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Making Ned, Empire (UK), October 2003
typed by Carey

Ned Kelly director Gregor Jordan explains his take on Oz's most feared outlaw.

"Being an Australian, I'd always been aware of Ned Kelly, but when I read Our Sunshine by Robert Drewe, I realized I knew very little about him. What I liked about Robert's book was that it took you into Kelly's head as much as possible, and it used the landscapes as a character, with Kelly, the outlaw, facing death at the hands of a hundred police that night in 1880. The actual historical events were secondary to the style and mood of it.

Heath Ledger was my only choice for the lead, really. He was the right age and the same physical size as Kelly - who was just 25 when he died - and he even looks like him. He has the same kind of presence that Kelly had, and he's a big enough star to get the budget we needed. Most importantly, he's Australian, and if you consider those criteria, there really was no-one else.

For the role of Joe Byrne, his sidekick, I met with Orlando Bloom a couple of times, first in L.A. and again as I was doing auditions in London. It was one of those bizarre things: while he was doing it, I looked at the monitor and thought, 'Holy Shit! This guy's a movie star!' Afterwards, I showed the tape to Tim Bevan, one of the film's producers. He said 'Quick- cast him!' To play Superintendent Hare, Kelly's nemesis, I needed someone who had gravitas, and Geoffrey Rush certainly has that. We ground his dialogue to virtually nothing for that reason. He's someone who can say something without words. Geoffrey loved making this film, partly because we shot in Melbourne, where he lives, and it was a good opportunity to make a decent-sized film in his hometown.

Naomi Watts (who heath is dating) plays Julia, Kelly's lover, but she's not just the token female. Her character is there to display some of the societal elements of the story that caused Kelly's woes. People might call it a love story, but it's not. Heath's character is doomed, and it's a tragic story, if anything. It speaks of what could have been if life had gone differently. Ned and Julia may not have been well suited to one another, but she'd caught up in a tragic situation herself too, just as he is. She's trapped and persecuted- but in a different way.

The film's already out in Australia, and it was well received there- mostly. But that's because the people there are very divided in their perceptions of Ned Kelly. Working -class people say he was a hero of the underclass, but policemen say he was a murderer. The movie created a bit of a storm that way. Some said it was just an empty Hollywood glamorisation, whereas others said it was very accurate. The reactions were all over the place.

To be honest, I was mainly interested in the tragic elements of it. Everyone knows Ned Kelly dies at the end, so there's very little suspense. I was more interested in looking at his hopes and dreams, taking a more metaphysical approach to the story telling, as opposed to the conventional ride-into-town-and-rob-the-bank fashion. I didn't want the ending to be depressing, I wanted it to be spiritually uplifting. It's part of the tragedy: people wishing they could be something else, but can't because of the circumstances."


Heath Ledger: Ned Kelly Director: Gregor Jordan
Orlando Bloom: Joe Byrne Screenplay: John M. McDonagh
Naomi Watts: Julia Cook Running time: 110 mins (1 hour/ 50 mins)
Geoffrey Rush: Superintendent Hare Distributor: UIP

Australia in the 1870s, and Ned Kelly, son of an Irish Immigrant family, is victimised by a prejudiced police force. Soon the Kelly's have become a gang, on the run from the law and robbing banks to survive.

The endless delays inflicted upon Gregor Jordan's Buffalo Soldiers might yet help the Australian director's third movie, which arrives just two months after his acclaimed anti-military satire. Although this rather truncated take on the outback outlaw is lesser work, it's still shot through with enough lyrical touches to confirm Jordan as a talent to watch. Like Buffalo Soldiers, Ned Kelly takes a dense novel as it's source material - in this case, Our Sunshine by Robert Drewe - and applies liberal amounts of voiceover to both stitch together an episodic narrative and provide a flavour of the book. But Kelly was, of course, more than a book, and Jordan - perhaps hamstrung by limited budget - elides key episodes, hurries others, and singularly fails to elucidate the precise relationships of the Kelly gang.

Where he does score big, however, is on atmosphere and authenticity, and here he's aided by the likeably leads - Ledger and Bloom - who overcome dodgy beards and wobbly accents to put in spirited performances.

Any good?

A wannabe Western epic that never quite fits the widescreen, but is quite lovely around the fringes. A bit like Australia.

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