Sharing the same warped sense of humour, Anthony LaPaglia knew working with his friend, writer/director Matthew Saville (Felony, Noise), would be an eye-opening experience. His laugh’s a sonorous rumble as we sit in the Richmond headquarters of Madman Entertainment in Melbourne, a mischievous glint in his eye, t-shirt revealing a tattoo sleeve on his left arm.
“He’s bent, and bent attracts bent,” he chuckles. “I have an equally dark little sense of humour, so we got on very well.”
While LaPaglia greatly admires Saville’s work, including directing Josh Thomas’ Please Like Me, he notes that the director’s parents aren’t always quite so appreciative of his films. “His mother would say ‘Oh, I saw Felony and the language was disgraceful,’ and he thought ‘you know what, I’d like to make a film that my parents could see and then go to bridge or bowls club and say my son made a lovely film.’ And he did.”
The result is A Month of Sundays, which draws heavily on Saville’s childhood growing up in Adelaide. LaPaglia plays Frank, a divorced real estate agent with a mid-life crisis, still attached to his ex and at odds with his teenage son. When Frank receives a wrong number phone call, from Julia Blake’s Sarah, for a moment he feels like he’s reconnecting with his dead mum – something he never did in life.
“If the film has a message and if it can affect or influence people in any way, then what I hope it does is make them call their mother, if they still have one, because you won’t forever,” Saville says over the phone later.
Spinning out of his 2003 short Sweetheart, which also featured a cathartic phone call, thankfully both Saville’s parents are still around. “My dad was a real estate agent and because I had four sisters and I couldn’t play netball, I ended up going to open inspections with him,” he laughs. “That was my weekend, sitting with my old man in empty houses.
“I wanted to redress the balance of how real estate agents are represented in cinema. The cliché is that they’re all shysters, but that wasn’t my dad. He was a businessman who tried to do decent transactions with people to help them buy a house.”
Sarah, who’s seen teaching English to a young Sudanese kid, is a reflection of his mother. “She taught the children of Greek and Vietnamese immigrants back in the day. She’s a lover of books, so I grew up in a houseful of them.”
Casting LaPaglia was the brain spark of Saville’s wife Bryony Marks, who also composed A Month of Sundays’ score. “With most of the characters I already knew who I wanted and wrote the roles for them, but Frank and Sarah were a mystery to me. When Bryony read the script, she said ‘well, Frank’s Anthony LaPaglia.’ She described it beautifully. ‘Anthony LaPaglia can do the shoulder slump with dignity.’”
Body swerving professional niceties, Saville emailed LaPaglia directly, rather than going through his agent. “Anthony’s a great supporter of Australian and independent films. He’s this big shot Hollywood movie star but comes back and helps out my mate Rob Connolly with The Bank or Balibo. He’s not in it for the money. I don’t think he did Holding the Man for the pay cheque. He sends the elevator back down.”
LaPaglia relishes independent filmmaking. “Not having money is a problem in production and in promoting a film sometimes, but there’s also a freedom in it. When you have a lot of money, you also have a lot of masters to answer to. It’s decision by committee and of course no committee can ever agree, so what you end up with is this kind of soup, as if somebody cleaned the fridge out.
“When you have no money you get to be more autonomous and tend to choose things that are right for the film as opposed to the end result that is how will the film do?”
Admiring Saville’s deft touch with human foibles, LaPaglia also struck up a hearty rapport with the cast and crew, particularly Blake, whom he knew socially as Connolly’s mother-in-law, and celebrated satirical comedian John Clarke, who plays Frank’s real estate boss Phillip Lang. LaPaglia admits, with embarrassment, to not having known who the latter was, having relocated to New York in 1982.
“Matt loves to tell this story,” he professes. “After the first two takes we did, I said to Matt, ‘where did you find this guy, he’s amazing,’ and Matt’s like, ‘he’s a comic legend in Australia for about 30 years,’ and I went, ‘oh, I’m an ignorant bastard, aren’t I?’”
LaPaglia’s appreciation started early as the pair penned each other emails in character before shooting began. “I realised even before I’d met him that this guy was so bright. He’s kind of a renaissance man. He’s an observer, interesting and interested, and that’s what gives him his gift.”
Returning to Adelaide was a strange experience for LaPaglia, with his parents having long-since relocated to Brisbane and his brother in the States too. “At first, when I drove in, it was very abstract, because it was like ‘I recognise this,’ but not really. As I was there longer, I started to reconnect with things and I would see something like the Glenelg tower, which I remember from when I was a kid, and slowly but surely it kind of reconnected me with my childhood.”
Playing Frank was an appealing challenge. “I’m in my third or fourth mid-life crisis,” he guffaws. “I really related to this idea that you’re stuck. He’s not a bad guy, he just has terrible communication skills and I find that true of maybe men in general, but particularly Australian men. They’re not comfortable opening up. Acting is scary because it’s very self-revelatory, but you can always hide behind the fact it’s a character. I’ve often said it’s the cheapest therapy on earth because you get to work out all your angst and crap on screen.”
Watch 'A Month of Sundays'
Sunday 17 January, 6:25pm on SBS World Movies (streaming after broadcast at SBS On Demand)
Monday 18 January, 11:15am on SBS World Movies
Tuesday 19 January, 5:40am on SBS World Movies
Genre: Comedy, Fantasy
Director: Matthew Saville
Starring: Anthony LaPaglia, Julia Blake, Justine Clarke
Watch A Month of Sundays trailer: