By Sarah Makse
“On the night of the grave’s delight the warlocks come out to play…”
Nicholas Verso’s ‘Boys in The Trees’ is the latest project for Australian production company Mushroom Pictures. Toby Wallace stars as Corey, a compassionate high school leaver struggling to maintain his identity within the bubble of his misguided skater pack, The Gromits. On Halloween night in 1997, the last of high school wandering Toby crosses paths with childhood friend Jonah (Gulliver McGrath), outcast and social prey of the malicious pack leader Jango (Justin Holborow).
When Corey agrees to walk Jonah home for old times sake, he is confronted with the past he fought hard to supress, each step rekindling the simple boyhood bond they once shared.
Through their journey through suburban streets, the duo traverses the line of memory, fantasy, nightmare and reality. Corey’s guilt of leaving his friend behind plagues him as a night dedicated to celebration of the future is haunted by the monsters of their past. In high school where your best friend can become your worst enemy in a day, a night can change everything.
It is an exciting time for Aussie cinema with a fresh generation of creatives approaching the art form with boundless ingenuity and willingness to break convention. Director Nick Verso not only succeeds with an intelligent, emotionally complex story but creates an enchanting vision of Australian suburbia. The Venice Film Festival selected film, drips with rich imagery and metaphor both subtle and obvious such as The Gromits removing their menacing masks, as the shed their chauvinist personas in the films haunting conclusion. The films thoughtful artistic direction utilizes the charm of nostalgia proving popular amongst modern audiences with the ample success of Netflix 80s inspired show Stranger Things. The lighting creates a rainbow haze across every frame of the film, the aura of the 90s is undeniable.
Teensoul chatted to ‘Boys in The Trees’ star Toby Wallace (The Turning, Galore, Return to Nim’s Island), about what attracted him to the project, his favourite moments of production, the importance of Australian representation in cinema, and his advice for young Australians in the film industry.
What attracted you to the role of Corey?
TOBY: What attracted me to the role is that me and the director Nick Verso made a short film [The Last Time I Saw Richard] probably about four years ago now and it was the same world of the 90s that the film [Boys in The Trees] is and also the character that I played is in the feature as well, I don’t play him but Jonah is the character I play in the short film. The worlds were kind of connected in that way and I read the feature film while making the short film and just loved it, it was one my favourite scripts I had ever come across. It was just so detailed and so emotionally present I just loved it so, so much and was so excited to make it and yeah, four years later here we are.
What was your favourite moment of the production of Boys in The Trees?
TOBY: Because the film was set over one night on Halloween 1997, there was a good three weeks of night shoots. So we would go on the set at about 6pm in the evening and then you’d film through til about five or six in the morning and get home and sleep all day and then go to work the next day. You know what, there was one night when we were shooting along a street, were we just walking around and talking but the set design was so incredible. There was one scene with this huge scarecrow with kind of fire coming out of it and smoke and dust and it looked incredible, it looked amazing. I think we did up Halloween a little bit more than probably present in Australia especially during the 90s. But anyway, it was like an incredible set we just had so much fun that night and kind of watched the sun come up in the morning and we’d just been playing all night. That’s what I’ve always felt like film is for me, you just get to go and play and collaborate with a bunch of people. I remember that night just being so happy and the sun came up and we all got driven home and I was just so so satisfied it was a great time.
The visuals of the film are very unique and stylised is this something that attracts you to films?
TOBY: Yeah definitely in a lot of ways. For me, for this film anyway, Nick Verso was probably the best director I’ve ever come across in terms of creating his framework. It’s so rich and specific to the time that he wanted to play. So 1997, being Halloween and end of school and having all those given circumstances of that time period and his world growing up because he finished school around 1997. So A lot of this film is from his world, he’s so specific. There would be scenes when some of our bedrooms would have movies that had come out that year and he had handpicked all the videos that were lying around the room and posters that were on the wall and so it was really fascinating to dive into the world. In terms of the design of the film, the set design and the effects, he’s always been incredible with that and just made it look insane. There were a lot of almost superstitious elements to the film. There’s a lot to do with the ghost world and spirit world and the way they portrayed that in the film is just amazing. The three main characters are all battling demons. Nicks mind I suppose always projected characters’ demons as a physical form so in that way definitely, especially when I read the script a long, long time ago that was something that came out to me was just that the physicalised demons in the boys’ worlds reads incredibly.
Growing up in Australia how important do you think it is to have uniquely Australian coming of age stories on film?
TOBY: I think its really important I mean I grew up in London until I was about 10 years old and then I came out to Australia, but I did my teen years here. Seeing the difference from coming from England to here, I think England’s been around for such a long time and there’s so many more people so there’s a lot more going on […] culturally. I remember coming to Australia and it’s so fresh, Australia still feels so new and people are still trying to find themselves here and I think it’s incredibly important. I don’t think a lot of young people here are that connected to cinema, to Australian cinema anyway. I think it’s important for Australian cinema to take a lot of risks, really be brave in the art that they make and appeal to a young audience. I think coming of age films are definitely important, really important.
What advice would you give to aspiring Australian actors or filmmakers to break into the Australian film scene?
TOBY: I think just do as much as much as possible every chance you get to act, take it. You know, the most amazing story for me are the people who really start to commit themselves to it and take every single chance they get. There’s this great old story of Russel Crowe when he was younger. His friend was going to audition for Romper Stomper and he [Crowe] found the script from his friend and loved the script. He’d done no acting at that point but he went in to the audition and in front of everyone one else he went into the room and met with the director. At the end of they day they were like oh, who are you? He said I’m Russel Crowe I’m here to audition and they were like oh, sorry you’re not on the list. He said I still want to audition and they were like well that’s not going to happen I’m sorry. You know, the next day he came again and sat in the waiting room the entire time and at the end of the day they said oh you’re still here? He said yep and the director said ‘ lets get him in here, lets try him out’, so he came in and got the role. That’s the first role he ever got Romper Stromper, it’s a great story.
You’ve acted in many independent movies but also some major television productions, which style of production do you prefer and why?
TOBY: Definitely film. I love film. I enjoy doing TV as well but I’ve always found with film for me one of the most interesting things is diving into the director’s world, I think the film that is always more prevalent is always from a director’s experience or his world that he’s trying to create from whatever he’s been through. For me that’s always been the most fascinating thing and I think you only get to have that chance properly when you do film. Its so much fun you just get to go on set with a big crew, big cast and just like play the entire time and just really get to know each other. Films usually get shot for six weeks and its the best time you’ll ever have and the only unfortunate thing about it is that after six weeks you have this big family that you’ve been creating this art piece with, something bigger than you and then you just go back to your normal worlds. There’s always this post film depression that everyone gets when you leave it, such good times.
So what’s next for you, any projects coming up? What are you most excited about?
TOBY: At the moment, I just finished a play. I did a play at the MTC (Melbourne Theatre Company) called Scarlett, which just finished a couple of weeks ago. I pretty much have nothing planned for now. ‘The Boys in the Trees’ got into the Venice film Festival so we are all going over there in a couple of weeks to Italy to support the film, to do some press and I’m there for the premiere. It’s incredible; I can’t believe it I’ve never been to Italy before.
What are you most excited about Venice Film Festival?
TOBY: I have no idea what to expect! I’m just excited to go over and be in a new country with a new film that I’ve just done and meet people and party. I’m just thinking the entire experience. I can’t wait! It’s going to be awesome!
The Boys in The Trees will be released in Australian cinemas October 20th 2016 through Mushroom Pictures.