by GREG KING
When I jokingly mention to writer/director Josh Lawson that I called his sex comedy The Little Death Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sexual Fetishes But Were Afraid To Ask, he laughs good naturedly, and responds: “Well, it’s funny you should say that because that Woody Allen film Everything You Wanted To Know About Sex… is a huge influence on me. I remember as a kid watching that film and really loving it. But obviously this film is a lot less outrageous than that one was, but certainly it was an influence.”
The Little Death is a wonderfully subversive comedy that follows a number of couples who try to spice up their relationships with some bizarre sexual fantasies. Lawson explores these taboo kinky fetishes with ribald abandon and a healthy curiosity, and he pushes the envelope at times. He mixes some uncomfortable moments that will have you squirming in your seats with black humour and genuine, laugh out moments.
“I think I noticed that there was a bit of a gap in the industry in Australia where I felt that sex hadn’t really been explored on Australian film in the way that I wish it had been,” he elaborates when talking about the origins of the film. “And I also thought that sex was a great way to explore the deeper issues of relationships and communication and intimacy and all that sort of stuff.”
Lawson was inspired by a dinner party conversation where he and some friends were talking about sex fetishes. From that spark of inspiration he began researching a number of illicit but legal sexual fantasies that provide the starting point for the film. “We were kind of shocked, and we were titillated, and I think that’s when I realised that fetishes might be a really interesting subject for a film. Because if I could elicit from an audience what we were feeling around the dinner table during this conversation, then we were on to something.”
Lawson did a lot of research on-line, reading case studies, talking with sexologists, and reading books on the subject. But eventually he settled on fetishes that involved planning and forethought because he wanted to see how strategic or tactical someone could be when it came to setting up a fetish that got them off. He wanted fetishes that would really involve manipulating or lying, deceiving the other person in some way.
Lawson developed the script over about six or seven years. He did a lot of development with actors and table readings. “I got nods from people I respected,” he explains. “It was a subject that really needed a lot of care, it needed a lot of sensitivity. It needed drafts where I pushed it too far, so I needed to know how far I could take it.”
The Little Death marks the feature film directorial debut for Lawson, who is best known as an actor who has done lots of television work. More recently Lawson has starred in the romantic comedy Any Questions For Ben?, and Anchorman 2 opposite Will Ferrell and Steve Carell, and he has an ongoing role as Doug Guggenheim in the HBO series House Of Lies, which has now entered its fourth season. Was this a direction he always wanted to take his career in?
“Yes,” he says. “I think I’ve always loved film ever since I was a kid, and acting was a great way of getting into it at that point. I’ve been doing it for a long long time, and for me it just felt like the right time in my career to explore more control, to explore storytelling from the ground level and that comes from of course writing and creating your own stuff. But this story was really personal for me, it was something I’d lived with for a long time. I just couldn’t see anyone else directing it. I had to hang on to it, I knew very specifically how I needed it to look.
“I think that every person who I work with, and who I respect, is an influence on me,” he continues. “And the Working Dog guys are no different. They are so supportive and they’re so giving of their time and energy, and even as I was making the film I felt that they were always there for me to call on and get advice from and support. I would say they were instrumental in giving me opportunities as an actor that I so desperately needed, and then as a director giving me guidance and support that I also desperately needed.”
“I love Wes Anderson; as a writer I love Blake Edwards, and Neil Simon, Todd Solondz, Mike Leigh, so many people. And Tarantino in a lot of ways, maybe not so much in the look of the film, but I do love Tarantino’s use of soundtrack, so in that way I think the soundtrack is a little bit inspired by Tarantino in that way.”
For me, one of the standout characters in the film was Kym Gyngell’s character Steve, a new neighbour who introduces himself to the other characters at the most inopportune or awkward moments. His character binds the other characters together, he is the conduit between them all as he snakes his way through all these stories.
“The other thing is we don’t know what his fetish is,” elaborates Lawson, “but whatever his fetish is it’s against the law. I really wanted to explore the distinction between when the fetishes are not illegal and when they are illegal and the difference between that. And all the characters we meet have fetishes that aren’t exactly illegal, it’s not against the law to have any of these fetishes that you see in the film. But he has such a fetish and it was interesting to wonder what that might be. A lot of people have theories of course, but it’s never explained in the film.”
Lawson didn’t write the character with Gyngell in mind. But then someone mentioned Kym’s name. Lawson sent him the script, he read it and loved it and came on board. “I’ve been such a fan of Kym’s for a long time,” says Lawson with undisguised enthusiasm. “And I’ve got to work with him over the years. Once someone had suggested Kym to me I could not shake him from my mind. I knew he was the right man for the job. You know you’ve got the right person for the job when you cannot imagine anyone else playing it.”
Lawson has assembled an ensemble cast that includes the likes of Lisa McCune, Bojana Novakovic and Damon Herriman, all of whom he has known for a long time. “They are all supremely talented, and I wanted to work with them because they’re so brilliant and they’re friends of mine,” he continues. “And I knew we’d have a good time and I felt sure that they would be able to tackle this material without much fuss. But at the same time I got to discover a few new actors like Erin James and T J Power, and they are so spectacular in the film. I’m so proud that I got the chance to show the world what these young actors can do.
“Working with an ensemble is terrific because you just get to work with different personalities and you get to explore different actors. I just love actors, I’m an actor myself, I love that sense of play, and so working with all these people was a real treat because every day on set was a joy and was a different kind of play.”
The Little Death is currently on limited release in cinemas.