26 July 2009
He’s the man who laughed in the face of Hollywood – literally – and who spends much of his screen time in his latest film trapped in a wooden pen with a deadly case of lockjaw, which is kind of ironic because Canadian-born, Sydney-raised actor Aden Young is very vocal about how Australian audiences have treated our own films.
“Why as a nation had we started to boo ourselves?” asks Young, 37, the star of Kriv Stenders’s
.“That’s what it felt like a year ago to be an actor in this country.”
Now, in recent months, there seems to be a positive vibe coming from the media and local audiences are opening their minds and wallets but Young – tall, handsome and with his beard neatly trimmed – looks like he is about to jump off a couch in the Sydney café in a burst of passionate anger when recalling the struggle.
Australians, he says, need to “recognise we're not trying to piss in their faces with taxpayers' money. We're trying to tell any stories, but our stories. And the only way we can do it is to tell them here. If we lose that opportunity, all we will be telling is American stories”.
Story has always been Young’s passion. His Missouri-born father, Chip, was a broadcaster in Canada and a children’s storywriter. A couple of years ago, Young made a short film based on his dad’s 1972 children’s book,
The Rose of Ba Ziz
– a fable about a king allergic to flowers and the first book Young ever read, with his pal Hugo Weaving narrating. It is a “love letter” to his mother, a recently retired Australian-born nurse, and to his own son, the curiously named Dutch Bon, born in 2007 to Young’s partner, the sultry Australian singer-songwriter-guitarist Loene Carmen.
His parents secretly brought Young and his siblings to Australia from Toronto in 1981, when Young was aged nine. Chip had contracted a mysterious Lupus-like disease. The Young family could only watch as their savings ebbed away trying to find out what ailed Chip and get him the best medical care. They initially stayed for a short time in Sydney then moved to Newcastle for two years.
Young was told on his ninth birthday they would stay in Australia. “My mother is from Newcastle,” says the actor, who still speaks in a Canadian accent but can switch to Australian brogue. “She had trained as a nurse there and maybe she thought that was where she would she would find the answer to my father’s illness.
“With five kids to look after she needed the support of her extended family, recognising that she would have to be the breadwinner. Dad didn’t have any living relatives in Canada, so we made that shift. What amazed me was that they didn’t
anyone in Canada. They just disappeared.”
A decade later, the teenage Young starred in his first film,
– directed by Beresford – and returned to Toronto for the 1991 premiere. “People were coming out of the crowd in tears,” he says. “Family friends who thought we’d all died somewhere.”
Why did his parents decide to just vanish? “My father was a very proud man and broadcasting was his first love, and one of the first things he lost was his voice. And that was extremely debilitating. Perhaps he found it embarrassing.
“We never found out what his illness was. I guess you’d equate it to something like Lupus. We had been well off, but [our money] disappeared looking for the answer.”
The family moved near Dural, a rural suburb 35 kilometres north-west of Sydney, where they bought a little general store. Chip loved sitting on its porch with his pipe. “He thought he was in a movie; it was great, he loved it,” says Young. “But that just paid for our groceries. Mum would also have to work night duty [nursing] pretty much seven nights a week. We all helped with the shop, and that got us through the schooling.
“We sold the shop as dad got worse, and we ended up at Asquith [26 kilometres north-west of Sydney] where he passed away.” His father was extremely proud of Young’s star turn in Beresford’s
, the story of a 17th century Jesuit priest [Lothaire Bluteau] and his young companion Daniel [Young] on a spiritual journey through the Quebec wilderness accompanied by Algonquin Indians.
But Chip – who would die the following year, 1992 – was too ill to go to a cinema, so had to watch his son’s film debut on videotape. “I came home one day and he had a little article of how the film had been mentioned in Parliament in Canada,” says Young, “Dad said, ‘If every film you make can be as powerful as that, then you’ve got something going.’ But of course not every film gets to have that sort of political attention.”
, Hollywood came knocking. Young flew to Los Angeles to audition for Frank Marshall’s
, a story of plane wreck survivors trapped on a mountain faced with the prospect of having to dine on their deceased fellow passengers or starve. Young had to read the line “we have to eat the people”.
“I could never say it without laughing,” he admits. “I still can’t. I auditioned: they said, ‘We love you, you’ve got the role … we’re going to put you up for a week, pay for all your expenses, give you everything you want. All you have to do for us is spend a week with an acting coach; your delivery of that line is coming out a bit awkward. You’re smiling, and making it look as though you’re enjoying it. It’s a revelation. We need to see absolute horror.’
“I went away for a week and attempted to be brainwashed by an idiot. Because I didn’t need him; I went to the library and researched the effects of torture and extreme conditions on the psyche – for instance death camps, where people were singled out and told they were going to die the next day. And their reactions were to smile. I kept coming across the same thing; it is normal to have an abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation.
“So I turned up at their audition and I did the line the way I wanted to do it. I was yelled at! I was treated like a petulant child. And I never felt prouder. I never felt better. I had survived a real test and come out the right side.”
Returning to Australia, there has been three films now with Beresford, a star turn in Paul Cox’s
– which ended in a physical fight between Cox and his headstrong actor on set, but that didn’t stop a friendship blossoming – as well as a charismatic baddie in Mark Lee’s
. There have also been films that have failed to get a cinema release.
There is much consolation living and working with his singer girlfriend Loene Carmen. They recently got locked out of their Sydney house and had to stay in the garage while Young was filming her for a music video, trying to be as sultry as possible for the camera while their baby son screamed on the sidelines with a full nappy.
They became parents in 2007 when they welcomed Dutch Bon into the world. The Bon bit is named for AC/DC singer Bon Scott, but Dutch arose eight days after the child’s birth when Young was at a bar and heard a random guy utter the name.
“The strength of it hit me,” says Young. “I thought, ‘wow, that’s a name’.” Carmen was not initially taken with the suggestion, but the name stuck. Later, Young’s brother pointed out that Ronald Reagan’s nickname was Dutch and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character in the film Predator was Dutch, not to mention Dutch Schulz the beer baron gangster of the Bronx.
Together, Young and Carmen have turned the archetypal struggling artist idea into an artform; Carmen once hocked 30 of her favourite vinyl records to buy Young a hat. Carmen has written songs about her man, “and we’re constantly trying to kick each other around, to be better”.
Did he kill his big career chance? “Well everyone will say, ‘You’re an idiot, there was a Hollywood career right in front of you, and probably if you’d done that film you’d have built a power base and by now you’d be conducting this interview at a press conference on a yacht in the middle of the Mediterranean.’
“Yeah, maybe I am an idiot, but, c’est la vie. I mean, what other actor has had such a varied range of roles so early and such an interesting range of people to work with, but survived it, quite seriously, physically survived?”