Jack Thompson is again the coach of a football club ... on film. Here he is during the making of Blinder at Torquay. Photo: Joe Armao
Karl Quinn, The Sydney Morning Herald, reports
Thirty-two years after The Club, Jack Thompson is back in the box
Jack Thompson knows what it's like to carry the whole side. Back in the early 1970s, when he was feted as the first bona fide star of the reborn Australian film industry, his trips overseas were a matter of national significance.
''I remember headlines saying things like 'Flagship of Australian film industry heads to Cannes','' recalls Thompson, who is now, shockingly, 71. ''I couldn't help thinking it was only a matter of time before they ran a headline that said, 'Flagship sinks without trace'.''
They never did, of course, and the good ship Jack Thompson made many a sortie to Hollywood, in roles big and small. These days, he prefers to work closer to home.
''If I get offered a small part in a big Hollywood film, and it doesn't really matter if I'm in it or not, I don't really see the point,'' he says. ''But if it's a small Australian film, and my being in it makes a difference to whether it gets made or not, I'm much more inclined.''
It's just such a film that has brought Thompson south (he lives in northern New South Wales).
He is in Torquay to shoot Blinder, a footy film, a tiny sub-genre that includes Australian Rules, Year of the Dogs, Joffa - and, most famously, The Club, the 1980 adaptation of David Williamson's play.
In The Club, Thompson played the coach of a team not unlike Collingwood. In Blinder, he is again the coach, of minor league side the Torquay Tigers.
''I feel like the elder in the tribe here, but it's a wonderful role,'' he says as we watch the action being played out on the oval below us for the benefit of the cameras.
The way football is filmed has changed a lot since The Club, he notes. ''The difference is really the sophistication of the multi-camera coverage, digital recording, the fact you don't have to change the magazine on the camera and yell, 'Cut' any more,'' says Thompson. ''Television has allowed for more dynamic coverage.''
What hasn't changed is the emotional charge at the heart of the game, and when Thompson cites his favourite moment from Bruce Beresford's film, it's the scene when coach Laurie Holden (Thompson) and club president Ted Parker (Graham Kennedy) chat in the empty stand at Victoria Park.
''For that brief moment as Ted recalls his childhood and why he really does love football - in spite of the fact he's a conniving old bastard making pies and essentially owning the football club - Graham brings the love of football to life. It's a fabulous moment,'' Thompson says.
In Blinder, the man taking the big emotional journey is Oliver Ackland as a promising young footballer whose career is derailed by scandal.
Like many of his co-stars, the 32-year-old from Sydney had barely played footy before being cast in the movie, whose producers include ex-players Glenn Archer, Adrian Gleeson and Sam Kekovich.
''They shot a tape of me kicking in LA and I think Glenn Archer saw it and was especially unimpressed,'' Ackland says. ''But he says I've come on in leaps and bounds since then.''
In the ABC's recent series The Slap, Ackland played Rhys, the TV soapie star boyfriend of Essie Davis' Anouk; the role included playing a live music gig, something else he'd never done before.
How did he prepare? ''The guys in the band said, 'Just drink a bit of Jameson's the night before and your voice will sound kind of sexy.' Who was I to argue with that? It helped with the nerves a bit.''
Surely he didn't take the same approach with Blinder? ''It doesn't work on this one,'' he says with a laugh.
Over the next three weeks, the Blinder team will shoot nothing but football action. ''I realised the reason most sports films don't do a very good job of capturing the sport is they just don't allow enough time,'' says director Richard Gray. ''That really shouldn't be a problem here.''
Like Thompson, Gray is well aware that he is competing with the sophistication of TV's coverage of the game. ''But the one thing TV can't do is get a camera out there in the middle of the action,'' he says. ''We can.''
Gray is confident he has the action covered. And in one respect, at least, he has captured something of the spirit of football in the era of The Club.
''We've had a few punches thrown, a bit of a brawl out there while we're filming,'' Gray says. Do you step in and call cut? ''Nah, I like to just let it roll. It's got that real suburban footy feel.''