The Duel

Australian actor, writer and director Kieran Darcy-Smith is best known for his role in the critically-acclaimed crime film Animal Kingdom, but now he’s here to talk to us about directing Woody Harrelson and Liam Hemsworth in his Western drama The Duel.

How did The Duel come about?
I was sent the script soon after Sundance 2012. I was on a flight to Jerusalem when I first read it and right away there was a real sense of finally reading something that was original and brave. Here was a story with a unique spin on a very established and revered genre, but effectively utilised and paid respect and homage to this genre. It’s dark, violent and confronting for all the right reasons, with an unexpected reveal mid-way through, and it was relevant — socially, culturally and politically. And I also loved the characters.

Why decide to take on a Western?
I’d always been a freak for the genre. In my own writing I’ve often tended to lean on the various tropes and archetypes which Westerns employ — it’s a very clear, myth-based and almost biblical narrative framework with good versus evil as an ubiquitous theme. So, as a story-teller, I’m attracted to that simplicity as a jumping-off point.

What were you most apprehensive about when making The Duel?
That very few people would understand it. This is not a join-the-dots Western. It was written in response to the writer’s own experience in battle — and he (a former, two-tour platoon Sergeant during Operation Iraqi Freedom) and I were always treading a very delicate line between theme, meaning, symbolism and entertainment.

What’s your favourite scene in this?
The big, long bar scene, that kicks off our third act, because Liam is so freakishly good in it.

What makes Woody Harrelson so great at playing really creepy characters?
He’s a creepy dude! No, seriously, who knows? The guy is blessed and I adore him. He’s possibly the single most unique individual I’ve ever met. He’s beyond charismatic, and if anyone was born to be a star it’s Woody. He’s also super-sonically bright and quick-witted — so sharp lines flow effortlessly from him. All of which makes for a good villain.

Any funny behind the scenes/on-set anecdotes you can share with us?
I almost got shot in the head by a pair of terrified, screaming cops during pre- production. Mental note: if you’re stepping out of the production office for a cigarette and you haven’t had a haircut or shave for a year, don’t take one of the pistols with you.

For our readers wanting to get into acting and directing, how’d you do it?
Fairly standard stuff – leave school at 15, surf and bum around the country for a few years, taking whatever work you can find, have your heart broken, join a band and move into the city, tour, break up, try a real job, take a part-time acting class at 25 to try and meet girls…. Find yourself at drama school for three years, borrow a camera from the AV department and pretty much take it from there.

Too easy! What have you learned about Hollywood over the years?
Sadly, that Hollywood has become entirely corporate; the mavericks and the cowboys/cowgirls are a thing of the past. It killed me to have to come to terms with this.

And what have you learned about money over the years?

To follow the advice of Woody Harrelson who reminded me that, “Money is only energy.” Interpret how you personally need — you’ll find an application.

What’s next up for you?
I have another movie which looks to be starting in January and right now I’m finishing one writing job, researching another and initiating production-development/finance on a movie which my wife, Felicity, has written. It’s so f–king good. Watch this space… ■

The Duel is out now on Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital

Jemm Moore

Ricky Gervais