A must see movie for the summer is Damien Powers thrilling KILLING GROUND. One of the stars of the film is Aaron Glenna who plays the disturbed and as he described “vulnerable” Chook. We chatted with Aaron on the influence of the character, the chemistry between he and co star Aaron Pedersen and more. Enjoy the interview ahead and read Daniel’s review of the film right here.
How did you get attached to the project and what’s the first thing that truly made you want to be in KILLING GROUND?
I auditioned for the film with both Damien (director) and Joe (producer) in the room, which was great as we were able to work the scenes with his vision in mind. While making casting decisions for the Killing Ground Damien asked me if I would like to play the lead in an experimental short film he was commissioned to make called Hitchhiker. Damien’s premise was What would happen if a serial killer was to pick up an escaped prisoner on the road? I played the escaped prisoner. He wrote the whole script using dialogue specifically from hitchhiker scenes or films. It’s great! In hindsight Hitchhiker might have been an elaborate ‘call back’ for Killing Ground.
I was thrilled to be offered the role of Chook purely because I was exhilarated and daunted by the challenge of understanding and justifying his who he is. The script was a relentless page turner told in an unconventional way. Upon my initial read I could feel with Chook that there was a human being in there, albeit one who is unhinged and susceptible to darkness, and my goal was to create a complex young man at a crossroads deciding who he wants to become.
If you were to use one word to describe Chook what would it be and why?
Vulnerable. I didn’t expect myself to say that! But just thinking about it now he is incredibly vulnerable to people’s perception of him. He doesn’t enjoy being made a fool of, he is deeply hurt when his flirtation with girls doesn’t go his way and he goes to great lengths to impress his mentor and idol German. There is a great quote that is used in acting class, When we don’t get what we want in life, we up the voltage of our actions. Chook’s anger, ferocity and unpredictability comes from this place of vulnerability and he most certainly ups the voltage of his actions.
To someone unfamiliar to the title what kind of film would you describe KILLING GROUND to be?
Australia’s answer to Deliverance. It’s a survival thriller that asks “If you were in the bush and the life of yourself and your loved ones was put in terrifyingdanger, what would you really do? Not you as a superhero. But you as you. Are you brave, smart, strong enough to protect them? Could you, would you protect them?”
Your interaction with German (Aaron Pedersen) is key to the tone of the film. How was your chemistry with him and did he help you in any way with your role or vice versa?
The first time I met Aaron P was in at a run down motel that was placed on the side of a freeway with a single pub across the road and nothing else in sight except bush. As I rounded the corner to meet him he was leaning on a railing and smoking a dart. He turned to look at me through his heavily tinted sunglasses – making it impossible to know exactly where his eyes were – and said “You Chook?” “Yep.” I responded. He nodded while air sat still. “Damien’s written some pretty bad men hasn’t he? The only way this is gonna work is if we really go there. You in?” “Sure am.” I responded. “Then come to my room and we’ll have a chat.” Unsettled as hell, I followed him to his room and we spent the next 3-4 hours laughing, telling stories from our lives, talking through Australia’s history, the history of these men, the land that they live on and how their complex relationship would work. He set the tone for our relationship from the get go!
I love Damien’s casting decision of Aaron because I think he adds a complexity and history to the film by being an indigenous man. Aaron wanted to explore this idea of their being a sickness in the land due to the massacres that happened to both German and his people when first settled in 1788. We talked about how that history of violence is passed on through generations and how it takes hold of not only people but places as well. He also showed me how an actor can set the tone not only in the scene but with the entire crew by picking people up when they’re struggling and a pat on the back when they succeeded. It’s no mistake he’s regarded as one of Australia’s elite actors.
Are you surprised by any of the initial reviews for KILLING GROUND or are they what you expected?
Art is so subjective as we all know but after the first screening I knew Damien had created a film that felt impossible not to have some sort of reaction to. What that reaction is ranges hugely with everyone but I haven’t met a single person who has walked away disengaged. I’ve been overwhelmed with the response from Sundance and the continued praise for the film. To see and hear people gasping, pleading “Oh no!” jumping out of their seats and passionately cheering is something that will be imprinted on my memory for a lifetime.
Chook is a deep and disturbed character. Is there any role from the past that comes to mind as an influence for how you executed the character?
There wasn’t a particular character as such but I am inspired and aspire towards people like Daniel Day-Lewis, Meryl Streep, Sean Penn and Ben Mendlesohn to name a few. These amazing actors are able create such rounded people that can be terrifying, seductive, hilarious and heartbreaking all in the blink of an eye. They give you an unbiased look at a human who is trying to do the best they can with the skills that they have and let the audience be the judge of their actions. This is what I aspired to do with Chook.
After one screening, a woman came up to me who had been a homicide detective and worked on some of Australia’s most infamous cases interviewing our most violent criminals. She said that Aaron P and myself had truly captured the essence of what these people are like and that watching us was similar to sitting opposite the likes of Ivan Milat and The Murphy Brothers. As an actor that was a very humbling comment…to my friends and family, they were downright disturbed! They want me to do a romantic comedy next!
What is one thing you hope fans get out of seeing KILLING GROUND?
We would like to thank Aaron and IFC Midnight again for this interview. Look for KILLING GROUND in select theaters and on demand on July 21st