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When the latest Australian cinema hit Rams was being cast, the British distributor suggested the role of a country vet be played by well-known English actors Julie Walters or Brenda Blethyn to add to the film's international appeal.
Director Jeremy Sims had a better idea: another English talent, Miranda Richardson, who loved the idea and set off for rural Western Australia to act opposite Sam Neill and Michael Caton as warring sheep-farming brothers.
Miranda Richardson with Sam Neill in Rams. Credit:Roadshow
"She's a dual Academy Award nominee with an incredible body of work," Sims said. "It wasn't very complicated from my end."
It's hard to object to the star of Blackadder, The Crying Game and the Harry Potter movies. But it's just the latest example of an intriguing trend: British actors being regularly cast in Australian films.
Sometimes, they take accent lessons and play Australians past or present, like Dev Patel in Lion, Jason Isaacs in Red Dog: True Blue and narrating Koko: A Red Dog Story, George MacKay in True History of the Kelly Gang, Kelly Macdonald in Dirt Music and Andrew Lincoln in next year's Penguin Bloom. Usually, they do it very well — Patel was exceptional — though not always.
Other times, these imports play recent British immigrants, such as Sam Claflin and Ireland's Aisling Franciosi in The Nightingale. Or they add a touch of Britishness (or British-Australianness) to a role, like Richard E. Grant in Palm Beach, Gwilym Lee in Top End Wedding, Dennis Waterman in Never Too Late and Richardson in Rams.
George Mackay as Ned Kelly in True History Of The Kelly Gang.Credit:Porchlight/Daybreak
So have we run out of Australian actors? Are they all overseas playing Americans? Is it just part of the global nature of film or should we be concerned that casting Brits so often — in just about every Australian film out this year — undermines the cultural integrity of the film industry?
Think back to the days when it was usually Americans being cast, sometimes oddly, such as Kirk Douglas in The Man From Snowy River.
Screen Australia did not respond to multiple requests to comment before deadline. Maybe films becoming even more Anglo is a bad look — most of these imports are white — at a time when diverse representation on screen matters.
Sims, an actor as well as director, has no trouble with the trend given the international nature of film.
"Perhaps it's harder to fit American actors into Australian stories than it is English," he said. "In Western Australia, there are heaps of Poms. So it's not unusual to welcome a local vet in a country town that's English … and [for the film] that makes perfect business sense."
Kelly Macdonald in Dirt Music. Credit:Wildgaze/Aquarius
Sims said producers wanted an internationally identifiable name to trigger a key part of financing, called a distribution guarantee, or a UK sale.
Emily Mortimer in Relic.Credit:AP
"If you make a great film and you go to a market, having a name that people recognise is really helpful," he said. "And as an Australian actor as well, I don't begrudge producers that at all. I just want to see films get financed."
For producer Nelson Woss, casting Jason Isaacs in Red Dog: True Blue — the first of his four recent Australian films — was mostly a question of which name actors were available when the shoot was scheduled. Given Isaacs was in the mix to be cast in the first Red Dog and had expressed interest in the series, Woss was able to get him to read the script quickly and commit to the required two days of filming.
The director of Equity at the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, Andrew Crowley, said casting so many Brits was a concern but he understood why it was happening.
While Crowley said the union had a long history of fighting for jobs for Australians, particularly on productions funded by taxpayers, the official guidelines for importing actors reflected that film was an international market.
"We understand from all the economic reports, the market has changed to become more global and financing Australian productions has become a lot more difficult," he said. "A lot of producers, in order to get a film up, are needing to get foreign finance."
Helen Mirren in WinchesterCredit:CBS Films
And certain types of financing arrangements are allowed to have more imports, such as a UK co-production like Dirt Music that also starred American Garrett Hedlund and the largely-Hollywood-financed Peter Rabbit movies. As with Richardson, it is hard to argue against Brits James Corden and Daisy Ridley starring alongside Ireland's Domhnall Gleeson in films set in England, even if they were shot in Sydney.
BRITISH ACTORS IN AUSTRALIAN FILMS
Sam Claflin alongside Ireland's Aisling Franciosi in The Nightingale (2018)
Julia Ormond in Ladies In Black (2018)
Helen Mirren in Winchester (2018)
Richard E. Grant in Palm Beach (2019)
Gwilym Lee in Top End Wedding (2019)
Jason Isaacs in Red Dog: True Blue (2016), narrating Koko: A Red Dog Story (2019), Hotel Mumbai with Dev Patel (2018) and Occupation: Rainfall (2021)
George MacKay in True History of the Kelly Gang (2019)
Kelly Macdonald in Dirt Music (2019)
Rupert Penry-Jones in Miss Fisher & the Crypt of Tears (2020)
Emily Mortimer in Relic (2020)
Miranda Richardson in Rams (2020)
Dennis Waterman in Never Too Late (2020)
Andrew Lincoln in Penguin Bloom (2020)
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