BRENDAN COWELL - NOISE
Aussie actor BRENDAN COWELL gets his first leading role – as a damaged cop – in the compelling drama NOISE. BY FILMINK's ERIN FREE
Brendan Cowell is buzzing. The young multi-hyphenate – actor, producer, playwright, screenwriter, theatre director – is right in the middle of a career-high purple patch. The highly acclaimed TV series Love My Way (on which he works as both actor and writer) has just finished its third season to continued praise; he's developing and encouraging young playwrights through his position as the director of The Sydney Theatre Company's Wharf 2 Loud youth initiative programme; the feature film Ten Empty, which he co-wrote and produced, is in post-production; the NRL's Cronulla Sharks have tapped the longtime rugby league fan to be their “celebrity face” for the season (“Even though I'm not really that famous,” Cowell laughs); and he's about to rip into a big, hearty-looking lamb salad in a hip Newtown cafe. Brendan Cowell also has something else to be excited about. After a brace of supporting film roles in the likes of Deck Dogz, To End All Wars and The Monkey's Mask, the down-to-earth thirty-year-old is awaiting the cinema release of the local drama Noise, in which he scores his first leading role.
“I was so grateful that someone had given me an opportunity,” Cowell says of taking on leading man status. “I'd gotten close to lead roles before – I'd gotten down to the final two and things like that – and it would leave me so angry. I was so happy that Noise was the first lead that I got because the role and the script and working with [writer/director] Matthew Saville just felt really right. After doing Love My Way for two or three years, I gathered confidence as a screen actor. I probably wouldn't have had the confidence to control the entire narrative as a lead actor and take the audience on the journey, without having done that much TV. Will the lamb salad feature in the article?”
Yes, it will, Brendan. In Noise, Cowell gives a finely calibrated performance as Constable Graham McGahan, a young cop stationed in a neighbourhood police liaison caravan after a shocking mass murder on a train. Though there to gather information and provide a sense of security to the local community, McGahan has problems of his own: he's in the middle of a rocky relationship, he's at an emotional crossroads in his life; and there's a strange, persistent ringing in his ears that just won't go away. “The film is really about human beings and the ripple effect of violence and what it means to be a human being when all hell breaks loose,” Cowell says between healthy bites of herby, marinated lamb. “And also, it's this funny little coming of age story about a guy who probably should have come of age a long time ago rather than in his thirties.”
Cowell built a strong relationship on the film with director Matthew Saville, who had actually tagged the actor for the role long before it was even close to going before the cameras. “I did this speech once at the launch of the Old Fitzroy Theatre season and the room was full of Sydney actors, so no one was listening. Typical Sydney – they don't come to be part of something, they come to talk about each other and themselves! Anyway, Matt was one of the six people up the front actually listening to my talk about having a sense of solidarity, which I was giving to a bunch of self-possessed actors! Matt came up to me afterwards and said, 'Hey, I've started writing a feature and I'd love for you to play the lead in it someday.' I didn't see the guy for two or three years, and then I got sent Noise and my agent was like 'Don't fuck it up, you might just get this one.' And I almost did fuck it up because I under slept and under prepared for the audition.”
Though Cowell obviously got the role, it doesn't always go that way. “I've had directors say, 'I can't wait until we're on set, we're going to do this and give you this haircut and you'll be on this motorbike' and then you never fucking hear a thing. It happens all the time. I never believe in the hot news until the camera is rolling. Even past the cameras rolling! I only believe it when the film is in the cinema! It sounds very cynical of me, but I just don't believe in any of the hot news anymore until it becomes a tangible reality. And that's just through experience, and not because I have a cynical viewpoint. I think I've got a positive viewpoint on life.”
You can tap Cowell's positivity just by checking his work ethic. His schedule was so tight on the filming of the last series of Love My Way (where he not just writes episodes, but is also part of the creative nucleus that guides the plot and character development), that Cowell was given just three days off to travel with Noise to The Sundance Film Festival (“There's a lot of fucking Mormons there, oh my god! They can have as many wives as they want – can you believe that?”), where he did press interviews and on-stage Q&A's before jumping on a plane back to Sydney. “It was almost like I didn't go and it was just a weird dream,” Cowell sighs.
Ever since he was “accidentally” cast in a TV commercial at the age of eight, and then subsequently studying Communications at Bathurst's Charles Sturt University, Cowell has always been a master at having several things on the boil at once. “I get a little panicky when I'm not overwhelmed with work,” says the actor, who grew up in Sydney's Sutherland Shire, not exactly a place known for its encouragement of the arts. “I'm not very good at relaxing. I genuinely love what I do, and I'm so intrigued by storytelling. I've got so much that I want to say, and so much that I want to do – it seems to be bursting out of me. It doesn't all flow wonderfully though. It's not always there, you know? When I came out of uni it was five years before I could get anyone to look at me or take me seriously. I was putting on my own plays and stacking shelves and working in bottle shops. It took a long time, but the last four years have just been incredible. Love My Way has been great, and the STC has really taken me under its wing, but I don't know how long it will last.”
Despite the tinges of anxiety, Cowell has a secret weapon: the keen and all too rare ability to create opportunities for himself. Whereas most actors have to wait on audition news from their agents, Cowell generates his own work: writing plays, collaborating with other actors and generally getting amongst it. “That's how I've come to be where I am,” he says. “When I don't have work, I'm still working to make something happen. I'm really lucky because I can actually do that. That's a blessing in a way. But it's not guaranteed that everything I try to initiate will actually happen. Tony Hayes and I just made our film Ten Empty last year in Adelaide [Brendan co-writes and produces this intensely emotional family drama, while actor Anthony Hayes turns director] and that was seven years in the making. There were times when we were going to call it quits. Now I'm writing a film of my own, and I don't know if anyone will want to fucking make it. The next project is really the next project. I don't know what will happen.”
If Brendan Cowell is attached, you can be guaranteed that whatever that project is, it will run on gut instinct, it will come straight from the heart, and it won't contain a trace of bullshit. There might even be a lamb salad on the menu…