June 9, 2011
Against overwhelming odds and with little regard for her own well-being, Margaret reunited thousands of families, brought authorities to account and drew worldwide attention to an extraordinary miscarriage of justice. Children as young as four had been told their parents were dead, and been sent to children’s homes on the other side of the world. Many were subjected to appalling abuse.
They were promised oranges and sunshine; they got hard labour and life in institutions.
To win a double pass to Oranges And Sunshine, click HERE.
Legendary Aussie actor Hugo Weaving plays Jack, one of the children victimised by the program who must now come to grips with the fact his mother might be alive.
What attracted you to the project?
I got the script with a covering letter saying that Emily (Watson) was involved and that Jim Loach was directing. The material’s just so moving and beautifully written, so it was something I was instantly grabbed by. Once I’d met Jim I was even more interested; I just thought he was a delightful person, very warm and kind of quiet, but intelligent. I was very excited about the idea of working with Emily, and I also knew that David Wenham was involved, so it was the whole package.
Who is Jack?
Jack just seemed to me to be a man crying out to be accepted and to have his story recognised. He’s a very gentle soul, a lost soul, quietly working to find something in an undemonstrative way. When we meet him he’s still going through a great deal of issues and a lot of pain. He is estranged from his family as well as from his mother and father – he assumes they’re dead. But he’s just linked up with his sister again.
What is his story as shown in the film?
Nicky, Jack’s sister, is part of Margaret’s group in Nottingham and she tells them a story about having found her brother again and shows them a photo of Jack. Quite soon after that Nicky’s persuaded by Margaret to go and see Jack again. They’ve obviously met up before a couple of times and so we first meet Jack at Melbourne Airport, when Nicky and Margaret arrive.
Initially he’s very mistrustful of Margaret. Even though he can see that her intentions are probably good, I think he has a great mistrust of social workers, psychiatrists, anyone in bureaucracy, in positions of power or administration. He basically says to Margaret, ‘I was told as a child that my mother was dead; now you’re telling me she might be alive, but I don’t really know what to do with that information’. I think he feels at that stage that he doesn’t know whether he would have the strength to meet his mother. But the journey is embarked upon to try and find her.
Did you know about the story before you read the script?
I was pretty ignorant of the story really, although I’d seen The Leaving Of Liverpool [an Australian television drama about the child migrants] many years before so I suppose I did know something about it. Just not the extent of it – that so many young kids had been sent out.
The next step after talking to Jim and committing to doing it was reading Margaret’s book, and then I wanted desperately to meet the man on whom Jack is partially based – someone who’d actually come out and had that experience themselves. I was doing a play in Melbourne and I got to meet this wonderful man who’d been sent out as a child from England at the age of ten. He was incredibly forthcoming and generous with his time and we sat and talked for about three hours. That was a wonderful thing to do.
What did you discuss?
The school he’d been to, his early life, his marriage, his kids and then his descent into depression; his attempted suicide and his finding his way out of that. Then he tried to contact his mother and get in touch with his sister and then he met Margaret. It was an invaluable experience talking to him and that was my primary research.
What was the impact of the government apologies while you were filming?
The day I left for the shoot in England Kevin Rudd apologised, and so by the time I landed all the English papers were full of it – which is extraordinary really after such a long time. I was driving along in the afternoon listening to the PM crying; it was incredibly moving and just so tragic.
All these people have probably tried to tell their stories many times but no one’s really listened. So for it to suddenly break in that way must have been an incredible vindication of who they were and where they’d been and what happened to them. But at the same time it seemed extraordinary that it should have taken so many years.
What are the challenges for an actor playing a real-life character?
With any character the challenge is to do as much research and psychological investigative work as possible, in order to try to understand their motivations and complex psychology. Then you have to let go of all of that and just try to exist on the day in the moment. In a way these characters come with added pressure – you’re trying to be faithful to them and their experience and so maybe there’s an added sense of… I don’t know that ‘duty’ is the right word, but trying to do the right thing by a person or by a group of people.
What’s it been like working with Emily Watson?
Really delightful. She’s such an intelligent and sensitive and very present human being. I suppose I don’t really know her very well, but I’ve always loved her work from Breaking The Waves through to Synecdoche and everything in between, so I was really thrilled with the idea of working with her.
How is Jim Loach as a director?
He’s a lovely, calm, sweet man and he’s obviously intelligent and knows what he wants. We sometimes didn’t know whether it was a take or a rehearsal, which is always a good thing because it means it’s seamless. It all seems to have the same uncomplicated energy to it. He has a great empathy for the characters.
What does ‘oranges and sunshine’ mean?
Well, it’s interesting that the title Oranges And Sunshine is something that Jack says. He was asked as a child whether he wanted to go to Australia where he could live in a white house, ride a horse to school and be able to pick oranges off the trees for his breakfast and where the sun shines every day. That was the sort of golden promise that these children were sold and then in the same breath someone said to him, ‘Well you might as well go because your mum’s dead.’
So it was sold as a wonderful world they were going to, a wonderful new life for them and yet at the same time they were told their parents had died. ‘Oranges and Sunshine’? It’s the great promise and the great lie, the great untruth that was told to these innocent children who were damaged for so many, many years and probably irrevocably. And it’s the journey that Margaret takes to try to heal that and give them some sense of who they are and what has happened to them, gain them some sort of recognition.
So to me it’s really about abandonment and lies and then being accepted again.
Oranges And Sunshine is in cinemas now. To win a double pass, click HERE.