Australia’s Most Successful Movie Export

Bruce SpenceThe current wave of Aussie success in Hollywood is certainly impressive — it’s put us on the map for filmmakers, and now we’re having everything from Tropfest shorts to Star Wars movies shot in our backyards.

And when Australasian actors take centre stage in the biggest movies coming out of Hollywood, we know we’re doing something right.

But fame’s such a fickle and transitory thing. How long is it before Heath, Naomi, Nicole, Cate, Joel, David, Miranda, Hugo, Sam, Rose, Susie and Eric — even (God forbid) Russ himself — start taking gigs in schlocky straight to video erotic thrillers? It’s a slippery slope downwards, just ask Luke Perry, Dean Cain, Christopher Lambert and Rutger Hauer; they were all in movies and TV shows that became cultural phenomena, now they’re the butt of a communal Hollywood joke (no, you can’t include Shannon Tweed — she pioneered straight to video soft porn as a legitimate career choice and she’s never had any pretensions otherwise).

We have our old schoolers, for sure, and as Brand Australia rises higher on the Hollywood radar, it’s taking some of our most experienced old guard thespians along for the ride. Even if they’re not getting the same plum roles as their younger, flashier contemporaries, we get to see Anthony LaPaglia in Analyse That, Michael Caton in Rob Schneider’s The Animal, Noah Taylor in both Tomb Raider films (okay, it’s not always a good thing), and the ‘ocker generation’ actors like Jack Thompson in Star Wars II, Tony Barry in The Night We Called it a Day and Richard Carter in Gettin’ Square.

Then there’s the veterans who conquered Hollywood long ago; Sam Neill can battle dinosaurs on Isla Nublar one minute and come home to flex his acting muscles in a dark indie project the next. And our own favourite adopted son, starting from humble beginnings as a cop named Max in a hotted up Falcon Interceptor, has been one of the world’s most bankable stars for the better part of 15 years.

But who do you think is the most dependable actor is in Australian film? He’s almost never in a lead part, but he’s been in the industry for over 30 years now, in film roles so varied he’d be the envy of Al Pacino.

One of his earliest films was the first true Australian success story, The Cars that Ate Paris. He’s been a comic book character, a mechanic, an alien (several times), a vampire and the Australian action movie genre’s most eccentric pilot.

He’s left his mark not just one some of the best known and loved films of the last quarter century, but world’s best selling video game. You might not know his name, but you’ll instantly recognise his face.

Give up? Maybe his upcoming projects will jog your memory.

Who’s the one Australian actor is starring in the three biggest Hollywood movie trilogies of the last four years? If you said Hugo Weaving, you’re close; but as Elrond in the Lord of the Rings films and Agent Smith in the Matrix trilogy, he’s too busy to inhabit a galaxy far, far away (where even Susie Porter and Joel Edgerton were only bit players).

If you spot the weird looking guy playing the Train Man in Matrix Revolutions and you’re just certain you’ve seen him before, you undoubtedly have. If you can’t wait to see him playing the Mouth of Sauron in LOTR: Return of the King or a bit part as a benevolent alien in Star Wars III, go down to the video shop and hire Mad Max II (he’s the gyro Captain) Midnite Spares, Rikki and Pete, The Year My Voice Broke, Ace Ventura 2 or Queen of the Damned; he’s in them all.

The multi-talented and ineffable Bruce Spence, you’re our most wide-ranging film export. Take a bow.