It’s not every day you can say you shared an office floor with one of the stars of The Time Guardian, but today I have that pleasure. In a previous job I worked alongside Graham Caldwell, who plays a small role in the 1987 Australian sci-fi actioner. Graham, who essayed a number of other character parts in Australian films during that era, graciously agreed to answer a few questions about the film and his experiences on the Adelaide-based production.
How did your role in The Time Guardian come about?
I had been working previously with Brian Hannant, the director, on a short film for the National Parks and Wildlife Service filmed on McLaren Flat (playing a hoon driver who casually throws out a cigarette butt as he is transformed into a devil in the rear vision mirror). The short film A Little Bit in All of Us was screened in cinemas prior to main features throughout SA and possibly nationally. Brian really appreciated my work and I was subsequently contacted by my agent for an audition at SA Film Corp studios at Hendon South Australia.
Hendon Studios has played a significant role in South Australian film history, and by extension Australian film history. Any fond memories of working at this facility?
Yes, wonderful memories of shooting scenes in For the Term of His Natural Life, on the set with Patrick Macnee – who graciously took the trouble to praise my performance in a captain’s cabin scene – playing a military prison guard on the ship. Of course, the scene in The Time Guardian where I played the Committee Member was also at Hendon Studios where I was performing with Tom and Dean.
Yes, you share screentime with both Tom Burlinson and Dean Stockwell, two great actors of very different stocks. Any recollections of working alongside these guys?
Both were absolutely delightful and charming guys to work with. They made me feel totally comfortable and relaxed, and Dean also I recall praised my work which was very special.
There aren’t too many Australian films depicting futuristic settings. Is it bizarre to work on projects like that? Or, coming from the stage where you have to conjure up settings from scratch, are an imaginative disposition and suspension of disbelief just part of the package?
You are right, the film The Time Guardian was really the first science-fiction action-thriller to be attempted in Australian movie making history. It was a very exciting project for all involved and I recall Brian the director being somewhat like an excited schoolboy on the set with all the gadgetry, lights and buttons etc. I recall the dialogue sound was recorded separately at some stage which was a different experience for me. When you refer to the creative process of the stage, film is very challenging on another level in that the actor must create the character, mood etc amidst crew, cameras and other actors so you feel the end performance is much more a collaborative result. Whereas on stage you are left to control the character from start to finish and as a result it is probably and always will be the ultimate test of an actor’s craft. However, on a film set the challenges are just as great to stay focused and maintain continuity. Paul Schofield was reputed to remain aloof and distant as much as possible to preserve character and flow during the shooting of his performance as Thomas Moore in A Man for All Seasons; he had played the role with great acclaim on the stage beforehand, and of course the film was also a triumph.
According to David Stratton’s book The Avocado Plantation, which is all about Australian cinema in the 1980s, The Time Guardian was a tumultuous production: he describes the creative process on the film as having been “white-anted by the non-creative people”. Was any of that evident during your time on set, or does none of that background noise really register when you’re busy capturing a scene?
Sorry, I was not aware of what David referred to as tumultuous. If he was suggesting upheaval or chaos or unsettled crew etc I was certainly not aware of such a feeling. On the contrary it seemed a very happy and focused production team.
That’s great to hear. Just to wrap things up, you’ve popped up in other films and series over the years, including a pair of Donald Crombie projects, Robbery Under Arms and Playing Beatie Bow. Do you have a favourite production or experience?
Probably one of the most special memories was Gallipoli, playing an Australian soldier in a scene filmed in the forecourt to the Adelaide Casino then transformed into the ballroom of the Hotel Cairo Egypt. The Officers Ball was held by the Australian and New Zealand Nurses Corp as the last recreational activity prior to troops leaving for the Gallipoli Campaign. I had to dance the circular waltz, a 20 hour shoot and on set with Mark Lee and Mel Gibson – quite a marathon. It is significant on a personal level as the film is now somewhat of legendary status, and I lost three great uncles in France (all brothers and officers), after they had survived the Gallipoli campaign. Working on the miniseries Sara Dane at Happy Valley Reservoir was another highlight of early film work, with the set of Old Sydney Town recreated on the banks! Television in Education for the ABC was great fun too, playing the character Rumpelstiltskin at the Collinswood Studios. Port Adelaide’s 19th century store buildings were the site for filming a remake of Under Capricorn (I played a drunkard). As you can gather I delight in playing the whole spectrum of characters! That’s the real buzz and stretch of being an actor for me personally.