Toronto: Kriv Stenders on Making A Killer Out of Simon Pegg

Kriv Stenders

“I'm a big fan of casting against type,” says the Australian director on why he picked funny man Pegg to play an assassin in 'Kill Me Three Times'

He managed to revive the ailing Australian domestic market with his runaway outback hit, Red Dog – a feelgood family affair about a kelpie cattle dog roaming the desert to find his master. Since then, Kriv Stenders has been quietly developing a list of features for his follow-up, with the view of expanding beyond down under.

In Kill Me Three Times, Simon Pegg stars in the unlikely role of an assassin in a beachside Aussie surf town, with lashings of black humor to boot. But Stenders, in Toronto for the film’s premiere on Saturday, Sept. 6, isn’t about let sleeping dogs lie just yet.

How would you sum up Kill Me Three Times?

It’s a darkly comic thriller, full of twists, double twists and triple twists. A delicious concoction. It’s a cross between Blood Simple and Rashomon. It plays with time frames in a really clever way, keeping the audience guessing.

How did you become attached?

After Red Dog, I was looking at developing a number of things. Then, about a year ago, the producer Larry Malcolm called. We had lunch, seemed to be kindred spirits, seemed to like the same kind of movies, and said, ‘Let’s try and work on something’. About six weeks later, he called and said, ‘Look, I‘ve got this script, I’ve got two weeks to make a decision, are you interested?’ I read it, and it just leapt off the page. I loved it, so I leapt in immediately – and I’m very glad I did."

So it’s the polar opposite to a crowd-pleasing family picture like Red Dog?

Yes, it is in terms of genre. But it’s still very much coming from the same place, in terms of wanting to please and entertain an audience and take them on a fun ride. It’s a classic popcorn movie – colorful, quite stylized and quite openly brash. A movie with a capital M, as (Quentin) Tarantino would say.

How do you think North American audiences will react to the film?

I think they’re going to enjoy it. Once the film starts, they’ll get it. They’ll understand that they can sit back and enjoy the show. We’ve got a great cast: Simon Pegg, Sullivan Stapleton, Alice Braga, Teresa Palmer, Luke Hemsworth and Bryan Brown – a great bunch of heads. As I said, it’s fun, it’s funny, it’s violent and it’s surprising [laughs].

Why cast Simon Pegg?

When I read it, I immediately responded to the humor. There’s a very particular strain of black comedy that runs through it. I said to Larry, ‘This is funny, isn’t it?’ I’m also a big fan of casting against type. I have a theory that comedians make great villains. We were both big fans of Simon [Pegg]’s work and his talent. Fortunately, Simon loved the script and came on board.

Was he aware of your other work?

He’d definitely seen Red Dog – and he got where I was coming from. It was a different genre, but still wanting to make something that had a pop aesthetic to it. A little larger than life. Pushing the style, pushing the tone.

As with Red Dog, the film was shot in Western Australia? Why?

The west coast of Australia is quite markedly different to the east. There’s a much more dramatic, very different, beautiful coastal landscape. Kill Me Three Times is set very much set in a surf town on the southern coast, south of Perth, where it’s especially spectacular.

You’re still based in Australia, for now at least. Are there any particular advantages or disadvantages working from there?

There’s a lot of opportunities with government funding and so on. It’s a great base as a filmmaker to make films. What was great about Kill Me Three Times was that it is clearly an international film, but shot in Australia. That was one of the reasons for jumping on it. I’ve had a great journey so far. But as a filmmaker, I am an opportunist, so when I see an opportunity, I take it.

Obviously, it’s been a lifelong dream to live and work in Hollywood, which is why I segued into commercial films and commercial filmmaking. I’d love to make a studio picture. I guess that would be the equivalent of being in the Olympics.

How difficult was it switching from experimental to mainstream features?

I guess it’s an evolution. Just as my films have kind of evolved, so has the industry. As we all know, the industry is in constant state of flux. I made a decision a long time ago to be in this business for the long run, and a lot of it is about being able to adapt to the market, to the industry, to the way in which people watch movies. I’ve been fortunate enough to start making the edgier, more experimental films in my youth. As I’ve aged, it’s been great to move from the arthouse domain into other areas. It’s a curious way to stay involved and change.

What do you look for in a project, generally speaking?

Well, to me, a great script is like a great song: it has a wonderful opening, fantastic verses, a great middle eight, a great rhythm. They’re just something you can’t forget. It’s very much like music for me, like sheet music: it’s a symphony or a great rock song. The thrusts, the harmonies, the melodies of a great song. That’s what I always look for – what I can distil into a single image or idea. When I get a script, I know exactly how to make it. Something that presents itself as cleanly and strongly as a song does, that’s what I’m really looking for.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m actually shooting a documentary for the ABC with Sam Neill, about the Anzac myth. I’m about to start pre-production on a sequel to Red Dog, called Blue Dog, later in the year. It’s a follow-up, actually – Blue Dog – not a sequel. I keep on getting told off by my producers for saying that. It’s part of a trilogy, which we’re hopefully going to make, about the Red Dog legend: Three Colors Dog [laughs].  I will also shoot a television series called The Principle, in October, for SBS, which is my first foray into television, which I’m very excited about.

What about your musical project with Kylie Minogue?

We’re still developing the screenplay, with Rocket Pictures, Elton John’s company, in the UK. I’ve been developing it for a few years. It’s called Synchronicity – a musical about synchronised swimming. It’s a doo-wop musical using Kylie Minogue’s music – a jukebox musical, set around the world of synchronised swimming.

You’ve got a war movie in the works as well, haven’t you?

Yes, there’s a project I’ve been involved with for a very long time, called Danger Close, which is about the battle for Long Tan in Vietnam, which Sam Worthington is attached to. I’m hoping to do it after Blue Dog.

And you’re still writing?

Yes, I’ve developed a few screenplays. I’ve written something as well – a smaller, low-budget film, which I’m hoping to do further down the track. It’s going back to a much more experimental film. It’s called Woman in the Tower. I’ve got a radical idea of how I want to make the film. I’m really into live cinema: a hybrid between theater and film. So I’m interested in doing something that’s a combination of live cinema and theater.