Carl Barron Manny Lewis
Cast: Carl Barron, Leeanna Walsman, Roy Billing
Director: Anthony Mir
Synopsis: Successful Australian comic Manny Lewis finds himself at the height of his popularity, and at the depths of his loneliness. Reclusive and introverted, he feels he can't trust anyone with matters of the heart.
Everyone adores Manny – but do they adore the man himself, or the celebrity he has become? Finishing a national tour he has months to spend relaxing with someone he doesn't necessarily want to spend time with – himself.
Desperate to connect with someone, he rings a fantasy hotline. He's -Tomaz', she's -Caroline'. The two start a slow, awkward dance of seduction. Manny asks Caroline out. Protocol forbids, but Caroline, whose real name is MARIA, sees Manny performing his stand-up routine on TV and connects him with his alter ego.
By chance they meet in a café, and Manny strikes up a conversation with Maria. Manny asks Maria out. Maria, attracted to him in person and not bound by protocol, accepts. They hit it off, though his pathological doubts and fear of commitment remain. Maria keeps silent about the truth of who she is.
As their relationship develops, Manny continues to call Caroline, confiding his concerns about Maria and his caution around relationships in general. It's all the stuff that Manny, if he were less fearful, would be admitting to Maria.
As Caroline, Maria is able to gain insights into the man she's slowly falling for, under cover of a deception. Her caring but direct nature gradually forces Manny to look at his fears, demanding work life and repressed childhood trauma. Maria points out his comedy is drawn from pain – a pain that gets in the way of their relationship going deeper.
Manny receives an offer through his agent and confidant, JIMMY, to break into the American market, and is confronted with the dilemma of career versus love. When Caroline slips and reveals her true identity, Manny feels heartbroken, and his mistrust of relationships is confirmed. Her attempts to explain her actions are rebuffed by Manny.
The Americans need an answer. Manny accepts the offer, but must perform one last show - live on national television - to seal the deal.
With the truth of Maria's words about his insecurities echoing, Manny confronts his father, LYLE. Lyle sees his son's pain, and his remorse helps forge a new relationship based on forgiveness and acceptance. With an emotional weight lifted, and a newfound clarity, Manny seeks out Maria, only to discover she's leaving town that evening.
As the live show begins, will Manny take a risk on love, or give in to his fears and hide in his career?
Release Date: March 12th, 2015
About the Production
Carl Barron and The Birth Of Manny Lewis
-Talk about what you know' – Carl Barron
Carl Barron was born in Longreach, a small town in Central Queensland, the son of a sheep shearer. He has grown to now be, at present, Australia's most successful live comedian. His gentle, honest and observational comedic style has touched the hearts of thousands. His last tour -A One Ended Stick', was experienced live by more than 300,000 Australians.
Given this huge fan base, film projects featuring his talents had long been encouraged. Carl Barron needed to approach the medium when the time felt instinctively right. He says: 'I had an idea for a film, and like everything else I've done there comes a time where I'm just going to do it.
I needed to take a break – I was tired of being on the road by myself, I wanted to work with other people, which is something I've really not done much of before. This was an opportunity to collaborate and not have it all on my shoulders, even though it's my big fat head out there on the screen."
Carl Barron always had an idea for a love story 'about a bloke who meets a girl who works on the phone, on an adult chat line." It sat quietly in a corner of his brain for years, moving in and out of his consciousness, developing a little each time it did.
One day, sitting with his friend, the director Anthony Mir, Carl Barron simply said 'I want to do a film." Anthony Mir recalls seizing the moment: 'I said, -Great, let's go to my place and write it.' Carl Barron said -No, let's go to Italy and write it.'"
Carl Barron knew that this particular tale was 'not a story you can tell in front of a stand-up crowd. You can tell a story like this in film or in a novel - on stage it might be interesting, but it won't be funny, it'll just be long." He knew that in order to tell a truthful, heartfelt tale, the -bloke' would have to be based on himself.
Talking about his own unique experiences and view of life is the constant and trademark source of Carl Barron's comedy material. 'The main idea, in the beginning, was to show people the other side of my profession - people see the laughter and the humour, but they have this idea that comics are all manic-depressives, which isn't true. I wanted to show the loneliness and isolation on the road. It's a hard lifestyle. You're by yourself a lot. I wanted to show people that."
Carl Barron and Anthony mir decamped to Lucca, in Tuscany, in the middle of a European summer, writing during the day, and eating and drinking good food and wines in the evenings. Carl Barron remembers: 'One of the waiters looked like Ian Botham. That's what I remember - thinking -That's Ian Botham speaking Italian.'"
For Carl Barron, the process was a new one – both in terms of writing with a partner, and working within the parameters of a screenplay rather than crafting a sequence of observational jokes: 'I didn't know how to structure a film. I knew the details of my life. Anthony Mir taught me about structure.
It's always felt comfortable talking about my life on stage. As I started to write the film, it started to feel a little weird. I started to think, -What am I doing with my life? What have I done with my life? What will I do with the rest of my life?' I was struck with the same issues Manny has in the film."
Carl Barron's philosophy, and one of the reasons for his phenomenal success, had always been to leave life open to possibility rather than forcing fate.
'I've never had a plan. They say you must have had a plan to do stand-up. I said -no'. I went to a pub one night and performed, and wanted to go next week because I liked making people laugh. Someone said -Do you want to go on -Hey, Hey it's Saturday?'
I said, -Yeah, righto. I'm not doing anything on Saturday night anyway. For $90? Sure.' I never thought about what I'd hope to come out of this film – I wanted to make it and make it really well, and then see what happens."
With a strong first draft completed in Italy, over the following year Carl Barron and Anthony Mir refined the screenplay, at the same time engaging with Australian producer Fabinyi at Beyond Screen Production, who says putting the film together was a remarkably smooth process.
'Carl Barron has such a great following. He and Anthony Mir came to us with the script, and in a very short amount of time we'd managed to put the finance together, based on Carl Barron's popularity. The period of time between the three of us sitting down and saying, -Okay, we have the financing essentially in place, but we have no crew and we have no cast, other than our lead, we'd better go out and find them,' and the beginning of shoot was six months to the day." Said Martin Fabinyi.
Mikael Borglund, Executive Producer and CEO of Beyond International took the script to Brad Lyons and Therese Hegarty at Seven Network, who quickly signed Seven as a major partner in the film.
'When I sent the script to Brad Lyons and Therese Hegarty they responded positively to the material very quickly. They recognised that this was a very personal work that would connect with Carl Barron's existing fan base – and also appeal to an audience who were not familiar with Carl Barron's stand up work. Brad Lyons and Therese Hegarty have made significant contributions as Executive Producers of the film, and have galvanised the Seven Network team to support the project", said Borglund. Making The Film
Carl Barron, Anthony Mir and Martin talked about who would be ideal for key cast and crew roles, and the interest came immediately.
Anthony Mir and Carl Barron had Roy Billing in their heads as the ideal -Lyle' early on in the process. Anthony Mir says of Carl Barron and Roy Billing: 'There's just something about the shape of their heads, the way they look at the world, the way they talk that seemed like a match to me. They're both introverted, but also very funny men. I think in a previous life they may have been father and child."
Roy Billing recalls: 'This gig was an actor's dream. My agent rang up and said -They want you for a role in this film, Manny Lewis,'
-Oh, okay. Who's in it?,'
-Carl Barron. He wants to have coffee with you,' I met with Carl Barron and he said they wrote it for me. He said, -Do you want to do it?',
-Of course!' I said."
The key role of Maria involved a more complex search for -the one'. Martin and Anthony Mir looked at a large range of actresses on initial recorded auditions.
'We were looking at tests day after day after day," says Martin, 'and eventually narrowed it down to five or six candidates. Then Carl Barron came in and read with them. You could tell immediately whether or not the spark was there. In the end, Carl decided who it was that he thought could be his Juliet."
The role went to the talented Australian actress, Leeanna Walsman, known for tackling diverse and complex roles in film, television and theatre.
Queensland based Damien Garvey was someone the team had in mind to play the role of Jimmy, Manny's manager and only constant friend through the story. He flew to Sydney to meet with Carl Barron, and came on board.
Once on set, Anthony Mir and Carl Barron faced the complex and sometimes fraught challenge of turning a co-written script into a film, in which they'd play the roles, respectively, of director and star. An additional complexity was that the character Manny Lewis is firmly based on Carl Barron, yet had to exist in his own right.
Anthony Mir says: 'As a director, you sometimes have to challenge your own writing. As we were both always on set, I'd say to Carl Barron, -I know we wrote this but if we change it, we can film it easier, and it may work better for the character and for the story,' so we were able to maneuver character and story on the day, which is an invaluable position to be in.
Sometimes he'd say, -I don't think I'd really say it like that,' at other times I had to convince him, and that was a great process. He's a lot more open to suggestions than I thought he would be, given he's worked by himself for so long. Even though he'd have doubts at times that he wouldn't -walk that way', or wouldn't -talk that way', we'd find a balance so it would work well onscreen, in context for the character and story."
For Carl Barron, the transition from performing onstage to on set was disorienting at first.
'The first scene we shot was me walking over a bridge and I thought, -Easy,' but something happened to my body. I started to walk like a puppet, and I realised that as soon as you put a camera in front of someone, they play to it. It got easier, but there was a lot of think about."
Both Carl Barron and Anthony Mir found making the film a dream job in terms of working with a friend who is also great at what they do. Anthony Mir says: 'What I find with a lot of comics is that they play themselves really well - they come with all their dimensions, and if you can tap into who they are as a person, it's magic."
The team decided to shoot anamorphic to make the most of the settings, and to give a real theatrical experience to the film's audiences. Producer Martin Fabinyi says 'We shot the film in Sydney, which is not a cheap town to make movies in, but the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour are very much a part of the story – Sydney is another character in the story."
The setting and tone was a drawcard for Production Designer David McKay – who saw the opportunity to show Sydney in a light it hasn't often been seen in before on film.
The iconic State Theatre is a key location in the film - Carl Barron did 13 sell-out concerts there on his last tour, and its visual beauty, its rich reds and golds, translate perfectly to film. The Characters
Manny Lewis – Carl Barron
Manny Lewis, mid-forties, is a successful Australian comedian who plays to hundreds of thousands of people all around the country, but has trouble connecting with one person. Carl Barron, who created the character, says: 'He's a fairly simple-minded sort of bloke. He's not into fame, and is reserved and shy of the general public. He has a troubled relationship with his father, and he's looking for genuine love in his life - different to the love he finds on stage. He knows he's lucky to be successful, to have the adulation and love of his fans, but he needs more. This is the trouble he has and it's what drives the film."
Manny thinks being funny onstage is all he's got going for him. When we meet him he's a pessimist – which, combined with a chronic fear of intimacy, convinces him that all relationships will sour, so why even bother? He can't -act out' like we all can. People watch him. He can't show his anger. Manny needs to resolve his lack of self-esteem, and to learn to use his feelings of anger and pain in a constructive way.
The film at its core reflects Manny's journey – to resolve his fear of being loved, and his fear of being truly himself. Maria/Caroline – Leeanna Walsman
Maria is a sensitive and deftly comic young woman whose emotional fragility and quiet insights prove a perfect foil for Manny.
Leeanna Walsman, who plays Maria, says: 'In the midst of his crisis, Manny sees another person, sitting alone in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Kings Cross. They've probably passed each other time after time, but this one day they see each other."
Maria comes from Gympie, Queensland. Like Manny, she's a solitary soul. Manny's fame doesn't phase her – she's only interested in the real person. And so, they find a connection. The expectation and tension of going on a date with Maria gives Manny the first burst of life and interest we see in him.
Maria spots the thing about his shows that no one else seems to see: 'You seem – if you don't mind me saying – just a bit tired."
Maria challenges Manny's insularity with her love for life – she shows him that we can be introspective and fully feel the complex challenges of being a human being, but still live life fully. Lyle Lewis – Roy Billing
Lyle, Manny's father, is a hard, gruff man with a big heart – like his son, something of an introvert, whose life is underpinned with a sadness and a yearning to connect with his son. Lyle's first words to Manny are 'It's the famous comedian!"– he immediately distances his son as a relative stranger.
Actor Roy Billing says: 'Lyle is getting on in life, he's lost his wife and he hasn't always been a good father to his son, but this is redemption time for Lyle. Lyle is based on Carl's real father. Carl gave me a wonderful little documentary which he made before his dad died: Carl drove with his dad from the Gold Coast up to Longreach, the place he grew up, and made this film portrait on the way. So I was lucky - I had something to base the character on. It was just lovely."
Roy Billing further connected to the character through the similar experience he'd had with his own father: 'I think it's a thing with a lot of creative people who grow up in a family with non-creators. My dad could never really get his head around the fact that I was an actor, and Carl's father was a bit the same. Later in life they both suddenly turned and embraced it."
Director Anthony Mir was a witness to this common experience, that gave Carl Barron and Roy Billing a strong emotional base to work from: 'During rehearsals with Carl Barron and Roy Billing, there was a point where we all started crying - rehearsing in this sterile environment suddenly became incredibly emotional. They were both very gentle and generous with each other. It was very moving."
In the end, it's Lyle's perspective on the value of love that drives Manny to embrace life. The one thing Lyle can teach his son is the joy of letting go and falling in love – to take a risk and trust himself. Jimmy Miller – Damien Garvey
Jimmy is Manny's long standing manager - an old school, hard drinking larrikin, who has a strong, fierce sense of loyalty to his wife, JO, and their young son Ethan.
Jimmy Miller is also Manny's best mate and confidant. Jimmy's eagerness to see Manny move to the next step in his career drives the potential US deal in the film, but at the core, Jimmy wants Manny the man, not the comedy star, to be happy. When Manny, in the depths of despair, pushes Jimmy away, it's an achingly painful moment – Jimmy is the one person who's always stood firmly by Manny.
The character, like Manny himself, is based on a real person. The actor who brings Jimmy to life, Damien Garvey, says: 'Being based on a real person who I didn't know, Carl and Anthony would guide me in rehearsals and on set. A lot of it came from getting to know Carl too, because in responding to the way he is, I could find the truth of who Jimmy is." Where Does Carl Barron Start And Manny Lewis End?
For Carl Barron, Manny is a direct extension of his onstage process: 'That's all I do anyway in my stand-up, work from real conversations I've had or real things that have happened on the road. People say, -Oh, wow! That's really genius. Where did you come up with it?' but it's all real. That's all I do."
What did his co-stars feel? How close are the two, really?
Leeanna Walsman says: 'Carl Barron and Manny Lewis are very much the same sort of person, but you'll never know which bits are and which bits aren't, exactly like his humour on stage. You never quite know which bits really happened and which bits didn't."
Actor Damien Garvey thinks that 'a lot of Carl Barron's life is in there, and I think it's very brave to do a movie that's so personal."
Roy Billing saw differences between Carl Barron and Manny, but a core connection between the two: 'Manny's a lonely sort of guy, which isn't how I find Carl Barron, but maybe that's been Carl Barron previously. It's close to the bone, I think. There's probably not a lot of difference between Manny and Carl Barron." Working with the similarities and differences between Carl Barron and Manny was something Production Designer David McKay was very conscious of and was careful to balance the production and costume design elements.
'Carl Barron's got a very specific bunch of labels that he wears, so we retained that but pushed it at the edges – putting him into colours he wouldn't normally wear, into collared shirts, but we felt it was right for the overall fabric of the film, and we were always mindful of it ringing true for Carl Barron. 'The parallel between reality and fiction came into play in the production design too - Carl Barron said that people who visit his house often say -Does anyone live here?' so we kept his apartment spare and a little -unlived in'. He's on the road a lot of the time, and part of the story is that it can be lonely at the top; people may have success, but at what cost?" Carl Barron - The Freshman Filmmaker
Carl Barron's first steps into filmmaking were guided by the material being close to his heart, by his openness to learn from his collaborators, and by his natural talents and dedication to communicating with audiences.
Carl Barron admits: 'I was confused for the first week. I don't associate with being an actor. But then I don't feel like a comedian. People think I'm joking, but if you're just talking about your life, like I do - okay, I'm a comedian. You want to call me that? Sure. So now I'm an actor!"
For director Anthony Mir, Carl Barron's focus was key to the successful transition: 'He knows when to go to work – when it's crunch time, he knows how to deliver. If you need something in the moment, he will always deliver."
Producer Martin Fabinyi says: 'Carl Barron has such great instincts. He wanted to be involved very early on in the creative process. When we'd have a meeting with a production designer or a cinematographer or a casting person, Carl Barron would come and be involved in deciding who was going to play those roles. It's terrific to work with somebody with that ability."
Despite not coming to the role as a -trained actor', Roy Billing says of Carl Barron: 'I think we both performed from a base of realness - you just go with it and the emotions come out. I loved working with him."
For Carl Barron, what was it like playing against actors who are playing real people from his life? 'It's not weird because they're not -them' to me. I haven't had that connection in my brain. It's just been Roy Billing, for example," he says.
Leeanna Walsman, who worked closely and intimately with Carl Barron, says: 'Given he's worked alone with stand-up for so long, to have anybody else have ideas about what he's creating at first it would have been quite confronting.
'My approach had to change slightly. On any film, you have to mould yourself, work out what your environment is and the people that you're working with because although we're all creating the same project, we're all very different people.
'He's a unique and genuine person. Whenever you meet a performer, some are really a lot like the persona that they have on stage, but a lot of creative people are very quiet, modest people, and I think Carl Barron's like that."
Release Date: March 12th, 2015