Occupation is a new action-packed Australian alien invasion movie which tells the story of some town residents who have to band together after a devastating alien invasion. As they struggle to survive, they realize they must stay one step ahead of their attackers and work together for a chance to strike back.
Dan Ewing plays the lead Matt Simmons and he stopped by to chat with us about the project.
I thought Matt Simmons was an interesting character; he’s generally a good guy but his arc defies convention especially during the alien torture scene. Is that what appealed about the script, the fact that it was something rather different?
100%! I had just done a Rugby movie beforehand and some of the ex-players were our advisers and were very gracious in sharing this story. A lot of them had issues like addiction to painkillers, anti-depressants, alcohol and illicit drugs. I mean they are essentially modern day Gladiators, right? I spoke to the director Luke about this and he loved it. In the initial draft Matt was a bit more of a Captain America and a natural leader; I think now as you noticed the aliens are the least of his problems. Humans are imperfectly perfect where we’ve all got our problems and demons so it was a much more three dimensional character and not your conventional comicbook style hero which was really great to play.
What was it like to work with such a large and diverse ensemble cast?
I loved it! Working with people like Tumuera Morrison, Jacqueline McKenzie, Bruce Spence; these are people I’ve grown up watching so it was really fantastic. When you’ve got basically this entire town against these aliens then it makes sense to have all these three dimensional characters who have their own stories so it’s not just one lead actor running around. It’s really great to have that team bond and camaraderie in this environment and I think the audiences have really been responding to it as audiences know these people. Even if you’re from a small town or a farmhouse in Ireland you know these people as opposed to 2 million people in a major city getting wiped out. It was really great!
I was blown away by the action in this movie; it all looked practically done rather than all CG. Do you find that better than working with special effects you can’t see?
Oh absolutely! I’m about Luke’s age and the movies we grew up on had much more practical effects. I dunno what it is but people seem to be falling in love with this CG thing these days but it ain’t my thing. I love when they blend it but we had real explosions where the hair stands at the back of your neck where it’s quite real and you can feel the heat of the fireball going off. There’s obviously some stuff you need to do with CG like the alien ships but when the fireballs are going off a few feet from you, you certainly feel it. I always prefer practical as you said as it’s just much better to work with and I think the audiences are tending to agree as they are starting to get fed up with CG and they like the realness and grittiness of getting it on camera.
I grew up watching movies from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s so I will always prefer practical effects as you can just engage more with what’s happening on screen rather than watching a videogame take place.
Yeah! I like to think of movies like Jaws and Predator and how they didn’t show the creature until after so long so they are building suspense instead. The animatronics in the first Jurassic Park for example; I was a teenager when that came out and if you watch that it hits you harder than the new ones when they started doing them with CG. It still stands up too so I feel good about a shift back to animatronics and more practical effects for sure.
Do you enjoy doing action scenes or do you prefer quieter character driven moments?
Great question! I do a lot of my own stunts; I did a Power Rangers series when I was younger and I got a lot of stunt training under my belt. I think it’s always better to do it; obviously it’s in a very safe environment and more like a choreographed dance than anything else but to answer your question properly I think it’s a mix of both. It really depends on the character but I’m nourished just as much by a really dramatic scene as I am with effects and stunts. I think my inner child loves the stunt stuff more but the dramatic scenes nourish me more as an actor but yes, definitely a bit of both.
How do you think you would react if something like this happened in real life?
(laughs) Would I start pumping down anti-depressants? It’s funny when you asked me that question I remember what my mum always said if there was a fire because obviously when you’re down here in Australia there’s a lot more bush fires. So my mum always says “grab the photos!” Did you ever get told that as a kid?
I did actually, yeah!
You grab the photos whereas nowadays you grab your iPhone as everything is on that. I just have this memory of my beautiful mother telling me this as a kid. So how would I respond? When it happens you never know I guess but I’d like to think I’d handle it a little better than Matt but I guess we’ll have to see…
You get to have a little nod to Terminator with a particular line of dialogue. Was that in the script or from you?
A little homage! Luke and I discussed it and once we had the shot we needed per-script and decided to add the Terminator line. That’s to Luke though who is a fan first and foremost but I loved it and I’m glad you noticed it. You can kind of tell the types of movies Luke and I grew up on when you watch it as there’s lots of fun bits of everything. It’s certainly looking like it could be his Star Wars judging by the responses we’ve had here and for an Aussie film to get a big theatrical release in the US it’s a real testament to what you can accomplish.
How did you end up meeting Luke?
I did Luke’s first feature film which was called Red Billabong which was a story about the indigenous Australians Bunyip mythology which is a creature than inhabits the waterway sort of like a Siren. So I did that and it did quite well internationally; when this came about we were dialoguing back and forth and he said “I’d love you to come and lead this one and we’re putting some really great actors around you.” I knew Luke wanted to do something in the sci-fi genre for a long time and take it back to a smaller scale as so many movies today have cities like London getting destroyed and no one cares; it’s a quick blip but Luke wanted to do something gritty and real. I know for a fact we’ve accomplished it as the reviews have been fantastic and people are not just entertained but feel for these characters. It was a very special project to work on.
Any chance of a sequel and are you interested in returning?
We’re definitely getting a sequel so if my character survives this first movie then I would hope he’s involved in Occupation 2 which starts shooting in August. I can’t give too much away as people will just have to find out but I would hope he’s involved. Imagine if he just rides off into the sunset instead “Sorry mate…” (laughs)
Occupation is out this Friday in North America.