Fresh from the MIFF premiere of Predestination, Brisbane's Spierig Brothers and Sarah Snook sit down to talk about time travel, playing intersex... and accents.
Stephen A Russell

1 Aug 2014 - 8:12 PM  UPDATED 9 Apr 2021 - 10:31 AM

Predestination, the genre-bending, time travelling third feature film from Brisbane-based writing/directing twins Michael and Peter Spierig (Undead, Daybreakers), officially opened the Melbourne International Film Festival this week.

Ethan Hawke stars as a temporal agent sent back in time by his enigmatic boss (Noah Taylor) to prevent a devastating attack in New York City by a terrorist known only as the Fizzle Bomber. Along the way he encounters the incredible story of an intersex character, an incredible performance by Australia’s Sarah Snook, and their lives diverge in an extremely unpredictable way.

Shot at Melbourne’s Docklands Studios and on location around the city, the brothers’ adaptation remains true to the US-setting of Robert H. Heinlein’s source material, the short story All You Zombies, with Snook tackling an American accent as well as getting her head around playing both a male and female character who are one and the same person.


What drew you to the Robert H. Heinlein short story?

Peter: I read it about seven years ago and it’s just stuck with me. I’ve never read anything like this. It was written in 1958 and even now it’s kind of shocking in certain parts, and still completely relevant and highly original. That’s a testament to Robert’s genius.

Michael: It’s 60 years ahead of its time.


Sarah’s performance is incredible. How easy was it to find the right actor for this role? 

Michael:  There was a lot of apprehension when we wrote it, wondering who we were going to cast to make it work, so the audience connects on an emotional element. It was the hardest decision we had to make, whether we could be bold and find a person who could play both genders. We could have cast two different actors, but it wouldn't have been as interesting. We’re so proud of her.


How was it working with Ethan again?

Michael: This is his second film with us after Daybreakers, and it’s such a bold piece, but he jumped straight into it the first time we called him.

Peter: Michael and I like to spend quite a bit of time in the rehearsal process talking about the scenes and why they need to exist in the movie. Ethan’s very intelligent and very good at story and structure. I mean, he’s written novels, screenplays and has been nominated for Oscars. He was so impressed with Sarah’s performance too.

Sarah: It’s such a head spin to hear that. As a green actor you feel a little bit lost, not quite knowing what you’re doing and Ethan knows exactly what he’s doing. He really chooses his films well, and I respect that about him. He’s had a long and diverse career and that's something I look up to and aspire to. I learned a lot from him, working on something he was very passionate about. He approaches every job as something we can build on together; it’s not a vehicle for him to have an ego stroke.


How easy was it to portray both a male and female character in one film, Sarah?

I really had to think of them as the same person, but in my preparation for the male side of the role, I spoke to a lot of my male friends, asking them about what they think and how they react to certain things. No one can read your mind, so inside my head I’d be walking into a shop pretending to be a man.


How easy was it to recreate the gender transition, physically?

Michael: We have to give a lot of credit to our makeup effects artists Steven Boyle and Samantha Little. I’ve known Steve since our short film days blowing up zombies in our backyard. Steve and Sam are two people we go to from the script stage. We’re proud that the intersex angle isn’t a ‘message’, it’s just part of this character’s life and experiences, and I love that.

Peter:  Steve and Sam have worked for Weta Workshop on King Kong and they said this is the hardest makeup they’ve ever had to do.

Michael: We didn’t want to hide Sarah under a tonne of rubber or go for the joke shop beard, because you want to be emotionally connected.


Sarah, was it difficult keeping the timelines straight in your head and juggling an America accent on top of the role’s emotional complexity?

Sarah: The accent helped, because it really took me out of myself and made me feel less like Sarah. I was able to use bits of whatever I have to fill out the character, but the inner personality is the constant. When the exterior changes, and it does dramatically, that core doesn’t.

Peter: It is an American story, but also the reality of these things is you want to seel it to an international market, especially America, and it can be hard to sell an Australian accent to the American market, When Michael and I tried to sell Undead over there, they said, word for word, ‘we love your movie, but we need to dub it into English.”

Michael: Also, Ethan’s Australian accent is terrible.



Watch 'Predestination'

Sunday 18 April, 1:55am on SBS / Streaming after broadcast at SBS On Demand

Australia, 2014
Genre: Thriller, Sci-Fi
Language: English
Director: Michael Spierig
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Sarah Snook, Noah Taylor

Predestination review: A thoughtful, ambitious adaptation
Ambition outweighs flaws in clever Australian sci-fi adaptation.

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