A kind of Mean Girls meets Romeo and Juliet, Neil Triffett’s EMO the Musical is squarely aimed at teens and young adults. Given the caricatured characters, it might seem that the film is just out for laughs. Yet as the story unfolds, young audiences can relate to the wide variety of high school teens in one way or another.
We watch as talented student and guitarist Ethan (Benson Jack Anthony) realises that he fits somewhere between the rival factions, the anarchistic punk Emos and the straight-laced Christians and that in any case he’s irresistibly drawn to the Christian Trinity (Jordan Hare).
“I’ve always thought it was a film for smart and cynical and angry young people, but it also has some heartfelt elements that can appeal to a broader audience,” says Triffett on the night after his film’s screening at the Berlin Film Festival. “Last night I was behind a 60 year-old man and his body was shaking. He loved the movie and I think it has an older appeal because of its darker sensibility.”
As well as writing and directing the film, Triffett created the songbook together with Craig Pilkington and Charlotte Nicdao.
“I don't have musical training though I’ve tinkered on the piano and I’ve always had some kind of stage show going on,” explains the director who identifies as queer and here also includes a gay teen character. “The last stage show I was developing was a small cabaret about a man who was obsessively in love with Tony Abbott,” he chuckles. “There were love songs about Tony Abbott and it dealt with the Liberal Party’s attitudes towards homosexuals and also homosexuals’ attitudes towards The Liberal Party.”
Anthony, 19, recognisable as Erik Thomson’s son in the series 800 Words, is a force to be reckoned with and probably has had a lot to live up to given he was named after a brand of cigarettes (see interview below). Blue-eyed Jordan Hare who likewise appears in a television series, The Secret Daughter, makes a strong impression, while Rahart Adams (Nowhere Boys, Neighbours, currently Rafiq in House Husbands) who plays the Emos’ leader Bradley is well on his way, having recently appeared in Pacific Rim: Uprising, filmed at Fox Studios in Sydney. Jon Prasida (Tomorrow, When the War Began) also impresses as the Christian’s leader Isaac. Given that Triffett loosely based the Christians’ religion on the Hillsong Church, it’s probably no coincidence that Prasida resembles a young Guy Sebastian, even if Isaac is having a baby with his girlfriend way before marriage.
Interview with Benson Jack Anthony
HB: What did you think of the film’s reception when you watched it with the (predominantly young) audience at last night’s Berlin premiere?
BJA: They laughed; they got it. I’d been so nervous because it has such a specific sense of humour. It’s good to know they weren’t afraid to laugh because it’s a fun film. Thematically it’s deep, but the film itself is funny.
Who is it made for?
Personally I think it's a film about young people that everyone can relate to. It's about self-discovery and coming out. Everyone, all the way up until they die, is self-defining and figuring out who they are.
Was it good to be acting with people your own age?
Yes it was. There were nine 18 to 25 year-olds on set, so the banter was accurate for our generation.
Did you finish high school?
I got an extension to do my HSC and when I have time off I work hard on it. But if I don't have time off, that’s a blessing.
Are you interested in going to the US to work?
All in good time. I’m not going to rush it. There’s so much work especially at the moment coming out of Australia and I’m also quite young. I made EMO when I was 18.
You started very young and it helped that your mother owned a dance school in Sydney.
Yes. My parents are creatives so I got into performing through my family, but I’ve kept it up on my own.
Did you do any training?
Not really official training. I took a few acting classes when I was a kid but I just learnt on the job. In my childhood I travelled a lot. I lived in Doha in Qatar for two years.
Why were you living in Doha?
My parents produce and choreograph ceremonies and they did the opening and closing ceremonies for the Asian Games in 2006.
Did that have an effect on you?
Yes. Being able to be in on rehearsals was a pretty cool experience.
How did living in Doha influence you?
After living in a Muslim country for two years of my life I suppose I could say I’m a little more accepting. I was there during some important formative years, going into puberty and all that, being around a whole different culture as I learnt what manhood was about. Still 50 percent of my friends live over there.
Social media must help you keep in contact. In the old days you would have lost contact.
Yeah we’ve got Facebook and all of that.
Did you learn to speak Arabic?
Do you still speak it now?
I can understand a lot of it, I can speak a little but I can’t read it. It was interesting coming over here via the US. When I arrived at US Customs as soon as they saw the Qatar thing I was interrogated for a full hour. “What’s your association with the Middle East? Why were you there for so long? Give me the dates.” I said I was a kid. I was nine the first time I went there, then went back for a few months when I was 14. Then I lived in London and Vancouver and I’ve spent time in New Zealand on the series 800 Words.
You’ve already had quite an education even if you haven’t completed the HSC.
Yes, but my time at school has been very disjointed. In interviews I’ve been asked what kind of clique I fell into, but it was like I wasn't around long enough at any school to fall into a clique.
Where does your triple-barreled name come from?
My first name was given to me by my Dad because he liked Benson & Hedges cigarettes. Thanks Dad! My middle name was my Grandpa’s name and I like to include it pay homage to him.
Is your father still smoking?
No, now he doesn't smoke at all. So I’m like 'you just gave me your bad habit and you got off it.'
As an actor you need to have a name that is distinctive. But I can’t believe you’re named after a cigarette!
They trialed the name on our family dog and then the dog died and I was born. So I was actually named after a dog named after a cigarette. So thanks Dad, thanks.
'Emo: The Musical' releases in Australia on May 4.