Young And Restless
24 April 1994
Coming soon to a cinema near you: Aden Young has been labelled the Next Big Thing on the movie scene. Just don’t expect him to agree with the reviews.
ADEN YOUNG opens the door of his Kings Cross hotel room and I immediately feel like slamming it closed. Why? Well, apart from being excessively good-looking (a producer on one of his films recently compared him, in the same very large breath, to Elvis Presley, Montgomery Clift, James Dean and Paul Newman), provocatively talented (Australia’s best directors are queuing to praise him) and replete with street hip from his mane of black hair right down to the scuffed toe of his cowboy boot, Aden Young is just a little too, shall we say, advantaged.
This 21-year-old with eyes like bits of sky who is politely offering me a seat and a drink is, as it happens, also intelligent, charming, a man of considerable restraint and a few other good things which I haven’t got the strength to list here.
But the worst – the worst! – aspect of Aden Young is that he’s reasonable. The media, who very much want to paint him as the next Mel Gibson, could possibly be a target of his scorn, but as it turns out, Young can see both sides of the story. “If I was a writer, I’d do exactly the same thing, take parts out of it,” he says, referring to journalists who have thrilled to colorful Aden utterings. “As a film- maker you sometimes have to take things out of a scene. You put it together in a way that is your own interpretation.”
Attaboy, Aden. Or this, in relation to media interviews: “It’s not going to kill you to say a few things. I think I’ll just sit here and drink Bailey’s.”
And that is what Aden Young proceeds to do as he rolls cigarettes and talks about his rapid rise since he came to the attention of the world out of nowhere in 1992 when he made Bruce Beresford’s well-respected `Black Robe’, a tale of the Jesuit missionaries’ 17th Century fight for the hearts and minds of the Indians in remote northern Canada.
Young’s performance as Daniel, a French carpenter who forsakes spirituality for earthly pleasures, was solid enough, especially for an 18-year-old in his first film. But it left film-goers wondering whether they had just seen the future of Australian films and its name was Aden Young. “When I first saw Aden in `Black Robe’ I was stunned,” says Paul Harmon, director of his latest movie, `Shotgun Wedding’. “I hadn’t seen a screen presence like it since I first saw Mel Gibson on screen.”
THE Next Big Thing tag still hangs heavy around Young’s neck as he watches four, possibly five of his films being released this year, including the much-anticipated `Speed’ by local director Geoffrey Wright, who made `Romper Stomper’. His role, as a misunderstood slow learner, will, according to Wright, send Young into the stratosphere.
“`Speed’ will do for Aden what `Romper Stomper’ did for Russell Crowe,” Wright says. “There could be no dispute that he is one of the best actors in the country.”
The myth-making surrounding Young has been helped along by David Hannay, producer of `Shotgun Wedding’, who says this of Young: “Aden has resonances of those great mythological characters in movies – the young Presley, the Presley of `King Creole’, James Dean and Montgomery Clift for their extraordinary sensitivity; (Paul) Newman for the eyes and the looks and Brando for the pugnacity and strength of character.”
“I laughed so hard when I saw that,” Young says. “I was flattered and at the same time absolutely puzzled. Let’s see, who’s on the list …. Hey, I’ve written a few songs, smashed a few cars, scarred my face, cooked a few dishes.”
It’s been an extraordinary journey already for the Canadian-born Young who, at 16, was attending Saturday morning drama classes at Sydney’s Phillip Street Theatre. Under the wing of agent Penny Williams (who developed into “sort of a mother figure”, Williams says), Young tested for a film but didn’t get the part. When the same casting agent was helping Bruce Beresford find a young man with a Canadian accent for `Black Robe’, he remembered Young and mentioned him to Beresford.
Young left Australia on his 18th birthday to read for `Black Robe’.
“I did a lot of travelling last year, making films,” Young says.
“It was fantastic. Go to Brisbane and make a film in the jungle. Go to Tasmania and make a film with the sea. I thought `This is a nice journey around the world’.”
Since the excitement of `Black Robe’, Young has, apart from his starring role as a Marine in `Sniper’ opposite Tom Berenger (`Platoon’), shot in Port Douglas, opted to make a clutch of Australian “arthouse” films which won favor in Cannes but are unlikely to be blockbusters: `Love in Limbo’, `Shotgun Wedding’, `Broken Highway’ and Paul Cox’s `Exile’, all of which have been shown in the marketplace at Cannes.
Young could, of course, clean up. But then he would be joining any number of other good-looking young actors in Hollywood, a brat-pack with high burn-out potential. Like the others in his generation of Australian actors – Ben Mendelsohn, Nadine Garner, Tara Morice and Noah Taylor, Young is a man not easily deflected from his trajectory.
HERE’S a measure of Young’s anti-Hollywood choice of films: `Exile’, a moody piece about the trials of a young Tasmanian boy transported to an island off Tasmania at the end of the 19th Century for sheep stealing, has not yet, to the exasperation of director Paul Cox, been sold for a release in Australia. “There’s a big whore in LA and I’m staying away for a while,” Young told `Juice’ magazine. “It’s all a money game … It really wants to f… you.”
Young turned down the Sharon Stone movie `Sliver’ because he didn’t like the script. He wanted to do `Alive’, about the survivors of a plane crash in the Himalayas, but didn’t get the role. “I have a very cynical view of Hollywood,” he says, “but I also believe the world’s best film-makers work through that system. If what’s expected of this hotshot ’94 face is that the next thing I do is go to Hollywood and make `Lethal Weapon 6′, forget it.”
“He is a very fine and dedicated and talented person,” says Paul Cox. “I’m glad he hasn’t got the American bug.”
Aden Young is a lyrical soul with a penchant for Bob Dylan, Shakespeare and the State Library where he often goes for “adventures”, spending hours there searching for books that interest him. `Twelfth Night’ and Tim Winton’s `Cloudstreet’ were revelations.
Despite his bookish tendencies, Young’s forceful portrayals are becoming well-known in the industry.
One scene in `Speed’ demonstrates why Geoffrey Wright affectionately calls him a “method madman”. “The scene is in a laundromat and the guy playing Aden’s father, who suffers from a kind of senile dementia, comes in wanting his pants washed, because he’s urinated in them and Aden forces him out, putting some real strength into it,” says Wright. “The assistant director came up and said `You’re going to have to control your actors’. I had to tell Aden to back off a bit otherwise we’ll have an actor in the hospital.”
Young had the nerve to take on the veteran Paul Cox in his interpretation of the tortured young convict in `Exile’. “We had a few problems when we started,” Cox admits. “We had certain ideas about things that should be in the film and he had strong ideas too.
It all evens out and we’re now friends for life.”
NEVER really interested in acting at school, at 16 Young found himself inspired by Shakespeare (“I had this romantic vision of Shakespearean troops roaming across English soil locked in my head”). “I’d never conditioned myself towards discipline. I’d never been studious at school. I was always a day late with every assignment, if I handed them in at all. Maybe (taking up acting) was a way of telling myself I need something: if you don’t do this it will be nobody’s fault but yours.”
He remembers a teacher at his school playing a video of `Casablanca’, which captivated him. “I asked the teacher if I could take the video home because we’d only got half-way through it. Today I can’t see the film for what it is, I can just see the window I would watch it next to and the old TV set cover we had.”
Aden Young is certainly an intense young man, intelligent enough to ponder the Big Questions, but young enough to find himself tangled up a bit in their expression. “During the filming of `Exile’ I couldn’t stop questioning,” he says. “I questioned everything. It got to a point where I thought I was going to go absolutely mad. You’ve got to stop. If you keep going, you’ll get dead ends, there’ll be no answers.”
“You gather information through those moments of contemplation more so than you do through moments of relaxation. When you’re on the beach relaxing you’re not going to feel the world spiralling through your soul, you’re going to feel it more in an arc of depression.”
Has he ever been told to lighten up? “Yeah, on occasion,” Young says. “Everyone goes through a period of questioning.” Has he ever regretted anything he’s said? “There were times, days afterwards,” he says, “but I won’t bring them up because then I’d be regretting them again tomorrow..”
It was `Black Robe’ that sparked his spiritual search. The experience meant “huge changes” in his life. “I hadn’t seen the world, I hadn’t seen the spirituality of the world,” he says. “Even today, when I walk down the street, at 21 I imagine I know quite a lot (then) I’ll meet someone like a taxi driver who’ll explain things to me I’d never known. Sitting at lunch today I was watching people at a table and realising that through every set of eyes it’s a different world.
My whole perspective of life was open to discussion, suddenly.
Everything was questioned.”
“He’s sensitive and he’s an idealist,” says Geoffrey Wright. “It’s an old story, a young man looking for truth and beauty. He’ll certainly find it in himself, whether he can find it in the world is another matter.” Says `Speed’ co-star Ben Mendelsohn: “I don’t know where Aden comes from; he’s reasonably private as a person. He’s a great deal more centred than most actors I know. He can waver greatly between intensity and frivolity.”
YOUNG’S family moved to Sydney from Canada when he was nine. “I vomited all the way from Hawaii,” he says. “But as soon as I got off the plane and saw this country I loved it, and as soon as I was told we were going to live here, I hated it. For years I had this ridiculous paranoia that everyone hated me because I was a dumb Yank.” He laughs. “I must talk to my therapist about this.”
The therapist, for the man who had the “dreadfully normal upbringing”, does not exist. His sunny childhood after growing up in a large family left him with happy memories. Soon after arriving in Australia, the Youngs -three boys and twin sisters (“I was meant to be a girl”) – moved to Hornsby, on the outskirts of Sydney, and then to Merewether Heights, near Newcastle. “I wanted to be a surfer and I wanted to be Canadian,” he smiles.
Of his normal childhood, he says: “Should I be saying this? Shouldn’t I be a tortured soul? I was gifted because I was the son of two very strong people who were just madly in love with each other. Very old- fashioned in that they were with one another for life, and that’s it.”
He saw Daniel Day-Lewis, his favorite actor, in `In The Name Of The Father’, which reminded him of his youth. “In the film Daniel Day- Lewis sings `Like A Rolling Stone’ in a pub with a friend and it was so unconsciously and drunkenly enthusiastic towards this song and it held such a positive image in my mind and gave me back so many memories … God, how many times had I sat on a beach down at Seals Rocks and gone
`Once upon a time, you dressed so fine, threw the bums a dime, in your prime … didn’t you!’ and had a sip of beer and try not to miss the next verse, all the time smiling like Crosby Stills and Nash.”
A huge, un-self-conscious laugh as he emulates the nasal Dylan again: “Didn’t you!” It’s no surprise that Daniel Day-Lewis has captivated him.
Apart from thrilling the rest of us, Day-Lewis is also, obviously, the actor’s actor. “I regard him as the best actor that ever lived, and that’s a big compliment, and I’m willing to take that back tomorrow,” Young laughs. “He’s held his honesty, whether that’s his education or his stage background.”
Young’s favorite subjects are philosophical – “You have a decision to talk or sleep,” he says, “and you probably learn a lot more by talking”. His least favorite topic, to a journalist anyway, is his relationship with actor Claudia Karvan, who starred in `High Tide’ with Judy Davis and `The Big Steal’ with Ben Mendelsohn.
“We don’t talk about personal things,” he says. “Much, anyway. I was reading in a magazine an interview with Gary Oldman, which was interesting. It’s rare that I’ll read an article about another actor unless I’m incredibly interested. The only one I’ve read in the past six months was on Daniel Day-Lewis and maybe, self-consciously, one of my own. I’m only interested in what they’re bringing to their craft.
It’s human nature to want a bit of gossip, I do myself, but I’m not going to be the one to give it.”
Young did relate a story to `Australian Style’ magazine which illuminated his struggle with one so young being so intensive. `I danced for the first time in about three years the other night, Claude and I. We put on US3 and it just went. And I was around her parents – and I just went f… it, I’m dancing. This is it. Maybe it’s youth.
Maybe it’s just the injection of a new age. I think we face a lot of fear. I think we get it fed down our throats. And you’ve got the opportunity to sink and drown in the fear or to say `No, I’m not going to drown, I’m going to float’.”
Young is aware of letting his new fame overwhelm his reactions as a young person. Away from the fawning that now accompanies him, he is keeping his head. “I’ve driven back and forth to Melbourne a few times and the last time I did it I had a reconditioned engine so I had to go at 60 all the way. I thought I’d hate it, but what happened was I saw that as ugly as the Hume Highway can get, it has so many beautiful aspects. And that’s what I’m doing now, just slowing down and noticing things.”