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INTERVIEW: Actor Ian Bliss

With the third film in The Matrix trilogy preparing to hit the shops, DVDnet's Marty sat down with Aussie actor Ian Bliss (Bane) to find out what it's like doing the massive Hollywood blockbuster thang...

How did The Matrix films rock up on your doorstep?
Well the Wachowski Brothers came to Sydney looking for Australian actors and I met up with them here and did a test for them, but this was after they had gone back to the States, so they took the tape with them. I didnít hear from them for ages so I thought that Iíd let that job go. But then I was over in Canada touring a play and I got the message that I got the job. I didnít quite realise how big the casting was going to be for the sequels.

Had you actually auditioned for the role of Bane?
Yeah, I auditioned for Bane. Bane was one of the characters that they held off until right at the very end. They were doing a lot of general auditions, but Bane was a character I hadnít heard much about, but as soon as I read the screen test scene, which is all I got, it was two sections put together Ė Bane pre-Smith and Bane after-Smith, so I had the chance to figure out what was going on with this character, his transformation from one character to another.

When you did the transformation from Bane to Agent Smith Bane, was the replication of his characteristics part of the screenplay, or something that you developed?
Itís something that I came up with for my screen test which then just got developed through the screenplay. I think they saw that I could take on the mannerisms pretty much just like Hugo (Weaving) did, and it then just went further and further into the screenplay. Because when we were shooting it we were doing different takes, sometimes a little less Smith and at other times a little more Smith to keep up with Hugoís change in character.

Did you find these mannerisms easy to portray, or something more challenging replicating another actorís style?
Iím a pretty good mimic so I kind of feel that I nailed it early on. The hard part was then finding the subtlety because Hugo changed the character ever so subtly from the first film for the sequels. So I watched the first film to see how Hugo had developed the character and I then got to see the footage that they had shot for the sequels and how Hugo had developed it so I could take on some of the new characteristics, so there was a bit of hard work in it, a bit of a challenge to convey his refined character.

What was your initial reaction to the knowledge of your involvement in The Matrix sequels?
When I saw the first film I was absolutely blown away. I always said that if they were going to make sequels Iíd love to be a part of it. I had no idea of the actual complexity of the character I was going to play or what my involvement was going to be, so I was really chuffed when I found out.

How did working on The Matrix compare to the smaller Australian films?
Well I have sort of done various size Australian films from really independent small films where producers and directors are mortgaging their houses to actually get the film made, to slightly bigger ones which would have a four or five million dollar budget, which, you know, that kind of budget covers a couple of months catering on films like The Matrix. The Matrix shoot was huge, it was absolutely massive in the form of the amount of luxuries afforded to a budget of their size, the amount of time that you get to work on things, the scale of the things that they built for the shoot, and it was certainly an eye- opener in that respect. So I would go from having one hour to shoot a scene on an Australian film to having one whole week to shoot a scene on The Matrix films.

Did that change in scale alter your performance at all with regards to an extended schedule?
Well I had to adapt to how I paced myself. Youíre sort of on the go a lot of the time with the smaller films and you get a quicker rhythm. But when youíve got the luxury of time afforded to you, you really have to learn to work more with the down time when youíre not shooting and then have it ready to go when you do get to film scenes. So I got educated in how to pace myself, itís just very different to smaller Australian films.

What were the Wachowski Brothers like to work with?
What you see in that documentary on The Matrix DVD (the first film) is what you get with the Wachowski Brothers. Theyíre a couple of urban Chicago boys who came up with these amazing ideas and got handed all these millions of dollars to make their adolescent fantasies come into reality and everyone can see them on the big screen. Yeah, theyíre really laid back Ė very un-Hollywood. They just like to Ďhangí, shoot a few hoops between takes, and yeah, theyíre really cool laid back guys, but at the same time theyíve created this massive world that everyoneís become obsessed with.

How about working with Hollywood stars Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Laurence Fishburn and Australiaís Hugo Weaving?
They were all great to work with. They had, obviously, been working together for quite some time with the first Matrix and in the pre- shoot stuff for the sequels, and youíd walk in and meet everyone and it was like being welcomed into a big family. Everyone was really devoted to these films and so excited at working with the Wachowski brothers so everyone was really putting in 100% every time. So, yeah, it was really great, really friendly and welcoming and everyone worked really hard, so there was a real vibe on the set, to work with those guys.

Being a film that relies so heavily on stunts and special effects, what were your experiences with the training for elements such as these?
In the past ten years in both film and TV I generally get to play cool characters such as the bad guys, where they have a few fights or gruesome death scenes. Iím thinking of putting together a Ďdeath reelí because I think Iíve done about 20 to 30 death scenes which involves doing some of my own stunts, you know Iíll have the stunt doubles and stuff like that, but I tend to get a bit messed up which is good getting into, you know, especially with The Matrix Revolutions, getting down and dirty towards the end of my involvement in the film (laughs). But Iíve had a bit of experience doing stunt work over the years and I think Iím getting the hang of it now (laughs again).

Recently I was up on the Gold Coast and visited the official Matrix exhibit at Warner Bros. Movie World which showed how the actors were digitally tracked for the making of Enter the Matrix. What was it like to work with the latest in digital technologies for the video game?
Most of my stuff for the game was done in one day and I think it was the most intense work I have ever done. I was in there with a whole array of video cameras hidden in scaffolding pointed in my direction and I had the little dots and markers on my face and body that captured every little bit of movement and I read all these different lines of dialogue for the various action that happens in the game. It was so intense doing that because you really had no contact with what you were doing; purely what buttons the player will press and will then come out with some sort of response. We had to be really precise in what we were doing so that the cameras could capture it and put it in the software. And it was then taken away to some mainframe and they manipulate it the way they want, so itís very interesting to see the virtual character they created from me. I havenít had the chance to play the game yet (laughs) I hope to someday though.

Do you find it more enjoyable as an actor to play the bad guy?
I find it really interesting to play the villain. They are really interesting characters and you can have fun with it and I have played a few in my time and Iíve always tried to do something different to each one because it does give you the chance to broaden your scope.

So who would be your favourite villain that youíve played?
Ah... Baneís certainly one of them because I got to do my Hugo Weaving (laughs). And Hugo has established such a defined Ďbadí guy character that it is kind of nice to step into his shoes. I did like playing the character of Martin in Siam Sunset. I feel like I have created one of the most memorable death scenes in Australian cinema. It just went on, and on, and on... and got the best response from audiences.

Can you tell me about your role in Stealth?
I play a lieutenant in an elite fighter squadron that has cutting-edge technology and I play the lieutenant who controls the mainframe computer that controls the jets on a covert mission.

It is directed by Rob Cohen, the director of The Fast and The Furious and xXx, what can audiences expect from Stealth?
Well heís certainly making an action film. But I think heís trying to make an action film where people can watch it and go on the ride and get right into the action. Previously with The Fast and the Furious he had cars racing around the ground and then in xXx had cars going up bridges, and now jets flying around in the stratosphere so I mean I asked him what the next step is, is it outer space or something? Heís just upping the ante each time.

So do you enjoy working in action films?
Yeah, theyíre great because you do the bit that you do in these films and you get a real buzz when you see the finished product because there are so many layers involved in action films. I mean youíre involved in some aspects of it and so much more is done after your bit is completed before the final film is made.

How involved do you get with the stunt work in these films?
Not a lot in Stealth is me personally, but if there is some work to do I will do as much as I can possibly do, but Iíll always defer to the stunt man, the professional, someone who knows exactly what theyíre doing and making me look good (laughs).

Can you tell me a bit about Man Thing which comes out in the US later in the year?
Well Man Thing is based upon a rather obscure Marvel comic about a swamp creature. Marvel comic readers are aware of Man Thing, and itís only really a small audience. But Iím not sure how itís going to work in a film. Itís probably going to be a pretty cool cult film that will go off big time. Brett Leonard that directed it has a really nice wave of comedy in it. It was a hell of a lot of fun to work on though, and the vibe is that it will be a funny horror film, as a rough cut leads anyway.

Do you prefer working with a smaller local cast and crew or the larger-scale of Hollywood? Why?
Ooh I like both. I mean, certainly itís nice to be on a big studio production but I really like ground roots too because theyíve got a rough and real independent feel to them purely because they may not always have the cash that bigger studios have but you can really make a good film working with everyone just pitching in.

Even though The Matrix films and Stealth are big-budget Hollywood productions shot in Australia, was the crew Australian or Ďimportedí from overseas?
Well with The Matrix films it was maybe the head of the department that was American, and the rest of the crew Australian, and it is quite similar on Stealth. Itís probably 95 to 98% Australian crew for these films, with a lot of the supporting cast being Australians too.

Taking Rose Byrne as an example, do you see Hollywood films that are made in Australia as a way for Australian actors to be made visible on the big screen internationally?
Yeah, absolutely. I think weíve been really fortunate that a lot of Hollywood films have actually come to Australia and also that these films realise that there is talent here. The fact that they have come here and used Aussie actors and welcomed them in the Hollywood film industry. It seems that more and more Australian actors are making it into Hollywood films. Even when I was in the States there is a real Australian presence.

What got you into acting in the first place?
Well both of my parents were involved in the arts for years and they started to back off when they started to have a family but it was always present, and I think it has been a natural progression Ė thereís always people around involved in the arts so I kind of got the feel for it. And my folks were always really supportive too.

Any advice for young Aussie actors out there?
Keep with it. Just keep with it. Thereís a bit of a vibe sometimes that not much is going on and the industry can be a bit dire but I donít think thatís the case. I mean there is always something going on, but youíve gotta be out there and create yourself.

What can we expect to see from you in the future?
Well I plan to go back to the States sometime this year and I think the idea is that if it is happening for me thatíll be great, but Iíd like to keep based in Australia if that is possible. Iím really fortunate for the way that things have panned out for me and if it keeps going this way, Iíll be really happy with that.

Ian Bliss can be seen in the Roadshow DVD releases The Matrix Reloaded (available now) and The Matrix Revolutions (available April 2, 2004), as well as the upcoming features Man Thing in late 2004 and Stealth in 2005.

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