The Canberra Times, 28 June 2005
Alex O’Lachlan, 28, says that when he received the script for the feature film Oyster Farmer, he knew nothing about it. He didn’t even read the script, by writer-director Anna Reeves, for some time, but when he did, “I read it twice – it was such a cracker. It was effortless, full of truth about what I knew Australian people to be like. They were true, full, comprehensive characters that I could care about immediately.”
In Oyster Farmer, which will be released on Thursday, O’Lachlan plays Jack Flange, a young Sydney man whose sister is recovering from a car accident in a private hospital near the Hawksbury River. Desperate for money to pay her bills, he robs the Sydney Fish Markets, posts the cash to himself upriver and waits for it to arrive. Meanwhile, he works for oyster farmer Brownie (David Field) and gets to know the people, relationships and culture of the district. Among the locals are Brownie’s estranged wife Trish (Kerry Armstrong), who is successfully working on a rival oysterman’s lease, and Vietnam veteran Skippy (Jack Thompson), as well as Pearl (Diana Glenn), with whom Jack falls in love.
In preparing for the role, O’Lachlan and Field went to stay in the Hawksbury River district before filming began, to find out about the oyster industry. It’s hot, smelly work … I wanted to see what it was like to grow oysters, how long it took, what they had to go through to get the oysters to market so they end up in the penthouse suite of some fancy hotel.”
A particular challenge for him was a sex scene with Glenn, also in her first major film role. “It was very exposing, in more ways than one,” he says. Fortunately, the crew was professional and he’s good friends with Glenn, so it went as smoothly as could be expected.
As for Reeves, O’Lachlan is full of praise for the writer-director, describing her as “a genius” and “a very strong woman who’s very clear about what she wants”.
O’Lachlan says he grew up moving between his mother in Canberra and father in Sydney. “Canberra was a strange experience for me,” he says. “I never felt at home in Canberra.” He says there was no possibility of anonymity and he felt more at home in Sydney: “You could disappear.” He struggled at school, leaving before he was 15. He had trouble reading and later discovered he had been suffering from an undiagnosed case of ADD, or attention deficit disorder. Academia was not where he his life was at the time. “As a young’un, I just wanted to run to the world,” he says.
One sign that pointed to his future was a play he appeared in while at primary school, singing Simply Irresistible, and he remembers the audience applause and laughter as if it were yesterday, and the great feeling he had entertaining people. “I let it go for a long time, I didn’t think I was good enough,” he says. When he left school, he worked in a variety of fields, from building to hospitality –“many, many, many things” – and travelled, fulfilling a need to see in three dimensions what he had only seen on television.
“I lived a life I could never see in Canberra,” he says. “In Yugoslavia, I threw up my arms and danced.” Back in Australia, in his early 20s, “A mate suggested to me, ‘You’re a show-off, think about giving [acting] a nudge’.” He decided to try and found work as an extra and in a few commercials, but realised his limitations and needed training. He auditioned for the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) and entered it at the age of 23. The old problems with institutions resurfaced, and he found his first year there very challenging. “I’ve always been a wild card – always have been, always will be.”
Particularly difficult was the constant feeling of being under a microscope and judged as a performer, and he, like every actor, was frequently rejected for roles. “You’re told, ‘You shouldn’t take it personally’ but what you’re being told as an actor when you audition and you don’t get the role is specifically: ‘not you, this role’.” He managed to settle in, and since graduating three years ago his work has included the telemovie Blackjack and the mini-series Mary Bryant – the latter giving him practice in accent work. It was also where he met David Field.
In his first leading role, it is hard not to see something of O’Lachlan in the character of Jack Flange: a young man trying to find his way in the world, to work out where he belongs and what he wants. O’Lachlan is certainly proactive when his career is concerned. With several others, including Jack Thompson and director Brett Leonard, he formed Honour Bright Productions, and stars in its upcoming film Feed, a very different film to Oyster Farmer, about sexual subcultures.
Four months ago he moved to Los Angeles to give Hollywood a crack and he’s landed an agent. Like any actor, he’s not sure what is coming up, but he’s working at it, and in the meantime, he says, “I do my meditation, play my music, and keep my head”.
- I have seen people asking what he would mean by being a “wildcard”, so I thought to add a definition that I felt decribes it best. Wildcard = A person who is generally unpredictable and has no defined role in a group of friends, and their often reckless and wacky behavior can either benefit or hurt the group depending on the situation.
- One of the mistakes in the article – Alex and David Field did not meet on the set of Mary Bryant, as it was filmed in 2004, after they already filmed Oyster Farmer in 2003.