The remake of a cult Australian thriller has had a key change in casting.
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10 Sep 2012 - 9:00 AM  UPDATED 27 Feb 2014 - 12:35 PM

Charles Dance has replaced Richard E. Grant as the malevolent Dr. Roget in Patrick, Mark Hartley's reboot of the 1978 Australian psychological thriller directed by Richard Franklin from a screenplay by Everett De Roche.

[Read review of the original Patrick]

There's a fascinating back story to the switch which illustrates the powerful influence over casting that international sales agents often exert. When Hartley and producer Tony Ginnane last year looked at who should play the character who was impersonated badly by a miscast Robert Helpmann in the original (also produced by Ginnane), Grant topped the list of actors suggested by the sales agent, London-based Bankside Films.

The filmmakers met with Grant, who was keen to do the film and was subsequently named alongside Sharni Vinson as the nurse whom the comatose Patrick tries to seduce using his psychokinetic powers, and Rachel Griffiths as the matron. Vinson was locked in for the role played in the original by English actress Susan Penhaligon after her US thriller You're Next was one of the hot titles at last year's Toronto International Film Festival.

The budget was funded by a combination of Screen Australia, Film Victoria, Screen Queensland, the Melbourne International Film Festival Premiere Fund, the 40 percent producer rebate, private investment and gap financing from Bankside.

But it wasn't enough to cover Grant's fee so he dropped out and Bankside was asked to supply more names, with Dance prominent among them. Dance signed up and shooting is due to start at Melbourne's Docklands Studios on November 12. The director is very happy to be working with Dance, who's made a career out of playing villains and is starring in TV's Game of Thrones.

Hartley tells SBS Movies he sees another benefit in the casting switch as it distances his film from Grant's portrayal of a foppish page in Kath & Kimderella, not that anyone is likely to confuse that buffoonish character with Dr. Roget.

While Hartley was making Not Quite Hollywood, his documentary on Australia's exploitation cinema of the 1970s and '80s, he told Ginnane he thought Patrick was one film from that era which deserved a reboot. Ginnane had the same idea and had commissioned treatments from several US writers, which Hartley rejected on the grounds that they all turned the character into a Freddy Kruger.

The screenplay is the first feature from Justin King, who was the chief researcher on Not Quite Hollywood. Hartley saw Franklin's film when he was a kid and it was the first VHS tape he bought. When the 15-year-old discovered Franklin had gone to the same high school, Haileybury, he invited the director to speak at the school, which he duly did.

Hartley says of Franklin's film, “It has a great central premise, a guy with limitless powers who uses that power to try to control his nurse so she will fall in love with him.” The new version will broaden the setting – the predecessor was set largely in two rooms of Dr Roget's clinic – and feature more characters as well as modern touches such as a laptop and texting (the old Patrick communicated via a typewriter). Also, Patrick will leave his bed in several dream sequences. Hartley likens his film to a creepy Gothic thriller and “a love story with a body count.”

He hasn't cast Patrick yet but is searching for a young man who looks “angelic and beautiful.” In the original the character was played by Robert Thompson, who, to put it bluntly, wasn't handsome.

Hartley hopes to have three members of the original cast, Julia Blake (she was the matron), Rod Mullinar and Bruce Barry, appear in cameos, and he's employing several crew members from the 1978 movie.

At the end of this month he's going to Los Angeles to shoot a documentary on Rod Taylor, the Australian-born actor, now 82, who moved to Hollywood in the 1950s and starred in dozens of movies including The Time Machine, The Birds and Sunday in New York. Quentin Tarantino coaxed him out of retirement for Inglourious Basterds. The working title is Pulling No Punches and the producer is the Melbourne-based Robert de Young, who has specialised in showbiz bios with Mad As Hell: Peter Finch, Mother of Rock Lillian Roxon and Tasmanian Devil: The Fast and Furious Life of Errol Flynn.

After Patrick is in the can, Hartley aims to start work on Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films, his documentary on Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, the Israeli-born cousins nicknamed the “Go-Go Boys” who bought Cannon in 1979, moved to the US and churned out dozens of mostly cheap, rapidly-shot films including Missing in Action, two Death Wish sequels, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Breakin' and Masters of the Universe.

The director and the executive producers, LA-based XYZ Films, had planned to make the film this year but that was delayed after Screen Australia said it was reluctant to fund two Hartley projects in the one year and suggested he apply again in 2013.