_ , Damping out
Australian bad boy Stephan Elliott speaks to Kathleen Morgan about why he spurned Hollywood for The Adventures OfPriseilla, Queen Of The Desert.
Stephan Elliott entered the film industry the unconventional way — writhing in sheep excrement at the bottom of a truck. The straight-talking Australian had agreed to push straw from the sheep-filled vehicle during a film sequence. He quickly made an impression and has been getting up the noses of movie moguls ever since. carving his own unique path in a Hollywood-dominated film world. More than a decade later. the 30-year- old writer and director is ruffling feathers with his latest offering. The Adventures Qt'l’rt'etllu. Queen ()_/"l‘lte Desert. This time. most of them belong to the film's star Terence Stamp. who was required to don a dress. a pair of false breasts and the unforgettable look of a woman scorned. If anyone could persuade Stamp to bury his (i()s sex god image for good under a corset and a feather boa. the irreverent Elliott could.
' '. ‘t' l
Stephan Elliott (centre) directs Hugo Weaving (left) and Terence Stamp (right)
Elliott's determination to cast someone so obviously against type for the character of transsexual Bernadette is typical. ‘1 pointed out to Terence that the way the film industry's going is
down a dull avenue.‘ he says. ‘We‘re
drowning — less and less people are
going to the movies. My point to Terence was: “You don't have to just
going on playing bad guys for the rest of your life".‘
His tonic was l’ru‘tl/u. the story of three drag queens travelling across the
Australian outback in a lavender-
coloured bus to a cabaret engagement
1 in Alice Springs. Also starring
Australia's Hugo Weaving and ex- Ner’g/tlmurs actor Guy Pearce. it has already captured the hearts. if not minds. of film festival audiences from
Cannes to Edinburgh. Elliot is holding out for a similar reaction on the mainstream circuit.
‘lt’s a very brave film.‘ he says. ‘lt could have killed the whole lot of us.‘ He is not joking — besides the career risks taken. filming conditions in the outback were extremely testing. The film was also a voyage of self- discovery for actors. crew and director.
With no experience of drag. the three male stars were forced by Elliott to sample Sydney nightlife in dresses and high heels before ﬁlming began. Weaving loved it — Stamp was mortiﬁed. says Elliott. laughing wickedly.
Elliott has always been attracted to the spectacle of drag and each of the film‘s main characters display facets of some of his own friends. ‘The drag queens liked it.‘ he says. adding thoughtfully: ‘lt's as close to fame as they'll get.‘ The reaction from gay aquaintances was much cooler, he says. ‘because it doesn‘t deal with AIDS and homophobia‘. But he is unrepentent: ‘l‘m sorry it doesn‘t keep them all happy all the time. but that's life.‘
Elliott is not in the business of pleasing people. The son of a wealthy Australian steelmaker. he entered the film industry against the wishes of his family. It has taken two films to convince them — the first being Frauds (1993). starring Phil Collins. He recalls how his debut drew the classic line by a Hollywood bigwig.
‘Someone spun around to me and actually said. “You'll never work in this town again." I said. “Great. I‘ll get a job in another industry". Once I fit into that system of Hollywood. 1 will have sold out. l want to keep pushing the boundaries. Everything I do will be a little bit subversive.‘
The Adventures Of‘l’risetlla. Queen ()f The Desert opens on Friday [4 ()(‘tnber
_ . Animal magic 1
After the massive worldwide success of Aladdin, there must have been some head scratching at Disney, but if there were faint hearts at the studio that for many is the home of animation, they could not afford to let it show. Production on their next feature, The Lion King, was already well down the road, making it too late to make radical changes to a film scheduled to open the summer holiday season across the States. However, it took only ten short weeks for The Lion King to overtake Aladdin, proving that in spite of its more adult content, Disney had found their audience once again. This simple tale of morality, set on the plains of Africa, tells of Simba, a lion cub destined to be King, who is frightened off his inheritance by an evil uncle. For Jeffrey Katzenberg - until recently Chairman of the Disney Corporation — the reason for its success is straightforward and lies in the powerful message that these films
convey to young audiences, a message i
that their parents also appreciate.
‘The Little Mermaid was about our children being free to live their own lives,’ he explains. ‘Beauty And The Beast told you not to judge a book by its cover, that beauty is only skin deep. Aladdin is about being true to one’s self. With The Lion King, we focused on the idea of responsibility. This realises itself in a number of ways, with each generation being the torch bearer for the next. It is about our responsibility in taking our place in the circle of life, in the biggest
cosmic sense as well as to our
families. Each one of us is responsible ;
for what has come before and what will come after us.’
A fitting ideal for the studio that has worked hard to recapture former glories, with Katzenberg drafted in
I during the 805 to strengthen the box
The lion King: ‘simple tale of morality'
office potential of the animated feature. Times, if not standards, have
; changed: for instance, The Lion King
: features a character who breaks wind 1 on screen - unheard of in Walt’s day - l and, more dramatically, there is the
l death of Mufasa, Simba’s father, at the hands of his evil brother.
‘We obviously want to deal with very important emotional experiences that all of us as human beings go through and to use these movies as a vehicle for them,’ continues Katzenberg. ‘There’s no question that we are using our own judgement in these circumstances. If you go to any supermarket, you would find 1DD,DDD different items on display. And there would be not one single, solitary thing on the shelf that everyone could agree was healthy. We do our best and try to deal with tough emotional and dramatic things.’
Yet in choosing the African setting and using these animals to tell the story, the folks at Disney have left themselves open to charges of racism and misrepresentation. At the same time,_they have been accused of over- simplification, in having various wild animals all getting on in peace and harmony. What, the critics seem to be saying, would David Attenborough have to say about it all?
‘We didn’t want to whitewash the film,’ argues co-director Bob Minkoff.
‘I mean, everybody has seen nature films and knows that these animals
will eat each other. But, in nature,
there is a balance and a connection between all of life, so we tried to ennoble that aspect of it. It also made sense to tell this story of kings and nobility through lions, and the comic characters of the laughing hyenas became a casting thing. We sent a
team of animators to Africa and they ) saw a lot of animals and kept a lot of g ideas with them that we eventually ( used.’ (Anwar Brett) l The lion King opens across Scotland ' on Friday 14 October.
The List 7—20 October 1994 17