Radha Mitchell for “Henry Poole is Here”

Consistently diverse and beautiful Aussie actress Radha Mitchell effortlessly segues from Indie character-based films such as the Sundance favourite Henry Poole is Here, to upcoming big Hollywood movies that pit her against A-list heavyweights Antonio Banderas and Bruce Willis, yet she always has time to make films in her native Australia. Paul Fischer talked to her in this exclusive interview.

Radha Mitchell is used to working for the two extremes of Hollywood and when it comes to Henry Poole is Here, an uplifting drama starring Luke Wilson as the title character who abandons his fiancée and family business to spend what he believes are his remaining days alone, but the discovery of a “miracle” by a nosy neighbour ruptures his solitude and restores his faith in life. Mitchell plays a single mother coping with a daughter who hasn’t spoken since her father’s disappearance.

The actress says that despite the successes of movies like Batman and Iron Man, there needs to be a place for films like Henry Poole. “You’ve got to have more than one kind of food, don’t you, all the time? There’s got to be something else and I think this movie really is something else. From scripts I’ve read, it’s very rare that you read a script that has that kind of heart or is brave enough to be that sort of emotional and to wear its heart on its sleeve, in that way. And the fact that it isn’t a big, high-concept movie with special effects, I think defines the story. All of that is what makes the filming charming and interesting and special which is was what I was drawn to and because it’s alternative to many of the things that I have read.” It may not be a film for cynics but Mitchell says she was “inspired by the challenge of it, to talk about love, and not be afraid of it being schmaltzy and to just talk about it. Whether that touches you or not, I guess is depending on what you need when you see the film, and how you feel about yourself or how you feel about the world. I think the movie is designed to make you feel inspired, on some level and I think it does that.”

As to her own cynicism, Mitchell says that she sometimes wears her heart on her sleeves. “I feel most relaxed when I do but at times I don’t.” Yet she concedes that working in the film industry makes it difficult to avoid self-cynicism. “It’s a very cynical culture and I think for that reason it’s very difficult for people in Hollywood to tell stories about love, because most people that work in Hollywood are cynical. So if they do, it feels like they’re trying to find it in themselves but they can’t actually find it so it never feels real. And you see that consistently in the feel-good movies that they make where they always just feel like a faux, to me and maybe it’s because they’re coming out of a culture that’s kind of forgotten its own sensitivity. How do I avoid being cynical? I think trips back home certainly help, because when you just go back home, where people enjoy spending their time with each other, and they’re not trying to get anything out of each other.”

Asked what she misses about Australia, it’s not the food or anything quite as tangible. “I think people love each other better in Australia. I mean, not that the whole of America doesn’t know how to love, but I guess in Hollywood, you have the feeling that people need to use each other, and there’s sort of this constant race that people are running.” Radha divides herself between Los Angeles and Melbourne and tries to go back as much as possible. “I actually missed going home last year for Christmas, which is why I’m thinking of going next week, because I haven’t had an opportunity to be there. But I am gonna shoot a movie in Australia at the end of the year, so I might hold off.”

One of the reasons she may find it difficult to go back is a schedule that is pretty demanding. The actress went from The Code, a heist thriller starring Antonio Banderas, and is shooting the big-budget sci-fi thriller The Surrogates opposite Bruce Willis. “I think that it takes you a while to figure out what balance you want, when you’re given a certain amount of opportunity, what you want to do. But I think for me, it works really well if it’s possible to do something made for kind of a global market, in some way, and then do something which is more specific or more local. So if you can have an ideal career, you’d make something kind of for art’s sake, or something for yourself, and then you would do something that people are gonna watch,” she says, laughingly.

She describes The Code as “a heist film, so it’s about people conning each other. It’s about a con on a con on a con.” Without giving too much away, she describes her character as “part of the con. I’m like a Russian hustler that’s part of a Russian family that cons the cons that cons the con.” Clearly she had fun doing the movie. “I’ve always wanted to do a film like that. for some reason, I really like the idea of getting something for nothing, and the whole play on that is interesting. Then I get to play most of my scenes with Antonio Banderas, who is one of the most fun actors to work with.”

Mitchell also has high hopes for The Surrogates, who plays Bruce Willis’ FBI agent partner, in this futuristic thriller. “We’re working at a time in the not-too distant future, but it may not be distant. It could just be now, but the difference is, people are using these surrogate robots to live their lives so they stay home in these chairs, and plug in, and their robot goes off and does their work for them, and falls in love for them, and basically lives their life. They sit home and feel everything through this simulated chair, so someone’s figured out something that – I can’t give the whole plot away, but there’s a mystery we have to solve, within that context.” Asked what surprised her about working with Willis, “He’s interesting, very funny, very charismatic and he’s very much a man, on set. He likes to be very close with what’s going on in every department.”

Mitchell is both executive producing and starring in her next film, the Australian-financed drama The Waiting City which will be shot in India. “It’s a drama kind of an awakening story.” Much has changed since Mitchell’s first big-screen outing in Love and Other Catastrophes which she brought to Sundance. Now some 30 films later, Mitchell is part of Hollywood’s elite and a thriving career.

Reflecting on her journey from Catastrophes to now, the actress says, “I didn’t really know what the options were at that point. I was just doing what felt right, but I did Pitch Black and then after doing that I did this tiny little movie that Mark Foster directed and I remember thinking at the time that that was kind of a good balance, that it was nice to be able to do something on that scale, and then do something very extremely intimate, in that it had no budget and it was made by somebody who was really passionate to make something that they felt was coming from inside of themselves.” It seems nothing has changed!