Behind the Scenes of ‘The Rover’ With Director David Michôd
While introducing The Rover at the Sydney Film Festival, just a few days ahead of its wider theatrical release, writer-director David Michôd said he finally understood the concept of “second album syndrome”. Born in Sydney, Michôd shot to international prominence in 2010 with the release of his debut feature Animal Kingdom — the gripping, nihilistic crime drama that scored Jackie Weaver an Oscar nomination and left critics wondering what this striking new Australian talent would tackle next.
“The first that became apparent to me after Animal Kingdom played at Sundance in 2010 was that I had about a million more opportunities available to me than I’d had before,” Michôd tells Concrete Playground the day after the festival screening. “I spent a couple of years doing a lot of meetings, reading a lot of scripts and looking at a number of different ways of putting movies together. And then I ended coming back to The Rover.”
AN ELEMENTAL FABLE
“There was a very early skeleton that Joel Edgerton and I worked on in about 2007,” Michôd explains. “At the time, we thought it would be a movie for Joel’s brother Nash to direct. It was an action movie in the desert. But I was also very aware as I was writing it that it was full of stuff that was more me than Nash.”
“When I revisited the screenplay after Animal Kingdom, I went in and stripped out a lot of the action, and made solid that dark, elemental fable that I had always wanted the movie to be,” Michôd remembers. “I really loved the idea of making a movie that was working in a tonal world that was similar to the menace and the brood of Animal Kingdom, and yet would be very different on a formal level.”
The result is a bleak, minimally-plotted thriller set in a barren future Australia, a decade after Western society’s collapse. “I hadn’t ever really been out to the desert in Australia before,” says Michôd of the film’s setting. “I loved being out there. I loved the strange stillness of it. I loved the feeling of being in a place that, if left to my own devices, would swallow me whole.”
VOICES IN YOUR HEAD
At the centre of The Rover are actors Guy Pearce and Robert Pattison, playing unlikely allies in Michôd’s grim, lawless world. After working together on Animal Kingdom, Michôd wrote Pearce’s role specifically for him. “I like to write with actors voices in my head, and I certainly wrote The Rover with Guy’s voice in my head,” the writer-director says.
Pattinson’s character, on the other hand, he describes more as “a blank canvas”.
“For one reason or another, I didn’t have a particular actor in my head as I was writing it, and so then I got to go through that exhilarating process of seeing people bring it to life [in auditions]… Rob was the person who came in with a version of the character that was beautifully in tune with what I had always imagined. It was instantly clear to me that he was a really good actor, but it was also clear that he had a really beautiful understanding of the character’s vulnerabilities and aspirations.”
“It’s always nerve-wracking when you’re casting,” Michôd continues, “because this is where the movie lives and dies. It’s kind of a cliché to say that 80 percent of a director’s work is in casting, but it’s kind of true. If you cast the movie wrong, it can be very difficult to salvage.”
A BRUTAL SORT OF LOVE
When asked what it is that draws him to such bleak and brutal stories, Michôd takes a moment to pause. “For some reason,” he says “I really enjoy the feeling of creating moments that feel menacing and beautiful and sad. There’s something about that on a basic human emotional level that is very powerful for me.”
“Having said that”, he continues, “I think that Animal Kingdom is a way bleaker movie than this one. Because Animal Kingdom is about, at its core, a young man discovering that there is nothing other than self-interest. That sort of weird little world you’re left with at the very end of Animal Kingdom is a completely loveless world. And it’s one that I would never particularly want to revisit. I wouldn’t even necessarily want to know what happens to those characters, because they’ll probably just continue to eat themselves alive.”
“Whereas to me, The Rover starts in a really brutal and inhospitable place, but at its core is about how even in those circumstances, people still have a basic need to form intimate human connections with other people. To the extent that, as weird as it sounds, The Rover, to me, is a movie about love.”
The Rover is in cinemas now.