Since graduating from WAAPA in 2011, Ben O'Toole has filled his resume with serious supporting roles in films such as The Water Diviner, Hacksaw Ridge and Detroit.
Now, Ben takes his stab (so to speak) at demon-fighting and broad humour in Aussie director Kiah Roache-Turner's Nekrotronic, which opens the Australian Sci-Fi Film Festival on Friday and is available on DVD, digital and Blu-ray on September 10.
On the eve of the festival, Ben, 30, spoke with TV WEEK about his starring role, fond memories of Love Child, and friendship with Russell Crowe.
Q: How did this opportunity in Nekrotronic come about?
Ben: I think I happen to be in Australia for about a week for my brother's birthday in, I want to say 2017. This movie was kicking around and I ended up getting put in a room with the two brothers, Kiah and Tristan, and with Andrew Mason, one of the producers, for an audition. I'd never done anything like it. It's a pretty crazy, fun movie and I sort of thought, 'You know, I like watching movies like that.' And I've worked with Andrew before on The Water Diviner, so it was a bit of a, a bit of a no brainer from my end.
Q: Were you familiar with Kiah and Tristan Roache-Turner's 2014 zombie B-movie Wyrmwood?
Yes. That being such a passion project of theirs, they made that film over the years and I watched that, and I was like, 'Wow, these are two artists I'd really like to work with because if this is what they can do on a shoestring, somebody give these guys some money and let's go!'"
Q: Your character, Howard North, is a sanitation worker who learns he is a latent demon hunter. He's certainly the most-out there person you've played. Did you have fun with that?
It is really sort of bro comedy, you know, like Cheech and Chong style stuff, which is a bit of a guilty pleasure, really. You either love that stuff or you don't, and I mean, I'm still the kind of kid that giggles at fart jokes! Given the opportunity to help make those jokes was a lot of fun. I've done quite a few dramas and true stories, so doing something more tongue in cheek, a little bit more self-aware in regards to the jokes it's telling, was a lot of fun to be in on the joke with that.
Q: So it's a great departure for you.
The sole purpose of a movie like this is to entertain. That's it. This isn't The Shawshank Redemption, you know! We never set out to make that movie. We set out to make an entertaining, fun sci-fi comedy horror, and considering those parameters, I'm pretty proud of the movie we made.
Q: You've worked with your idols, like Mel Gibson on Hacksaw Ridge and Russell Crowe for The Water Diviner. Do you pinch yourself for those opportunities?
I really do. When working with Russell, growing up watching Gladiator and everything and then Russell and I are still really good mates. We talk frequently, and I go to his place for Christmas and stuff like that. You do pinch yourself.
Q: Do you stay in touch?
When Russ has seen a movie of mine, he would turn around and congratulate me for it. It's nice being seen as a contemporary of his even though I'm very aware that we're not contemporaries! [laughs] But it's very flattering when somebody of his calibre, says, 'Good work, man'. It does mean the world.
Q: You were on Love Child for three seasons. Would you ever work on a television series again?
I don't have any issue with television. I love theatre. I love acting. I'll do it on the corner of the street! I am very happy for that. The guys at [production company] Playmaker, who did Love Child at Channel Nine, they were the ones that gave me my first experience in front of the camera professionally. But also I learned a lot on that show. Some big Australian names were on that program and they're all so sweet and so lovely, and I had a hell of a time cutting my teeth on that show.
Q: Do you get recognised for Love Child?
I was at the casino on the Gold Coast shooting the last film I was doing. Unfortunately I couldn't come back to for fourth season of Love Child, but for the three seasons I did, I think one of the girls serving behind the bar recognised me as the cop, as Officer Pete, from Love Child, and I was there going like, 'Wow, it's been years!' It's awesome. I was pretty stoked about that. I thought people would have forgotten by now, but they haven't. So that's lovely.
Nekrotronic opens the Australian SciFi Film Festival at Event Cinemas George Street in Sydney on Friday, 6 September with a 6pm screening followed by a Q&A with the filmmakers. Tickets available here.
The film screens in Melbourne on Saturday, 7 September at the Village Jam Factory at 7pm, followed by a Q&A. On Sunday, 8 September, the film will be shown at 6.30pm at Event Brisbane Myer Centre and will also screen at 6.30pm at the Event Westfield Marion in Adelaide, to be followed by a Q&A with the filmmakers. Tickets will be on sale via FilmInk from: https://www.filmink.com.au/nekrotronic/