Actor Callan Mulvey knew he wanted to get on board the historical drama High Ground because he wanted to work with stars Simon Baker and Jack Thompson, who he called "Australian icons." While filming, it turned out to be much more of a learning experience braving the elements and gaining perspective in early 20th century Australian culture. I spoke to the actor about his remote shoot, working with director Stephen Johnson and newcomer Jacob Junior Nayinggul, who plays the main protagonist Gutjuk.
Set against the stunning landscapes of 1930s Arnhem Land, High Ground chronicles young Aboriginal man Gutjuk, who in a bid to save the last of his family teams up with ex-soldier Travis to track down Baywara – the most dangerous warrior in the Territory, who is also his uncle. As Travis and Gutjuk journey through the outback they begin to earn each other's trust, but when the truths of Travis' past actions are suddenly revealed, it is he who becomes the hunted.
Dealing with the Remoteness of Filming High Ground
When describing the initial shoot, Mulvey, who plays Eddy, complimented his co-stars and talked about the double-edged sword of being in such a remote location. "Both Simon and Jack are very experienced, and they're extremely generous," he said. "This is just about getting the best work we could earn because where we stayed was three hours away from any major town. We were in a strange little town, and there was this one gas station. We shot at 8:00 p.m. in the evening, and there is a food delivery to the grocery store once a week. It was pretty remote, but we got to spend a lot of time together, talk about the shots and just be comfortable with each other off-camera. It helps your performance and your interaction with your scene partner. [The location] was immersive. The heat took a little bit of getting used to. The costumes, the heat, and the environmental surroundings are conducive and helpful to suspend your disbelief. I guess trick your brain into you believing your circumstance."
When it came to the type of set Johnson ran, Mulvey felt communication was open. "It was very collaborative," he said. "He certainly felt like he could have asked for input. We're all on the same page about making the film and the best one we could. We're depicting the story and the events as authentically as possible, honoring the traditional art very generously." He broke down the psychological aspect of filming the grittier scenes. "Certainly, the massacre was horrible," he continued. "It's broken up into pieces we're rolling in the first 30 seconds at a time. It's very visceral seeing shooting those scenes with people with gunshot wounds. I guess it's something hard to imagine what [it] must be like. That was difficult to do because you can't help that human reaction to it. I was largely uneducated in ignorance. I want to turn to the history and started to engage with them some of the more about because often the historical records don't always show the full picture. For me personally, I was largely unaware of a lot of our history."
Mulvey explained the advantages of a novice like Nayinggul on set. "When capturing the presence of an actor who has never acted before or has been on a film set, it sometimes has to be shot a different way as opposed to experienced actors who sort of have spent a lot of time on sets and very much aware of the technical requirements in performing and capturing a performance," he said. "I had a couple of scenes with Jacob, but he was very present, and the lack of experience of training is helpful because it's the role then they're not in their head thinking about it, just feeling it."
Comparing Working on Historial to Comic Book Films
Whether if capturing the essence of a historical figure or comic book character in Marvel or DC, Mulvey delineates the common thread between the two. "I think it depends on the project with the size of the project and how I contribute to the overall story," he explained. "Even on playing historical characters and certainly help to find the existing information about that character. In some cases, a real person helps. It still comes down to what's happening in the script. That's all you really have to work with. Even in DC, Marvel, or something historical…grounded films, it's still the human condition. It's still a human being in certain circumstances. It's a matter of trying to find what is the heart of the character? What is their duty? What are they going through, and how can I personally connect to the situations and characters. How can I imagine what emotions might be present and what that might feel like just by the nature of being."
Samuel Goldwyn and Madman Films' High Ground, which was written by Chris Anastassiades, also stars Aaron Pedersen, Ryan Corr, Caren Pistorius, Sean Mununggurr, Witiyana Marika, Esmerelda Marimowa, and Maximillian Johnson, comes out on digital and on-demand on May 14.