“I’m always looking for anything to do in Australia,” Travis Fimmel muses. “I love working here, I really enjoy it.”
It’s a shame, then, that his career has kept him overseas for so long – but only a small one, considering his success. Best known for his turn as Norse King Ragnar Lothbrok in the hit historical series Vikings, Fimmel has racked up an impressive resume over the past few years with star turns in the epic video game adaptation Warcraft (2016), as well as interesting character work in the likes of Maggie’s Plan (2015) and Lean on Pete (2017).
Luke Bracey has a similarly high international profile. In point of fact, since his early appearances on local soaps Home and Away and Dance Academy, he hasn’t appeared in an Australian production at all, instead cropping up in the likes of action remake Point Break (2015) and Mel Gibson’s WWII drama, Hacksaw Ridge (2016).
“This is my first Australian story,” he affirms. “And I’m really proud of that.”
And well he should be. Years in development under the stewardship of former soldier and now film producer Martin Walsh, Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan tells the tale of the titular clash that took place on August 18, 1966, and pitted a largely inexperienced Australian and New Zealand force of 108 men against some 2,500 North Vietnamese regulars and Viet Cong guerillas.
Directed by the prolific Kriv Stenders (Red Dog, Australia Day), Danger Close is the first Australian film to directly tackle the Vietnam War in 40 years, following 1979’s The Odd Angry Shot.
Bracey is a little nonplussed as to why it’s taken so long – “I don’t know, that’s a question for the producers of the world!” – but he is unequivocal about what attracted him to the film. “When it came across my desk and I read it – it’s just captivating, you know? It’s a story that had to be told and it hadn’t been told. It’s just a shame that it’s taken this long to make a film about the Australian experience in Vietnam.”
Fimmel agrees, saying, “It’s the script – the script about Australians doing what they had to do. It’s a story that had to be told from our point of view.”
Still, both admit to being someone daunted by the prospect of playing not only real-world figures, but men who are still alive to judge the result. Fimmel plays Major Harry Smith, the commander of the Australian infantry force in the battle, while Bracey plays Sergeant Bob Buick, an NCO under Smith’s command.
While both actors met the men they play, Bracey only met Buick after filming was done, but credits screenwriter Stuart Beattie’s script with being a rock-solid foundation upon which he could build his performance. “Stuart Beattie did an amazing job with the script and all the research that was involved. So, the bones were there, and we just put the meat on it. There’s plenty of history written about the battle, and so there’s a bit of research you can go into, but playing a real guy, you’re just going out there trying to tell the truth in every take, and if you’re doing that, you get close, hopefully, to being true to their experience.”
Part of trying to get to that truth is getting the technical details right, which involved a kind of boot camp on the Gold Coast to learn the ins and outs of Australian soldiery circa 1968.
“That kind of preparation was pretty crucial in just trying to get your head around just what we were about to do,” Bracey reflects. “It’s not like we were getting water thrown on us at 5 a.m. or running up and down hills, but just starting that process.”
This process naturally enhanced the sense of mateship among the large ensemble cast; a who’s who of Australian acting talent including Richard Roxburgh, Myles Pollard, Stephen Peacocke, Aaron L. McGrath, Travis Jeffery, Aaron Glenane, Mojean Aria, and more.
Bracey recalls, “All the boys were living up there, working together every day, and then on the weekends having a beer together. And also, we got the opportunity to work with Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, so that was another way in – you could ask them some questions. They were all really open, they were part of the experience, so when you’ve got actual guys who have been in the armed forces mixing in with a bunch of boys who play expensive dress-ups, it really helped us create that camaraderie.”
At the end of the day, Fimmel believes that’s what Danger Close is about: not the murky politics and questionable ethics of Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War, but the granular, immediate experiences of the men forced to fight in it. “It’s about how beautiful the mateship in the script is. Such an interesting story. It’s not really a story about the war, it’s about the boys and the mateship.”
That value of mateship is also what sets it apart from the plethora of American films about the war. “The Americans have been making movies about the Vietnam War for a while, Bracey notes. “And it’s good that we made an Australian story. I think once you take it away from the bigger picture of Vietnam and you make it about these guys and their lives and their experience for a day – especially the four hours of battle – it becomes intensely personal and also humanises everything in a strange way.”
Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan is in cinemas now.
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