For Australian TV star Zahra Newman, the romantic comedy Long Story Short felt right at home with her theatre background. The actress stars as Leanne, the spouse of Teddy (Rafe Spall), who's traveling years through time every few minutes without any knowledge of what's transpired since. I spoke to the Rosehaven star about what about Josh Lawson's direction and writing that appealed, the frantic pacing, and how her work on TV helped with the film.
"When I first read the screenplay, one of the first things that attracted me to the project was the fact that it kind of read like a play," Newman said. "The themes are much longer than you typically find in a film. There was a lot of dialog, a lot of long conversations between two people. I've got a lot of my experiences and my background in theater. So immediately, that sort of appealed to me just because it was something that I felt familiar with. Then the second thing that really stood out to me was the relationship between Teddy, who's the protagonist, and Leanne, the character that I play. The kind of banter and repartee that they have and that they share in the script was really appealing because I think it also allowed for a lot of playfulness around the language. It was clear that myself and whoever the other actor was going to be at the time would be able to play around with the language and environment, the language of those freedoms in that. Those were the two things that kind of stood out to me about the subject."
Newman credits Lawson's empathy as an actor himself, which helped the filming process along. "It was a very fast shoot," she said. "It was really quick, we didn't have very much time, Josh is an actor as well, and he has experience on the other side of the camera. I actually think that was one of the benefits of having him direct it. He knows how to talk to actors. He knows when to sort of be in your face and when to leave you alone. He kind of gets what the process is of being an actor. So it meant that he just had a little bit more nuance in the way that he communicated with us. That was really helpful. He also did have a little bit of rehearsal and not very much, but it just gave me, Josh, and Rafe an opportunity to kind of get together to make sure we were on the same page and that we're all telling the same story. We all want to achieve the same outcomes from each of the moments in the film. Overall, it was a really fun set. Rafe is very funny, and he's very free in front of the camera. He's willing to kind of improvise around things and do things differently and stuff like that. So that kept us all very energized and engaged through the process."
Lawson also plays Patrick in the film. One of the benefits Newman said about making the film was how much in the present it was despite its discombobulated nature. "We did talk a little bit about [the past Teddy and Leanne have], but it really wasn't kind of not really what the focus of the film was," she said. "More of our conversations were about what was happening at the moment, like what was happening right then and there in the scenes with them. We don't really like; for example, we don't necessarily see them at work. We don't necessarily see how Rafe's character got to Australia. None of that stuff is kind of explained or necessary for the story. So a lot of what we talked about was more about what their lives were like and particularly what was happening in the years that were jumping forward for Rafe's character, Teddy. Actually, I had been through in real-time for myself, and I'm not jumping forward. I'm still living each day, right? So more about what we talked about was that sort of stuff, the stuff that you don't necessarily see on the screen, but that has happened in the previous year in the time jump. So we talked more about those sorts of things."
Newman broke down her frantic work on Australian TV and how it compares to her work on the film. "Our future was quite sparse, and that's one thing that TV having experience on TV, especially in Australia, it shoots very quickly with some of our soap opera things and the popular shows here," she explained. "You might get one or two takes on a scene. So it moves very quickly. The experience of doing that sort of stuff, I think, was really helpful in terms of working on this film and knowing that we had to move quite quickly. Yes, that was really helpful. I think in terms of coming to a film, something that I really tried to do and definitely saw Rafe doing. I think having a theater background, you always think, 'Oh, gosh, if I want to be on film or I don't want to do too much or whatever.' Actually, you do need to do all of those things, like all of those things are just as important, being physical, being engaged, and kind of having a different instinct this time to do something else. Watching Rafe be really free in front of the camera in that way and not be hampered by all of the technical elements that are around you on the set was really inspiring."