Zealand, so I figured it was high time for an in-depth dive into the world of Anthony Hayes.

You've had a pretty good year, The Square has come out in the States, as has Animal Kingdom -- also a big hit in Australia and New Zealand -- as well as Beneath Hill 60, and also Myles Barlow. Has it been gratifying to be back in the saddle, especially after you took a break from the biz?

It's always excellent when things start to go well. It always moves in circles. It comes and goes. A lot like the industry as a whole. I didn't intentionally take a break from the biz, just spent a lot of time in London trying to expand my horizons. Felt like I needed a change and it was a great way to come back and be refreshed and passionate again. It's tough over there in London. Was there for two years and got two auditions in that time. Luckily I got one of them, albeit playing an Aussie. But it was a fun.

They don't take too kindly to Aussie [actors] over there, which I understand, there are a lot of great British actors in that country so why cast a blow in. It's different to America. I was also there in the heart of the GFC so there was little to get work-wise anyway. But I still have a house there and am planning my return. I'd ideally love to spend half my time here and half there.

In terms of the aforementioned films, it's fantastic for the Australian industry as a whole. And it's a very rare thing that Aussie films see an American release. The Square did too. It really boosts your IMDb star meter (laughs).

How did the playing yourself thing in Myles Barlow come about? It's pretty brilliant but I guess it could be risky too, given the comedy is so dark?

I absolutely love that show. It really is a brilliant concept and I'm pretty sure they sold the concept to the Americans. I did a cameo as myself in the first series; a mate of mine asked me to do it. Then they built the second series around me as Myles' best mate. It was a lot of fun and a lot of it is improvisation so it's one of the best experiences I've had on TV. [There was ] a lot of room to do what you want with it and that's because [writer and director] Trent O'Donnell and [writer and actor] Phil Lloyd are so encouraging and loose with it all.

I got an email from Trent the other day, they are writing a new series they want me to be in. I'd be there in a flash. It's also great to do comedy. I don't often get the opportunity to do that. I've been firmly in a certain kind of box for a while now. It was also a crew of about five so it is really low-fi and I found that exciting.

Tell us about Animal Kingdom, were you always involved, being a friend of the director, David Michôd and the Blue Tongue guys? In fact I'll extend this to ask how the audition process works for their films, like The Square or The List? Are you cast in a traditional way, or do you develop characters with them as the script is being written?

I was in London and got offered the role. Scenes with Guy Pearce, you know, good for the showreel. Also I loved the script and wanted to work with Michôd. I'd known him for a while.

I didn't audition for The Square, just met with Nash about it - or The List, Joel asked me to do it. I've been lucky as I haven't had to audition for any of the films I've done in the last five years - Sims offered Hill 60 too. Same for Burning Man. Which is a plus. In fact I think every time I have had to audition I haven't got the role! So I try to avoid it as often as possible. But I do enjoy auditioning. Just would rather not have to do them of course.

I had to audition for City Homicide the other week. Pretty funny that I have to audition for a guest role on a show and not for feature films. I've actually really felt the great divide between the TV industry and the film industry in regard to my career over the years, which probably seems strange but I tend to not bode well in TV-land for some reason. I love to do a great TV series though. There are some great ones on Foxtel these days. In fact I haven't even been able to get an audition for Underbelly. Auditioning is still a mystery to me.

You've written and directed a bunch of films, including feature Ten Empty. Given you've just written another script, can you tell us about that and also what experience you've carried into it from making your previous feature?

It's in development now. It's basically a film about the last of the traveling rodeos. A 32 year old bull rider who wraps up his career and has to find a way to live the next 40 years of his life when his most glorious years are now behind him. I think it says a lot about placing more emphasis on ambition over life's treasures such as love.

The idea came about really through my love of NRL (rugby league) and seeing young men my age wrap up their careers and retire. At 32 I think that's a difficult thing to do, most of the rest of the population are just starting to get their shit together at that age. I guess it's about the difficulty in finding a new direction in life and discovering what's most important.

I'm interested in your collaboration with prolific writer and actor Brendan Cowell. Obviously you're mates and also collaborators on your film, Ten Empty, which you wrote together. So what was it like acting alongside him in Beneath Hill 60 -- especially you both playing characters that are rather different from the ones you have traditionally played. Does that sort of real world camaraderie carry over into film?

I love working with Brendan. Always have since the old days when we were kicking around doing co-op theatre. It was a great ride writing Ten Empty together, we were fumbling around in the dark for a few years as we hadn't really written for the screen properly before. Takes so long to get a film up and through the development process.

I think if anything the greatest lesson I learned from it was to have respect for anyone who got a film made, and who put in the hard yards. A good lesson for an actor to learn I think. Hill 60 was great fun, and I was clean-shaven so it was nice to do something softer, something different for a change. It was like hanging out with mates and getting paid. You can't beat it when that happens.

Seriously the Myles Barlow stuff is brilliant. That's not really a question I guess. Do you want to do more comedy?

I'd love to do more comedy. It just hasn't come my way much. It's a brilliant show and I'd do another 75 series of it if I was asked.

You played a lead of sorts in Joel Edgerton's short crime film The List. I loved that film, are there any more leading roles on the cards, or are you firmly in supporting actor territory? If so is that annoying, or like other supporting/character actors, you find it works for you?

Well I guess that's in the hands of the powers that be. I guess the great thing about supporting roles is that they are generally pretty well written, sometimes more so than the leads in films. But you know, of course I'd love to do a lead. I've done about 20 films now and no leads, but I assume my time will one day come. I get a lot of work and I'm generally satisfied, especially when I realise how difficult it is to even get constant work in this country. I've managed to make a living solely from acting, which is no mean feat so I'm happy but yeah -- someone throw me a lead. I'd eat it up.

Tell us about Burning Man. Not much is known about the film. What role do you play? What's the gist?

Burning Man is a brilliant screenplay. One of the best I've read. Teplitzky offered me a few great scenes in it and it was very enjoyable. In fact I loved those scenes. I look forward to seeing it as it should be a ripper.

Now for a cheeky question, bad pun intended. Tell us about the beard controversy. Is there a controversy or have I made it up? People seem to have an emotional connection to whatever facial hair you have in various roles, it's hilarious. It seems that clean-shaven means war, beard means suburbs. Why no mustaches?

(laughs) Yeah. Fuck knows. I've had a lot of beards in my time. People seems to really make a big deal out of it. I usually just do what feels right physically for a role I'm playing. My mum hates it.

Where did "The King of Western Grit" nickname originate?

I think Joel Edgerton coined that name. He got some seven year old kid to ask if I was the King of Western Grit while we were on The Square. I think it's caught on camera in the Special Features of The Square [DVD]. Then a Facebook site was launched by Luke Doolan and now they've put my face on just about every movie poster ever made. It's a pretty funny site. It relates to my 'gritty' performances over the years with my western suburbs characters.

You've also been called the "John Turturro of Australian acting". What do you think of this label? Is there a big budget Transformers style role in the works?

(laughs) I'm happy to be John Turturro. I've been called Kyle Sandilands so as far as I'm concerned that's a great thing to be called. I guess I'd have to go to LA to get a Transformers type role. Which I'm slowly building myself up to do. I suppose I should go there one day and try.

Animal Kingdom is currently in cinemas in the U.S. and Canada. Beneath Hill 60 is currently in cinemas in New Zealand, and DVD and Blu-ray in Australia. The Square is out on DVD and Blu-ray all over the place. Myles Barlow has just come out on DVD in Australia and it's awesome.

Check out a few trailers for some of this work below!
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