Five Questions with Roger Ward
03 May 2021
Actor Roger Ward is an Australian legend who helped shed light on Australian TV and film internationally. Ward has over 100 acting credits to his name and has appeared in classics, including Stone (1974) and Mad Max (1979). Ward won the Melbourne Underground Film Festival’s Best Supporting Actor award for his role in Bad Behaviour (2010).
1. You helped popularise Australian TV and film. What were the key elements in your career that made this possible?
Despite your gratifying comment, I have appeared in many forgettable films that never released and therefore could not denigrate my history. And the 50 or so acceptable films and series that I did appear in before Stone gave me healthy leverage, where one’s last job was the benchmark of your talent. Also, unlike today, there were not as many actors vying for the available roles, giving one better odds of being in a successful film. But to answer your question, I guess being in the right place at the right time and taking roles in films that have become ‘Cult Classics’ (although we had no idea at the time.) Also, because I was allowed to interpret the characters my way.
2. What was it like working with the celebrated Hugh Keays-Byrne (Stone and Mad Max)?
Hugh jumped ship from a touring theatrical company in 1973 and infiltrated the local acting market. He was 26 and yet to do a film when he accompanied a friend attending an audition for the role of Toad in Stone. And as is often the case, the original actor was pushed aside, and Hugh was signed, based on his physical appearance. However, there is a vast difference between acting on stage compared to film, and as this was Hugh’s first film, we witnessed some over-the-top performances, but it suited his scripted persona and was accepted.
Unfortunately, Hugh was undisciplined before the camera and would do what he felt was right at the time, making it difficult for his fellow cast and crew. Even four years later, while filming Mad Max, Hugh, unannounced and un-rehearsed, rammed a shot-gun barrel down the throat of Tim Burn’s Johnny The Boy ripping the roof of his mouth and chipping his teeth, but Hugh was unapologetic, declaring it an ‘in the moment thing’. His propensity to go with the mood never affected me as I always rolled with the punches or fought back with a gimmick of my own. It must have worked as we were both congratulated for our realistic work on Man From Hong Kong. Hugh and I worked on many films and TV series together and ended up being close friends until his death late last year.
3. You wrote the novel ‘The Set’ in the 1960s, which was later turned into a film in 1970 (Australia’s first R-rated and LGBT film) – do you think the Industry and society were ready for it?
No, the Industry was not, but society was and flocked to see it. They caused queues two and three blocks long outside the cinemas and traffic jams around Drive-Ins. But the Industry, including the publishing world, did their best to destroy the film and the book that spawned it. I had written the novel while living in Tahiti. And returned to Australia intent on publishing and selling the film rights. But I was criticized, ignored, and ostracized for daring to write such an outrageous book and was thrown out of many Houses with variations on, ‘Get out, and take this dreadful trash with you.’ It caused me to attempt to sell the film rights before publication. And only hours after receiving the manuscript, American Film Producer Frank Brittain bought the rights. My joy diminished after Frank indicated he wished to film only the Gay sections of the book. I was disappointed as the novel delves across many facets. However, despite Frank’s decision, the film is still being shown at festivals worldwide. The DVD is available, with a host of extras, including the novel, through Bounty Films and Amazon.
4. Quentin Tarantino refers to you as “magnificent” in the documentary Not Quite Hollywood. What do you think struck Tarantino about your acting style and appearances in Ozploitation films?
Tarantino astounded me with his knowledge of the local Industry and his understanding of my various portrayals. And it is a sad indictment on the local Industry when no one acknowledges your work until it is brought to attention by foreign eyes. Tarantino is very astute, extraordinarily talented, and despite appearances and actions, a compassionate man. So, when he witnessed my characters who were sometimes frightening, bullying, or arrogant, he knew I was telling the ‘truth’ that it was a character I was playing, it was not, as the local Industry thought, the ‘reel’ Roger Ward.
5. You’re also a screenwriter. Do you feel this helps you as an actor?
I would say it works the other way. As a writer, who is also an actor, I know what rolls off the tongue effortlessly. And being an actor allows me to adlib or create scenes faster than had I been purely a writer. I say this because I have never suffered writer’s block and over-write to the extent, I have to edit slabs of dialogue and scenarios from my work, which makes for a tight and entertaining script.
On the other hand, in the early days, when all writers and actors were learning how to handle this new medium of television and film, I, as an actor, would change complex lines to make an easier delivery. It caused consternation amongst the writers, so agreeing it would annoy me too, I vowed that no matter how difficult or seemingly strange the words are, I would say them with conviction. Sometimes it takes a long time to make sense, but I persevere and deliver them with conviction.
The dialogue for my character in Bad Behavior was excessively flowery and seemingly mindless, but I persevered and eventually made sense of the words and delivered accordingly. It resulted in a gong for Best Supporting actor. The same goes for Faceless Man in 2020. The dialogue was long and random, but I broke it down and understood what the writer/director wanted to convey. I delivered them unchanged and won a second Best Supporting actor for my trouble. So, I guess being a writer has helped with my acting.
Roger Ward lives a busy and exciting life. Ward is currently mid filming a pilot for a series called The Local written and directed by Rohan Everingham. Also will appear in new releases including Death’s Waiting Room by Dane Millerd; Richard Wollstonecroft’s Debt Collector; Tim Burn’s The Suckle Sisters, a new feel-good film, written and directed by John Jarrett. In association with his wife Jayashree (Oxford-educated journalist), Ward edits, re-writes, and co-writes scripts sent by established and beginner screenwriters.
Stone (Ozploitation Classic) is now on Blu-ray for the world and at JB HI-FI, Sanity, and Umbrella’s web store. Including special extras, such as a feature interview with Quentin Tarantino, deleted scenes, Not Quite Hollywood extended interviews, and much more.