The saga of a gay Greek-Australian photographer looks certain to divide audiences when it opens in Australia in November.
2 Oct 2012 - 5:00 PM  UPDATED 5 Nov 2012 - 4:33 PM

Screened at the Melbourne, Sydney and Toronto festivals, Tony Krawitz' debut feature Dead Europe polarised audiences and critics: most either loved or hated it.

That was no surprise to Ewen Leslie, who plays a gay Greek-Australian photographer who returns to his ancestral homeland in the film adapted from a Christos Tsiolkas novel.

[SBS FILM review]

“A riddle wrapped in ugliness and shrouded in spite,” declared The Hollywood Reporter, which predicted the “impenetrable narrative and dogged bleakness make it a decidedly uncommercial prospect.”

More positive was Variety, which found the drama “struggles to cohere into a convincing whole, despite sections of commanding authority” but judged that it is “adept and meaty enough to have European commercial appeal.”

[SBS FILM interview with director Tony Krawitz]

Even more effusively, Latino Review opined Krawitz has “crafted something worth taking a look at if you care to indulge your darker perceptions.”

Leslie chuckles when that section of the Reporter's review is quoted to him, telling SBS Film, “It's a very bold, brave film. The novel, which I loved, did divide people so I knew going in that the film could face a similar situation.

“Some people really respond to it and really love it and for others it's not their thing or they have problems with it. More often than not I'm happy with that sort of response. I like to be part of things that get strong opinions from people and inspire arguments.

“The script did terrify me. I was thrilled when I was cast but I knew what was in store for me and whoever got the role would have to throw themselves into it 100 percent.”

The actor knew he was in safe hands with Krawitz, who directed him in Jewboy, the 2005 50-minute drama in which he played a young orthodox Jew who rebels against his faith and family after the death of his father.

In Dead Europe his character Isaac engages in random sex and drug-taking, drifting through a Europe depicted as a cemetery of ghosts and dark secrets, haunted by a young Jewish boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Before shooting started the director told him, “I'm going to throw you in the deep end as much as possible.” In turn, the actor says he had “complete faith in him.”

Produced by Emile Sherman and Iain Canning (The King's Speech) and Liz Watts, the movie debuts on November 15 via Transmission.

Leslie looks set to break into Hollywood films after signing with the major talent agency CAA and meeting with casting directors in Los Angeles after attending the Toronto festival.

The Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts graduate has had a busy year. He played barrister Bryan Keon-Cohen in Rachel Perkins' ABC telemovie Mabo and journalist Matt Peacock, who discovered the James Hardie asbestos scandal, in the upcoming two-part ABC drama Devil's Dust. Anthony Hayes plays cancer victim Bernie Banton, who took legal action against James Hardie.

He went to Thailand to play an Army captain in Jonathan Teplitzky's The Railway Man, the true story of a former Scottish POW who returns to Asia to confront one of his Japanese torturers. His scenes were filmed at the Bangkok Railway Station, which had been virtually untouched since the 1940s. The film stars Colin Firth, whom he met and describes as an ”amazing” actor, Nicole Kidman and War Horse's Jeremy Irvine.

Leslie made his acting debut at the age of 12 in the TV series Ship to Shore after his mother spotted an ad in the paper inviting youngsters to audition. He spent two years on that show, continuing his studies via long distance education. He says, “I fell in love with the technical side of things and watched how it was shot.”

He grew up loving US films although he's not sure he should have been shown Spike Lee's gritty, violent Do the Right Thing when he was nine.